Last month, Shutterstock had the pleasure of attending Head, Heart, Hand, the AIGA Design Conference that included our closing-night Pixels of Fury party. During the conference, we conducted a three-day live prototyping experiment; the idea was to talk to customers, identify recurring themes, and build a prototype to address some of these concerns.

Here’s how we did it.

Day 1: Gather Feedback & Identify Themes

Our goal the first day was to talk to as many customers as possible. We asked them two main questions:

1. What are the common problems with your search experience?

2. Imagine you had a magic wand: What would help make your image search easier?

One of the pieces of feedback we continuously heard was that expressing an image’s more intangible properties — like composition (the arrangement or layout of visual elements within an image) — can be difficult. Certain aesthetic qualities and emotions are difficult to define, and when users were too specific, the results didn’t match their expectations.

Day 2: Brainstorm and Build

Once we narrowed down the problem we were going to focus on, we brainstormed ideas over breakfast. We wanted to do something fun and light that we could show to people quickly. We began building a prototype for a mechanism to indicate what you want in a photo and where you want it placed within the image. Using the image as the interface, we built a tool that allowed mouse movement to control the composition, or placement of a desired element within the desired image.

Day 3: Demo the Prototype, Get More Feedback

When we put this in front of customers, they were excited about the potential of such a search tool. They said this would be great for finding copy space or white space within an image, and would allow them to specify the direction of a person’s gaze.

Our beach-ball example (see video) also showed how users could surface and discover more images in a fun way. Once they settled on a theme or concept, they could find different photos to match it just by moving their mouse. The user can quickly see images that express the same concept with different layouts within a single search. This has the potential to dramatically speed up workflow.

Hearing feedback directly from so many customers, face-to-face, gave us a much deeper insight into the real, everyday needs and challenges of our customers. It was a great opportunity to have that kind of access, and we’ll continue to focus on customer feedback — our Research team always wants to hear from you.

To check out more of our prototypes, visit Shutterstock Labs.