user interface design
    user research

    ux designer
    visual designer
    4 days
    June Wang - ux researcher, visual designer
    Neemo Isse - ux researcher, content strategist

    Shaina Danzinger - ux designer, content strategist
     - Create one distinct task for a native mobile app
     - Build a prototype + conduct usability tests with users
     - Present design to a board of directors [panel included: EY Executive Creative Director, EY Executive Strategy Director, and EY Business Transformation Manager]
Through this design sprint, we were tasked to design a native mobile app for Coastal University, a post-secondary institution with a wide range of disciplines and a diverse and vibrant student body. Due to COVID-19, campus closures have impacted the student experience. In order to help onboard students during their online experience, Coastal University requests to leverage digital technologies to help welcome first-year students. 
First year students are impacted the most as they are at risk of lacking campus experience and feeling part of a larger student community, in which can result in mental health issues. To kick-start this project, we are to determine a target demographic choosing between international students, students with disabilities, or mature students.
The proposed design should help first-year international students create engaging social opportunities in order to reduce the feeling of social isolation.

Illustrations courtesy of

According to the Huffington Post, international students in Canada have four major challenges [as seen above]. Students oftentimes feel a lack of support or find it hard to communicate, especially if there are language barriers. International students also pay 3x more in tuition and find it difficult to manage their money. This is especially a struggle for those living away from home for the first time. Different visas can cause the feeling of isolation due to lack of integration to communities. And finally, accessing the labour market is too difficult, which is unfortunate as many international students plan to stay for their PR after graduating.
In order to measure the validity of our problem space and explore areas of opportunities to create a product, we assumed that:
     1. International students feel socially isolated.
     2. International students have time for social interactions.
     3. They desire community.
     4. They can communicate in English.
     5. Creating social opportunities will reduce their feelings of social isolation.
     6.  People are willing to participate in social opportunities.
     7.  Existing solutions are not providing enough relief for the students.
Our team believes that the lack of social opportunities for first year international students results in a feeling of social isolation. We will know this is right when we see positive affirmation of feeling social isolation from the market by conducting interviews.
We also believe that creating a simple easy to use mobile application that encourages social interactions for first year international students will compel users to engage and support one another.

Illustrations courtesy of

After conducting a survey with an international student group, we collected a total of 9 responses. Students from around the world stated that:
     - They feel shy and don't know how to approach people when making friends due to cultural differences
     - The lack of in-person connections feels socially isolating due to the COVID-19 pandemic
     - It is hard to find someone/a community to lean on when they feel like they miss home
     - It is hard to connect with others and make friends with a heavy workload and little free time
Not only do international students feel socially isolated, but we learn that they find difficulties when it comes to integrating into local communities and making friends due to their inherent cultural differences. With that in mind, we focus our problem space and ask:
...maintain engagement amongst international students so that they can always “fall back” on a community when they feel stuck and/or alone? 
The project goal is to create engaging social opportunities for first year international students in order to reduce the feeling of social isolation.

After organizing problem space questions into themes, team members participated in two rounds of dot-voting (with three votes each) to determine a favoured problem space.

To better understand our target demographic, our team created a persona that collectively represents our study group. This gives our team a foundation to ground ourselves to, and helps us personify our users' needs and wants to their problem. It also helps us focus on pain points in which we may specifically address.
In order to understand how Julliette would typically prepare for her first day of school and make friends (usually otherwise known as "frosh/orientation week"), we mapped out her experience (shown below). Using an experience map helps us understand and empathize for her situation, and also helps our design team scope areas of opportunity. Highlighted below is our chosen point of intervention to help address Julliette's pain point.
As we targeted a specific area of need to address, we further researched on what products and/or solutions already existed in the market. Doing so gave us a better gauge to how we can improve our product for our target users, and give us inspiration and a precedent for our product.
After thorough analysis of existing market products and an understanding of our users, their current experience, and pain points, we created a storyboard of our solution. Based off the experience map earlier, we decided that the best opportunity for us was to provide our users ice breakers to help students communicate better and inspire friendships and a sense of community. Below is an illustration of how one may approach our product:

Storyboard illustrated by June Wang.

Now that the team was settled on a solution, we created initial sketches to help jog ideas from potential features to layout ideas. Using the Crazy 8's method, team members created up to eight sketches within eight minutes, followed by two rounds of dot voting. Shown below are the voted-upon sketches organized by their themes:
When reconvening to discuss and look over our ideas and process, we discovered our initial sketches didn't focus enough on solving our "How Might We" question - there were too many ideas floating!
It was back to the drawing board...
Our team realized we had the themes right in our initial sketches, so by focusing on our storyboard and taking inspiration from existing products, we decided to take a "game room server" approach:
Here, a user logs in and is onboarded. Once they find a topic of choice, they can join a chatroom in which they are given a timed ice-breaker prompt. Users can then view profiles of other chatroom members and create more intimate friendships through direct messaging.
Due to the time constraint, our team directly jumped into creating mid-fidelity screens. Following the same idea as our lo-fidelity sketches, users were prompted to join moderated rooms to meet new friends and talk about a certain topic based off given prompts. The major difference is that the rooms are not timed, and feature video chat, along with selectable prompts/ice breakers.
Using these screens to create a prototype, we were able to conduct a usability test with two international student participants and gain feedback on how to improve our screens. The images below showcase the transformation from out mid-fidelity screens to our hi-fidelity screens, before the implementation of colour.
To speak to our target users and client's branding, Coastal University has provided our team with a design system to follow. To ensure our product is accessible to as many users as possible, it was important that the elements used were WCAG AA compliant.
In the final prototype, our team implemented colour and more visual elements to the interface (ex. shadows and rounded corners). It was important to not overwhelm the user with the bold colours, and to ensure the hierarchy of content and call-to-action was clear. 
We also included and improved smaller functions such as:
     - Displaying if an event is currently ongoing/active
     - Better visualizing how many users are in a room and if it is open to join
     - Fixing the proportions and interface of the chat room
In order to measure the success of this application, the following factors have been considered:
     By tracking user login and account activity for frequency of use, we can continue to maintain and grow active groups and attract unique users within the community 
     Measuring how far a user gets through a task flow before exiting out may suggest how efficient the product may be, and can also be improved upon with user feedback
     Measuring NPS (net promoter score) rates through surveys and reviews can reveal user satisfaction and loyalty to the product
To further the first-year international student experience and community, our team considered additional task flows to focus on the following areas:
     Study groups help students create a support system to enhance their learning strategies. This would be especially helpful to those needing more practice in learning additional languages and skills.
     Culture clubs create communities with like-minded individuals, and promote awareness and appreciation for specific cultures. It also promotes extracurricular activities for students to participate in.
     Mentorship programs enhance student experience by helping students achieve specific goals/outcomes. This is especially helpful to those in a foreign space who are seeking advice in professional development to prepare for the job market.
This design sprint provided a unique challenge within a very short time frame. A major challenge was being unfamiliar with each team member’s strengths and weaknesses when starting the sprint. It forced us to learn and break the ice quickly, and to communicate effectively as we worked remotely. Together, we concluded with three major takeaways:
     Focus on the unique values of your product to make it shine! The ideas and concepts may already exist out there, but it’s important that we make the product unique to our target users and bring value to them.
     It’s easy to get carried away with wanting to include different features and functions, but it was important our team stood grounded with our task flow. This way, we could focus on creating a better and more thorough experience.
     It can easily become stressful when working on a project on a tight time constraint, so it’s always important to have fun to keep the creative energy going!

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