Today marks my 9th day in a row of the 10 week User Experience Design Intensive course (UXDI) at General Assembly’s Manhattan campus. (GA NYC)
9th. Day. In. A. Row. This means I’m halfway through our first sprint, which lasts for 18 consecutive days before we have a weekend off. And I’m not complaining, really. I signed up for this course expecting to get the most I possibly can out of it, and if that means sacrificing sleep, chores, and a social life for the next few months I am prepared to do just that.
But isn’t there a value to social interactions outside the classroom? Especially in a field like UX, which is all about developing empathy for the users (people), shouldn’t we want to spend time forming connections with our fellow humans? Shouldn’t we be networking with the people who will foreseeably be our bosses, colleagues, and employees down the road?
For my first project at GA, we were challenged to look for ways to enhance the academic or social experience to better serve its current students. I initially wanted to focus on the academic experience, but after a preliminary user interview I became much more interested in exploring social opportunities.
5 minute presentation
Lo-fi digital prototype
Usability Test Report
What’s the problem?
Research + Synthesis
My hypothesis was pretty straightforward — by offering more organized social opportunities to the GA students, we could encourage student interaction and create a stronger network. To test this, I interviewed 5 UXDI students that were at least 3 weeks into the program. This revealed a few key insights, namely that students see a real academic and networking value in connecting with their classmates. However the significant time constraints of the intensive program prevent them from engaging in social activities outside the classroom. All interviewees wanted an easier way to connect with their classmates.
“I’m going to make what I can out of these moments. Like, we’re having a dinner now. Later on is going to be a reference or a recommendation. So I’m thinking about now, and I’m thinking of the future as well.”
GA students want to have more collaboration with their classmates, but they are hindered by significant time constraints. How might we provide opportunities for them to connect with their fellow students, without detracting from the time needed to complete their coursework?
What‘s the Plan?
My solution was an app that makes it easy to not only organize and attend social opportunities, but also to connect digitally with other students. Taking a cue from a few popular dating apps, I explored an interface designed to encourage students to quickly choose “yes” or “no” on nearby events, see who else is attending, and share interesting events with their friends.
I decided that a mobile app would be a better choice than web, because students are already using their phones for social media and networking apps. Because this app would focus primarily on activities taking place during evenings and weekends, when they might not have their laptops available, having a mobile platform would be ideal.
Usability Testing Round 1
Of course this is all easier said than done, and also where the value of UX design becomes glaringly clear. After developing the skeleton of a design, I built a lo-fi paper prototype to quickly launch into usability testing. This allowed me to begin identifying hits and misses right away, before making any significant investment of time or resources. I conducted usability tests with four members of the GA community — two UXDI students, one Web Development Intensive (WDI) student, and one member of the administrative support team.
The design was well received by users. They liked the idea of the app and reported that it was fun to cycle through the events. However, my attempt to simplify navigation had gone a bit too far. Users really wanted a dedicated search bar and menu, even if all the features were accessible other ways. And, unlike their experience with dating apps, users actually want ways to review their decisions later and to easily share those choices with their friends!
Usability Testing Round 2
Round 2 of the usability study was conducted with a digital prototype, which was a bit more intuitive for users but also more time consuming to make. These tests were more successful, with all 4 users being able to complete each assigned task, but I still received some valuable feedback. Users felt that some of the prompts were too pushy, and they wanted more options to share events with friends without necessarily inviting them. The carousel of choosing yes/no/maybe continued to be a hit throughout testing, with all users saying they would enjoy using an app with that functionality.
I’d like to create a higher fidelity prototype to test out with GA students, incorporating more messaging options and more robust functionality for event sharing. It would also be helpful to have event categories, both for organization and so that students could opt to be notified when a new event is posted in the category of their interest.
This was an introductory exercise and I learned quite a bit, especially in how to communicate between Sketch and inVision. I have a design background so I didn’t think I had much to learn, but moving forward I’ll construct my wireframes quite differently.
I consider this exercise an absolute win for my very first unit. I learned how to execute the double diamond design process from start to finish, hit my success metrics, and still managed to get at least enough sleep each night to find my way to the train the next morning. My social life has come to a glaring halt but perhaps, with an app in the works like this one, I can find new ways to make connections with my peers.