A smarter way to discover black businesses.
Ajo, a new way to discover the world.
Ajo is an intelligent visual search engine that takes the friction out of searching for black businesses.
Connecting conscious buyers to black businesses.
Ajo is the first of its kind intelligent visual search engine that connects people to black businesses. The application provides a much-needed space for black and brown people to discover and connect with the brands they love.
Historically black businesses have been discriminated on poorly advertised and unfunded. With race at the forefront of American conversation, many African Americans are feeling the weight of issues like high unemployment, recidivism, crime and other critical issues.
A new urgency has emerged for people of color to carve out their own spaces in a world that doesn’t always support them. I wanted to create a product that filled this void and simultaneously brought awareness to the need to support black business.
This was my masters Capstone project. I was responsible for all phases of the design process. This includes conceptual design development, strategy, and production.
Ajo derives from the Yoruba phrase "Irin Ajo," meaning journey. Ajo is the new journey for black businesses.
Finding specific businesses you want to support is hard.
On average most businesses are found via word of mouth or online. However what happens when the business is hard to reach or buried under layers of online fluff? This is the dilemma of most black-owned businesses. While word of mouth is great it doesn’t provide a lasting benefit for either the business owners or the consumers. How can I make this process easier? Additionally, how could I as a designer define what it meant to shop black?
1. Remove the uncertainty and work for the user to find businesses they want to support.
2. Empower owners and consumers to learn about each other and create a community experience.
3. Create listserv to provide access to black businesses.
To gain an understanding of how businesses are discovered I interviewed government officials, business owners and supporters of the shop black business movement. From those interviews I heard many pain points that help me form the following insights:
Black business don’t have a communication problem, it’s sustainability.
The network of black businesses owners already exists but not necessarily with the core consumer base.
There isn’t an intuitive way to connect with new consumers in an authentic way.
People who support black businesses want to feel connected to a community not a brand.
Defining who shops consciously, anyway?
After talking with different stakeholders I realized that my original assumption of shopping black was being challenged. I learned that while there were many people excited about supporting their community at times the experience of supporting black businesses didn’t always align with the expectations or emotions that were tied to supporting the black community. From this, I was able to categorize my three targets for the application. Keeping each of these groups in mind kept me grounded on how I would think about product features and gear messaging to them.
I looked into several markets Ajo could live and settled on four main areas: education, spontaneity, immersion and planned. I selected these areas based on pain points shared interviews and current market trends. I found that there was space in the market for both an immersive and educational experience.
"There is a strong network of black business owners that know each other, it would be nice if there was that same network for my customers."
With all that information in hand I was able to make the following decisions:
1. Focus on consumers who want to shop consciously.
2. Focus on creating an immersive experience that builds community.
3. Provide suggestions, recommendations and identify businesses for ease of use.
4. The product would be used primarily for on-the go instances.
I brainstormed quickly through storyboards for testing. I focused on four main areas, discovery, identity, recommendations and visual search.
What I learned:
Give the users control – Allow the user to take control of their experience.
Invoke Discovery and Delight – Relevant recommendations can lead to obvious or boring results. I needed recommendations that invoke discovery and delight—serendipitous content users will enjoy but wouldn’t have thought of on their own.
Meet Unexpressed Needs – Anticipate the wants and needs of the user.
/ Information architecture & flow map
/ UI and Branding
In designing the UI I wanted to use a simple and elegant design. I decided to use earth tones for the primary colors and to use one bold color to attract attention.
Ajo is a project that I am very proud of, and in fact there are people like Jay-Z and Sean Combs thinking the same way I am. This is not only validating but drives me to want to continue to push this work.
/Flesh Out The Rest Of Functionalities
I will need to continue to flush of use cases of when and why the application should be used. It would definitely be beneficial to add depth to the design and continue test out concepts.
Design The Onboarding Process
It can be foreseen that, when introduced to Ajo, the user would feel overwhelmed by the understanding how to find business. What could make an easier on boarding process?
Since I can remember I have had a passion for the black community. As a designer, I now have the tools to create more inclusive products that benefit other people who look like me.
By working on this project I was able to hone in on my skills as and develop my own formula for solving complex problems. The project allowed me to flex my skills as a natural strategist but take my time in curating a beautiful experience on and off the platform.
This project reiterated the value of user testing early on in the design process. What you may think is clear and simple likely won't be to somebody else.