Students are returning to campus for the first time since the pandemic started. How can we help university students dealing with the impacts of social isolation expand their social network in the academic environment?
ConnectingU is a mobile app that connects UofT students to their peers nearby. The app utilizes their time between classes and during commutes to and from campus.
As a team of five, we partnered with the University of Toronto Innovation Hub to design a solution that fosters connectedness for current UofT students experiencing isolation & social distancing. Taking on the research studio lead role, I led my team through secondary and primary research that would kickstart the project of fostering connectedness for U of T students. I was also the primary designer for conceptualizing/creating/refining the artifacts and slide decks throughout the IBM activation journey design process.
I created a document plan for the team to diverge in background research on isolation, social distancing and the student life experience. We then synthesized our own research into a summary so that we can converge to find a common interest.
This method allowed everyone to independently bring something to the table and then start the project on the same page by agreeing on a common interest.
To get a better understanding of the current environment, we conducted five semi structured interviews and a questionnaire with 20 responses.
I was in charge of organizing/delegating tasks for the questionnaires and interviews.
Through a persona card derived from our research, a first person short story, and an as-is journey map, we highlighted key pain points that would guide our ideation moving forward.
I wrote the short story used in our presentation to define Cassie's journey.
She is a fourth year Political Science Master’s student commuting from Scarborough. This is her first time back on campus since first year. She has since drifted away from high school friends and peers she met in first year. Eager to expand her network, she has to figure out how to navigate through a shifting pandemic environment.
As we can see, the lowest point in Cassie’s journey is the time in between classes and when she is commuting. It’s the only time she has available to network with her busy schedule and yet time seems to be wasting away. Check out our short story here to better undertstand Cassie’s daily dilemmas.
Using the Crazy 8’s activity, we generated 40 ideas. We then clustered them into similar groups before dot voting for the prioritization grid.
I helped the lead in this section with organization and delegation of tasks.
There were many ideas that overlapped during our Crazy 8's activity. Even after clustering ideas together, we still had many themes that overlapped.
Each member was given six sticky notes (three for feasibility and three for impact). After dot voting within the clusters, it became very clear to move forward with two ideas.
We blended the two ideas together to create phase one of the experience. The other ideas can be integrated in later phases.
This feature of the app allows students to find and meet with fellow peers nearby on campus to grab a coffee, study, or perhaps work out!
This feature connects the user to peers with similar commute schedules so that they can travel together.
We conducted three think aloud usability tests with our four low fidelity sequential storyboards to refine the interactions and experience before making the mid-fidelity prototype.
I conducted one of the usability tests and helped synthesize feedback.
A number of our participants raised awareness of safety during “create a profile” task, so we added a student email verification in the mid-fidelity prototype.
The participants wanted to know more about the icons on the map before clicking on them, so we added emojis to contextualize status needs ie. coffee cup.
Much of the time, the participants wanted to learn more about their peers nearby even after reaching out. we made their profiles easily accessible to view.
In the status update, we have a comfort bar so users can know their peers comfort levels talking in-person. We since refined this feature in the mid-fi prototype.
We created a mid-fidelity prototype from our sequential storyboards and the feedback received.
I created the medium fidelity storyboards for the others to build the clickable prototype.
Using the DECIDE framework, we conducted a summative evaluation for our mid-fidelity prototype. We also received valuable feedback from our professor and three industry experts.
I conducted 1/5 usability tests and helped synthesize feedback into key insights.
From one of our interviews, a participant brought up a good point on how much this app would help new students navigate through campus. Especially those who missed the orientation day, we would research this new user group to explore potential expansion of the app.
One of our ideas that we decided not to pursue for MVP was event planning for vacant classrooms. The app “Sync Search” helps UofT students find vacant rooms to study in. The idea here is to integrate “Sync Search” so that UofT students can connect with peers and plan events that align with their interests.
We initially veered away from attaching social media to the user profile cards so users don’t have to jump back and forth between apps, but it’s something we will have to explore further moving forward.
An app that connects UofT student commuters with peers who have similar commute schedules.
One of the industry experts brought up a good point that the user has to update a status every time which can be tedious. Moving forward, we want to add a reoccurring status update option.
We figured that the map would be an interesting visual and profile card scrolling would feel like Instagram, but this was a reoccurring feedback from both industry experts and users. We will have to test further on which is more impactful.
Moving forward, we want to simplify the interactions of ConnectingU, explore experiences of first year students, and continue to iterate on the design!
I would love to explore new user groups and reiterate on primary research as I felt that I didn't ask all the right questions resulting missed opportunity to acquire more data.
Looking back at the initial primary research, there were some areas of opportunity that we may have missed. I will continue to refine my skills in asking the right questions to uncover those golden nugget opportunities..
Towards the end of the project, we got caught up in trying to solve the entire picture for Cassie the Commuter, which resulted in a half baked experience with endless features and steps. Moving forward, especially for the most viable product, we need to consider the KISS framework (keep it simple, stupid).
The course project is structured so one member of the team will individually lead one section of the design process. There was miscommunication between members thinking the lead will do most of the work. Moving forward, I think team check-ins or even some sort of ice breaker activity at the beginning of the project will help define the needs and wants of every member. I will continue to learn how to be a better teammate and leader moving forward because teamwork is critical for great design.