Project Scope:
Perform an on-the-field investigation of how the basic ChaCha service is used and then use this data to envision and shape new design solutions that can deliver an enhanced user experience, capitalizing on advanced services currently offered or explored by ChaCha (e.g. mobile commerce, advertising), or create new opportunities (e.g. richer information delivery, multimedia).

ChaCha ( is an Indianapolis-based service provider whereby users can SMS text questions to 242-242 and receive free responses.  It is very similar to the new KGB service seen in TV commercials, only that question responses are free, though only 4 questions can be asked in a 72-hour period), whereas KGB charges $0.99 per response.  They have recently launched a coupons function, whereby customers can download coupons onto their mobile devices for use - no paper coupons necessary, and you won't have the "I forgot my coupon at home" blues.

Project Assessment:
This was David's first usability project using a cell phone basis.  The team chose the iPhone (Generation 1) as the basis for its prototype as two of the team members had the device, and it was available for use in Balsamiq (, a great electronic sketching application.

Our team chose the administrative settings functionality of ChaCha, as one of our test subjects ran into difficulties and confusion toward signing up for the service.  Questions our test subjects asked ranged from serious to entertainment-only, but there were times the answers were altogether wrong (asking for a pizza recipe, and she gets a brownie recipe?). We came up with a few concepts as to what ChaCha might incorporate in conjunction with it's THMBSVRS (thumbsavers) functionality, such that serious questions can be answered at the sacrifice of a rapid response, and so on.

Our test subjects did approve of the additional functions, realizing the sacrifices they might have to make.  We also introduced sponsorships, whereby after reaching their limit of answers in a given period, they could receive "advertisement sponsorships" from ChaCha clients for additional questions.  While it is unclear whether ChaCha management personnel has been approached with this (or any of our other class projects for them), we did feel confident the improvements would be welcome additions.

Usability Methods Used:
  • Experience Diary Study (via online submission)
  • Pre- and Post-Project Evaluation Interview
  • Work & Activity Models (including Consolidated Models)
  • Establish Usability Requirements (based on field analysis)
  • Conceptual Model creation
  • Design & Create Low- and High-Fidelity Prototype
David was one of three members of this team, along side a fellow IT Analyst and an magazine associate editor.  He conducted both pre-evaluation interviews with test subjects, and created the online questionnaire for all subjects to fill out each day.  David was also supplied each Balsamiq graphic, which he converted into individual graphics, and linked them into a high-fidelity prototype mimicking a text-based conversation.
Project Deliverables:
ChaCha Study Final Report (pdf)
ChaCha Study Presentation (pdf)
Interactive Prototype Web Site (link)