A Mobile Application for University of Washington Student Organizations
This is my 7-day design exercise in Jan 2019 for applying to a User Experience Design Intern role.
The Design Problem
A new school year is approaching and the orientation team is looking to you for some design expertise. Please create your proposal based on one option from the prompts listed below:
Design an experience for new students to browse, search, and propose new student organizations
My approach in this challenge involves going through the first three processes in the user-centered design process, which include Research, Ideation, and Prototyping.
Brainstorming and Research
I used my school, University of Washington, as a reference in this case study so I could find real problems I could try to tackle in my designs.
Who is the User?
In order to provide a fit product to the right user group, I need to be specific about my users. My definition of new students are people in their first year at the school. For example, both freshmen and transfer students in their first year would be considered as new students. For this case study, I'm specifically designing an experience for them.
To gather multiple perspectives from my user group, I sent out a survey to current UW students to understand their experiences with student organizations.
Survey Data Spreadsheet here:
Here are some representative questions that were part of the surveys:
How did you learn about the different student organizations available in your college?
Was there any complications in getting to know the student organizations? What did you like and/or not like about the process?
Tell me about how you became part of a student organization. What aspects of the organization interested you and why?
The below are some of the important findings I gathered from my participants.
6 of 18 participants in my survey responded that they felt nervous about joining student organizations when they were new students.
New students are less active, as they are more likely to learn about and search for existing organizations rather than to propose a new one.
Prior to joining an organization, students want to know what kinds of activities they’ll do as members and how they’ll benefit .
No one mentioned using UW’s registered student organization (RSO) website, which is the only centralized resource for all registered student organizations at the UW.
In addition, I also needed to understand what student organizations are, why do they exist and how they work. I did some additional research to learn about student organizations at my school and their active problems.
Findings About UW Student Organizations
Through my research, I learned that student organizations intend to help enrich a student’s experiences outside of classrooms. According to the UW website, RSOs provide many benefits including serving as a medium for academic and political discourse, community service, health & wellness, intercultural understanding as well as making lasting friendships.
Here are several issues associated with the presentation of UW’s student organizations:
Lack of update about organizations on the UW RSO website
Minimal filtering options on the website makes it difficult to match students to the right RSO
Varied sources of up-to-date information across Facebook, websites, and messaging services, which are not centralized on one platform
What Does the User Want?
From my research, I was able to identify some of the motivations, needs and pain points of my users:
Motivations for joining in a student organization:
Students care and are excited about topics of interest such as music, art, outdoors, food, etc.
Students have goals they want to achieve and want to know what they’ll gain and benefit from being part of the organizations.
Some students need to find a community they belong to and can provide support to them.
Not knowing when an organization is active or not. Some organizations become inactive due to many reasons but they are still listed on the school’s website. There is no way for a student to know if the organization has been disassembled and unable to support their members.
Not knowing what the organization actually does. Students often have this thought: “Yes, we get your purpose and your mission statement, but what do members actually do here?” The message about what students do is often not conveyed clearly, especially for newer student organizations.
Feeling nervous about joining in organizations. In addition to being unfamiliar with the school environment, many new students are overwhelmed by the 900 student organizations.
Based on the needs of new students to explore, find, and join a student organization, my app aims to design a student’s complete journey in becoming involved— from discovering to engaging in student organizations.
Here are some more specific design requirements:
Create a non-intimidating experience for students to learn about available student organizations
Help students find organizations that best fit their interests and goals
Enable students to explore beyond their initial interests
Tackle user pain points
I envision designing a mobile app as a tool to help new students become involved in student organizations. The app would be introduced to new students by their orientation leaders. Students can easily access this resource by downloading this app on their smartphones. I hope to help bridge between the gap where a student’s journey ends at knowing what organizations are offered at UW. I want to encourage students to become active on campus and get involved in different organizations by reaching out to them, connecting with other students, and experiencing what these amazing student groups have to offer.
In the ideation phase, I gained a better understanding of my target users through creating personas and storyboards.
With information from surveys and interviews, the following two personas embody my target users. They represent two user groups and their common pain points, desires and goals, which guide me through the rest of the design process, as I think from the user’s perspective and how to benefit my users.
I created a storyboard to demonstrate a real world scenario of where this application can be used. Storyboards give context to different scenarios and help me to consider how users will navigate and interact with the app.
In this scenario, Emily doesn’t know where the event is located because she is new to the school. Thankfully, the app has a map feature that helps her find her way to the event location.
To ensure that my application is designed logically, I created an information architecture to show a user’s journey. The main pages are outlined below.
Individual Organization page
Individual Activity page
User Profile page
The diagram shown below outlines the overall information architecture for main features.
The user is able to browse organizations in the discover page. The search page allows for more specific searches and gives users access in proposing an organization.
Here is a more detailed IA that I want to highlight. This section of the IA continues the user journey for students who have found an organization they want to learn more about.
These steps encourage the student to become involved. Upon discovering an upcoming activity, students have the ability to add an upcoming event to calendar, view how to get there on a map, and contact organization admins to ask a question or learn more about the organization or activity. These features intend to encourage new students to actively reach out to an organization.
After a couple of iterations on paper, I switched to Adobe XD and created basic wireframes.
To test the effectiveness of the wireframes, I came up with three user tasks that the user would encounter.
Task 1: Browse for new student organizations that are within your interests.
For new students, they may be interested in discovering newly formed organizations to join. After the student has completed the questionnaire to indicate their interest, the student can find newer organizations by changing sorting to “newest”. From there, the user can browse through different student organizations and save the ones they are interested in by tapping the star icon.
