Your school wants to strengthen the community by encouraging experienced students to connect with new students and help them adjust to campus life. Design an experience that allows mentors and mentees to discover each other.
An experience that allows mentors and mentees to discover each other. Based on my research, I decided to take an informal approach to mentorship where new students could approach as many experienced students as they wanted based on their shared interests.
This is for new students as well as experienced students. New students will be undergraduate freshmen as well as first year students in graduate school.
It will be used after the student has decided to come to IU. First uses will be before classes start and within the first few weeks of school. Some students may also continue to use it later to connect with more students.
Being able to discover new and experienced students and talk to them will help strengthening the community as well as help new students adjust better.
1. New students face difficulties acquiring information about campus, faculty, clubs and courses. There are many other things they might need information about, especially if they are out-of-state or international students.
2. It is difficult to discover people with shared interests and build friendships, without knowing the people it is often difficult to reach out to them on social media.
3. Existing mentorship programs consist of mentors being assigned formally. They do not seem to work effectively as the relationship is often forced and not based on shared interests or personalities.
4. Admission offices are often contacted by new students to help them connect with experienced students but it is hard for them to ensure a good match or even make sure that the student is being helped.
The app will be connected to the university account system. This will enable them to login using university credentials and not fill additional data such as degree, major or year.
Students will be asked to select some of their interests either by choosing the tags or creating their own.
Defining mentors: Since it is a university environment with informal relationships and interactions, I defined mentors as anyone who has completed at least 2 semesters at the university.
"I looked for facebook groups across all classes and joined them to find my shared interests and reached out to a few seniors."- Undergraduate freshman
"I'm not into messaging at all, I have met all my mentors at clubs or events."- Undergraduate freshman
Based on interests, major, degree and year, students will be suggested a few people with shared interests.
They would also be suggested events and discussions to participate in and meet people and build connections.
"My seniors helped me out a lot, and I want to give back to the culture. It feels nice to help new students and they are often appreciative." - Senior year student
Mentors help new students because their mentors did the same for them. They want to give back to their culture and build friendships on the way. Making mentors feel appreciated and acknowledged is a great way to encourage them.
After reading the prompt, the first thing I did was to understand the demographics of students at my university to figure out who to interview and what would be the user group. I found out that 76% of the students were undergraduate and 90% of the undergraduates were within US. However, for graduates, about 30% were international students.
I decided to list out some predispositions I had about the whole process based on my own experience. This would help me in the later stages where I could either validate or understand the biases that I may have. I also went ahead and did some secondary research online to better understand the problem space and how other mentor-mentee programs work.
I also looked for some design patterns and inspirations. I realized dating apps like tinder did a good job at suggesting matches whereas Linkedin was a great platform for professional connections. A blend of these two approaches seemed like the way to go.
I interviewed 2 undergraduate freshmen, 2 undergraduate upperclassmen, 1 graduate 1st year and 1 graduate 2nd year. This helped me understand how needs and concerns of undergraduates varies from graduates. I also spoke to the admissions coordinator to know more about the challenges she faced connecting new students to experienced students when new students reached out to her.
"I am not a messaging kinda guy, I prefer meeting new people face-to-face."
- Undergraduate freshman
"Many new students reach out to me in the first few weeks. I like to help them because my seniors helped me too and it's a great way to talk to new people and build relationships."
"When I need a volunteer, I just find someone. Not the best way to do things though. Finding a good match sometimes can be challenging."
After getting insights from people, I drew a rough information architecture for the app as well as a few wireframes on paper. After that I created some low-fidelity wireframes using Balsamiq and tested them with a few more people.
1. Many people got confused in the onboarding steps, they felt there were too many steps and asked for overlapping information which was difficult to comprehend.
"There are too many steps before even getting into the app, I am confused about the difference between the two options."
2. Senior year students mentioned that they would not be interested in trending topics to write on but would be open for discussion.
"I would definitely not write an article in the app. If I really want to I would rather prefer Medium."
- Graduate student, 2nd year
I decided to use my university's color palette and logo as they are a very integral part of IU's brand identity. I also wanted to incorporate IU's values of making students feel welcome, comfortable and at home as a guiding factor to make new students feel excited.
I also followed material design guidelines for the UI.
I tested the final mock-ups one more time. This time I did it two ways, I let one person freely explore the app and to the other I gave a specific goal to finding someone with similar interests. This made me understand how users might navigate through the app.
1. This time, I removed multiple onboarding screens but one person asked for the feature I removed.
2. One person mentioned that if the interests won't be there in the tags, it would be hard for him to think about it.
There were many things that could have been delved deeper into. If this was a longer project, I would have liked to pursue more research methods to better inform my decisions. There was also possibility to test different versions of the same screen to better inform which works well. Due to time limitations, I felt like I could not afford to lose much time.
One of the technical feasibilities I thought about was how would tags in the onboarding screen be suggested? Since we do not know anything about the students' interests, how will we suggest them tags that suit their interests? Will students be willing to type in their interests? Doing more research and testing would have helped me come up with a more efficient solution.
I also realized that people could be different in how they approach other students. Some may be shy and prefer messaging while others may dislike messaging and prefer in person meetings. I tried to take into consideration many aspects in this design space. It was important to understand the incentives of a mentor as well the needs of mentees and take into consideration the different demographics they come from. I was able to validate this when people did agree that different events, and discussions are one of the most common ways they get to know new students.
Initially, I felt overwhelmed with the scope of this prompt. I spent a good chunk of time to analyze various ways in which this prompt could be explored. Given the scope of this exercise, it was important for me to define some assumptions and narrow down the design space.
I realized that the needs of undergraduates are very different from graduates and thus understanding who to interview was an important part of the process. I also questioned myself several times during the week since I wasn't able to test my ideas enough or had thoughts about other ways the design could be approached. Eventually, I decided to trust my intuition and research I had done and went ahead with my prototypes.
I am extremely thankful to get this opportunity and it has been a great learning experience. It taught me how to organize my thoughts in a short period of time and prioritize things accordingly.