Tattoos and Meaning: Designing an App to Help People Get Meaningful Tattoos

UX Designer & Researcher
Project Timeline
3 weeks

Project overview

Tattooing the body is an increasingly prevalent trend in modern popular culture; however, after I got my first tattoo, I realized how much research one has to actually do before getting a tattoo. Coming up with a tattoo idea, finding the right artist, communicating the idea to them is something that many people struggle with. With this issue in mind, I started the self-initiated project during my master’s degree to make people’s tattoo journeys as meaningful as possible.

How it works

Exploring the problem

To understand people who are interested in getting a tattoo, I conducted interviews with 20 people. Before going in, however, I needed a system to sort out my interviewees. I used NOREX to do this. NOREX is simply a way to categorize users based on how often they use a service or product.

N — never used a service
O — occasional user
R — regular user
E — extreme
X — ex-user

In this case, we focus on how often our interviewees get tattoos, if at all. I love using NOREX because it allows me to get as many insights as possible without getting repetitive answers from the same type of user.

Now, when it comes to decoding the information gathered from users, traditionally in UX, we go back to the drawing board and use a thing called Empathy Map. However, just seeing what users think, feel, say, and do is never enough. A question all designers want to ask at this point is, “where are the insights”? GRAMS is simply innovating on an empathy map. It’s just as simple as an empathy map, but it provides so much more insight into what actually drives our users and what their issues are. GRAMS stands for:

I structured my interview questions in a way that allowed me to get these insights from participants. I start with goals and work my way all the way to the meaning, which is what we need to get from users to truly understand their motivations.

What I learned from interviews

Before going into it, my assumption was that what’s stopping people from getting tattoos is the lack of a tool that can help them find the right tattoo artist, however, after the interviews, I learned that aside from finding the right tattoo artists, almost all of the interviewees want meaningful tattoos and have difficulties coming up with good tattoo ideas, which in turn creates doubts and hesitancy to get a tattoo.

This is an example of one of the interviewees’ responses put through the GRAMS model. This one in particular was quite surprising since it emphasized more the meaning aspects of tattoos rather than the practical questions of getting one. All the participants’ responses were put through this model and a lot of them had similar issues and goals, which is also the reason why this one was chosen as an example.

Creating Personas

Taking all my insights from the interviews I went to define 3 personas. 2 of the pesonas have never gotten tattoos and are hesitant to get them for different reasons. The third persona can be considered a regular when it comes to getting tattoos.

Coming up with solutions

After analysing my personas, I realised that the main challenges that need to be addressed are:

  1. Making the tattooing process less daunting

  2. Helping users come up with meaningful tattoo ideas

  3. Simplifying the process for more regular tattoo shop visitors

The hardest challenge ahead of me was to make peolpe who have never gotten tattoos actually make that first step. I was heavily inspired by Dr. BJ Fogg’s model for behavior modification. According to Dr. BJ Fogg, for the behavior to occur, motivation, ability, and a trigger must converge at the same moment. The model allows to see if the user is lacking in either motivation, ability or a trigger and can be placed on an axis to visualize possible areas for improvement.

As established previously, Arthur lacks the motivation and a trigger to get a tattoo. To get Arthur to get a tattoo, a focus will be made on exposing him to the facilitator trigger in form of a tool on the web app to create a meaningful tattoo idea, which will make it easier for him to decide which tattoo to get and his motivation will increase enough to get him to make a tattoo booking.

To make Kelly get a tattoo her motivation must be increased by providing educational content on the website in the form of a blog which could answer her questions and doubts. Having a simple booking process for this would also act as the facilitator trigger for her.

The only thing Ricardo lacks is a trigger and once again, being able to easily search for a style, tattoo artist based on proximity, see tattoo artists years of experience in their profile, get an instant quote, should be a strong enough trigger to get him to book using this web app.

Takeaways from the BJ Fogg model

BJ Fogg's model was an invaluable tool in tackling this challenge, because it allowed to take user pain points and create solid solution ideas. The solutions are:

  1. Creating a tool to come up with a meaningful tattoo ideas

  2. Offer the ability to search for tattoo artists based on location, price, and style

  3. Create a blog with educational content

A tool to come up with meaningful tattoos

When it comes to designing a tool to help people generate meaningful tattoo ideas, the danger is always in making it boring or unappealing.

My initial idea was a simple questionnaire and after making a few sketches I realised that it's just not going to be enganing enough for users. It needs to be way simpler.

After the first sketches I thought about integrating storytelling aspects into the form to make it more engaging. I used the techniques from Donald Miller's storybrand technique which assumes that the user is the hero on a journey. Regarding the hero journey, there are two aspects to consider:

  1. From the hero’s perspective, the goal/quest is straightforward, and so is the awareness of where the hero is;

  2. Another aspect relates to the storyteller, where the story is structured in chunks that one way or the other frame where within the story you are.

A good form is not that different from a good story, a good form:

  1. Keeps the status of filling the form clearly, so the user knows where he is and what is left to do to complete the form

  2. Chunking the form into a meaningful block allows the user to perceive the information requested (the user perceives the list as shorter) and design the form to prioritize contact information to support recovery processes if needed.

So, following Donal Miller's reccomendations I added

  1. Progress bar

  2. Onboarding

  3. Separate the questions into meaningful blocks

  4. Provide review or feedback sections where a user could see their progress and answers

  5. Add quotes from real tattoo artists which could act as guides on the hero's journey

User flows

Before doing high fidelity wireframing I created the user flow for the form

And also for the artist search process. The goal was to keep these flows simple, flexible and allow them to be separate or connected journeys, because not everyone wants to go through the form.


Finally I created the sitemap for the entire web app. This includes the user profile as well, from where users can edit projects they have booked.

High fidelity wireframes

Final takeaways

This project was filled with ups and downs, like any other, but my overall feeling is of satisfaction and exctitement. I am thankful for the particular complexities of this project which allowed me to:

  1. Apply research techniques like GRAMS and NOREX to spot patterns more efficiently and make good quality personas

  2. Delve deep into behavioral psychology, like B.J. Fogg's habit formation model to better understand user problems and come up with effective solutions

  3. Use of Donald Miller's storybrand framework is a mixture of consumer psychology and storytelling.

  4. Lastly, I learned just how important it is to think outside of the box when it comes to UX design. Looking for solutions in places outside of design is the backbone of truly innovative solutions.