michael puskas

Chemical Inventory Webapp MVP

Skills: User Research, Domain Knowledge Research, Chemical Safety, MVP Design/Development, User Testing


The Project

For our senior-year capstone project, me and four classmates worked with the Assistant Director of Safety Programs for the engineering schools at ASU.
The goal was to design and develop a webapp to manage all campus chemical inventories.
My role in the team was focused around UX/UI and product vision, though I also did front-end development towards the end. Other team members took on back-end, front-end, and project management roles.


Domain-Specific Knowledge

The main complication with using an off-the-shelf inventory management system was in how the chemicals must be stored to comply with industry safety standards.
These standards relate to: the types and amounts of chemicals that can be stored within a particular Fire Control Zone (FCZ), the types of chemicals that can be stored directly next to eachother, and the effects of different physical characteristics of a lab on the prior values, among other things. In order to comply, a system would need to account for many different domain-specific factors.


The Existing System

To understand the requirements, we first looked at their existing workflow.
Typically, chemical inventory changes would be noted in an Excel spreadsheet that would be passed around. The overhead in managing this cumbersome spreadsheet was enormous, leading to mistakes and neglect.
One large issue was that there was potential for a lab to store a non-standard amount of a chemical without knowing it. The lack of checks and warnings in the system led to a high potential for issues, mitigated only by huge micromanagement overhead on the lab managers part.


MVP Scope

Given the condensed time frame of the project, I committed to only designing and prototyping an MVP.
This MVP would cover the general page functionality and flow, and would be designed with a focus on a single responsive webapp that could be developed extremely efficiently.


Task-Oriented Design

I developed the page flow using task-oriented design, identifying that the first step to any user task will be to look for a particular building, school, or lab.
I then designed each of the 3 pages to provide the necessary information and links to accomplish the given subset of tasks.


One of the identified tasks was when a user wants to quickly check if anything needs attention.
Since this task is fairly amorphous insofar as it can lead to any screen, common visual elements were added to surface the system status at each level. A consistent green and orange were used to indicate if a system was performing correctly, or needed attention.


Testing The MVP Prototype

A standard user test was performed with a user who would both interact with the eventual system directly, and manage other users of the system. They were also very experienced in the existing system, enabling them to contextualize their feedback.
A standard script, mostly focused on setting expectations, was recited to begin the test. Then, the user was ran through a sequence of four tasks meant to test the most common use cases: checking for FCZ issues, adding stock, consuming stock, and finding inventory information.
The user’s performance and feedback was documented. Though none of the tasks resulted in much friction, the context allowed the user to give useful feedback for feature requests and minor changes.


Changes Based On Testing

Some changes are reflected in the prototype, and some were left for future product iterations.
Notable points of feedback were: using chemical names instead of codes, incorporating CAS numbers, and adding an inventory column that shows the chemical’s hazard categories.



This project was a great experience in working with a sponsor on a very domain-particular product.
I’m happy with the choices I made about the flow of the design, especially after seeing it working intuitively during the user test. Even though I had strong justification for each aspect of the design, it’s always nice to see it actually succeeding.
The work done by my team will be made available to the next capstone team that chooses to work with our sponsor. With this in mind, we meticulously documented all of our work, including instructions for working with the school’s internal systems.

© Michael Puskas, 2016. All rights reserved.