This is the user flow for users to browse for new student organizations that are within their interests. Users can expand the tab of an organization listing by tapping the arrow icon, which enables them to see common interest tags and a short except from the organization's about page.
The Discover page is what students will first see when they open the app. I did not want to overwhelm them with a list of organizations, so I created a landing page that directs users two paths to explore.
The first path “Student organizations for you” is intended to present a list of organizations based on the user’s questionnaire, which can be sorted by match, how active the organization is, and how recent the organization was created. This will help students find organizations that align with their interest and goals.
The second path “See what other students are interested” is there to help students discover organizations outside of their initial interests. Generally, new students are still in their exploration phase and not sure what may be best for them. I intend to provide student access to learn about different organizations and activities they might not be interested at first to help them explore their options and find what they truly enjoy.
Task 2: Search for a business-related student organization and learn about what students do in it.
To understand what an organization does, users can find this information by tapping on an organization’s page. In addition to the “About” tab, users are able to learn about what the organization does through viewing past activities and upcoming activities in a horizontal gallery scroll. This feature enables new students see the date and time for the last activity and upcoming activities. Browsing the activities can help the user get a better grasp of what the organization does. A user that clicks on one of the activities will be directed to an individual activity page, where the user can choose to save the activity/event by adding it into their calendar, find the location of the activity on a map, and contact organization admins.
After tapping on one of the organizations on the explore page, students are able to learn more about the organization and its activities through the processes above.
Task 3: Propose a student organization that does not exist yet.
First, the user would search for an organization using different interest tags in the Search tab. When there are no organizations that show up, the page suggests the user to propose a new organization.
On the propose page, the user is prompted to input information such as organization name, description, tags for topic, activities, and goals. Additionally, users will receive a little friendly pop-over to tell them about what to expect next.
The reason “Propose an Organization” is not on its own in the navigation bar but instead under the search page is to discourage new students from proposing an organization that may be really similar to ones that already exist. Students are encouraged to look through the available organizations first to learn about the types of organizations out there, and then think about proposing a new one. This way, new students would be more successful in getting their proposals approved and starting their own unique organizations if appropriate.
After signing in, a new student will be prompted to go through the questionnaire (in separate screens to avoid overwhelmingness). Completing the questionnaire will help narrow down the list of organizations that will be shown to the student. The questions are based on a student’s interests and goals.
For Notifications, I decide to have the following types of messages :
Organization proposal updates
Newly created student organizations
Messages from organization admins
Upcoming events by an organization
These friendly reminders keep students updated and notified on the status of their proposal and other student organization activities.
The user profile page would allow the user to do the following :
See student organizations created by the user (and be able to edit them)
See saved organizations
Edit profile (pen icon on the upper right corner)
The student organizations are listed with only the name and a short description. This prevents having too much information presented to the users and overwhelming them. If the user is interested, he/she can expand the tabs to learn more about each organization.
The common interests can be scrolled left to view more tags. Horizontal scrolling is also used to view activities. The user can see the types of activities the organization has done and upcoming activities planned by the organization. If users only want to see future events, they can tap on Upcoming Activities and the scroll below would automatically travel to the activity that’s coming up next.
Pictures used in hi-fi are from UW Digital Assets
Assumptions and Risks
Trying to be careful about assumptions, I took note of some possible assumptions and risks while going through the design exercise.
I assumed that I’m designing an app to be used in a college environment, although the prompt did not explicitly say whether the students are new college students. There could be other instances where this app can be used for students in high schools and other schools that host student organizations.
I am designing this app as the school’s product and not as a third-party resource. Designing for the school gives me more freedom on what I can design and the resources I have access to. In this case, I assumed I have access to the student organization database from the UW RSO directory as well as officer information for each organization.
One of the risks is not knowing how applicable the “proposal” feature is to the school. Schools may have unique systems and requirements for establishing student organizations, and I am assuming that creating an organization is not the same as proposing one. The propose feature should be designed based on the school’s needs. It needs further research on its functionality once this project is approved for additional research time.
Analysis and Next Steps
This design exercise enabled me to see how much I can do in seven days. If I had more time, I would like to explore the following:
I would like to hear more from students who are in their first year. Due to time limitations on this initial project, I was not able to contact all first year students willing to participate in my research. I hope to have better access to this population of users and be able to conduct additional usability testing with them to see how this app can be improved to meet their needs.
I believe the questionnaire I have in the wireframe is a good start, but I am thinking about ways the questionnaire can be redesigned to include more topics and generate more powerful filters to narrow down the list of organizations. For example, I was thinking about having more filtering categories such as ones based on ethnicity. This might help students find communities that align with their values better.
I want to explore more ways to facilitate a welcoming environment to help new students get engaged in these student organizations and reduce nervousness in approaching them. This would require more user research such as having additional interviews and conducting focus groups with newly admitted students.
This is my first time to do a design challenge in seven days. The most difficult part of the assignment was narrowing down features to include in this app. With the personas in mind, I tried to eliminate any feature that doesn’t help my users to achieve their goals. There were a few features that I thought should be in the app because it would make sense, but as I reconsidered these features from my user’s perspective, they were not really that important after all.
Also, knowing that my viewers are going to see my process remotely, I wanted to make sure that I communicate my ideas and explain my design decisions thoroughly and concisely to help ensure a good viewing experience.
Overall, I enjoyed working on this project. Solving problems for my users motivates me. I learned more about the joy of being a user experience designer and why this is what I want to do for my career.