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Mentor

Creating connections that count.

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Not every college journey is equal.
 
In 2018, nearly 5.5 million students were enrolled in community colleges across the United States, a large proportion being low-income, minority, or first-generation students. Students from these underrepresented and underprivileged backgrounds often do not have access to the same knowledge and insight needed to successfully pursue higher education. Without a proper support system to familiarize them with the process, these students are left to their own devices and can experience feelings of helplessness and intimidation.

For my Intro to UI/UX course’s “solve an equity issue” final project, I was inspired by my time back in community college to create a product that could help students succeed.

about

purpose: class project
duration: 3 weeks

when: may 2021
tools: figma, illustrator

research

gathering insight and finding potential

To make a relevant product for college students, I needed to gather insight directly from students themselves with an emphasis on those from community college. I spent time conducting literature reviews and drafting questions for my research interviews.

interviews

I conducted interviews virtually over Zoom between myself and each interviewee. My goal was to listen to and understand their experiences so that I could identify any areas of growth. Due to time constraints and deadlines, I was only able to hear back from 9 people, but the information was extremely valuable and helped to inform my next steps. For each interview, I asked the same set of questions relating to their college experience, access to certain resources, and any challenges they might face.

While all of the interviewees were very enthusiastic about pursuing higher education, the majority expressed feelings of confusion and uncertainty in regards to topics like applying for scholarships, the college application process, and even just reaching out for help.

interview findings

While all of the interviewees were very enthusiastic about pursuing higher education, the majority expressed feelings of confusion and uncertainty in regards to topics like applying for scholarships, the college application process, and even just reaching out for help.

From the interviews, I was able to note a couple of common pain points and overlapping areas of concern:

Absence/lack of an available “guide” to help answer their questions and give advice
There are a lot of steps/tasks to complete and consider during college and career-related application processes
Accessing relevant information can be tricky or hard to find/schedule
It is intimidating to reach out to people and ask for their insight on things like entering certain industries and areas of study

In other words, there was an obvious disconnect between these students and the knowledge needed to navigate through higher education. From what I gathered, students felt overwhelmed by many college-related action items (applications, financial aid, scholarships, connections, etc.) and had a difficult time managing these tasks. While I wasn’t looking to “solve” these problems this early on in the design process, I did entertain the possibility of a sort of mentor/mentee system that could connect these students to the right resources and people to equip them with that necessary information.

The information gathered during the short research phase was used to guide my design decisions later on in the process and also to keep my process centered around my target audience.

user persona

As part of my research process, I created a user persona based on the insight I gained from my interviews as well as my general research. In doing so, my goal was to better understand who I was designing for so that I could narrow down my scope and target a more specific audience. Defining specific challenges and goals would allow me to better satisfy the needs of my users and thus create a successful product. More importantly this exercise, in combination with my interviews, was crucial in building empathy between my potential users and myself. With this in mind, I was more motivated to keep the users at the heart of my design.

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the challenge

Like mentioned earlier, the prompt for this class project was to “solve an equity issue” through a mobile application. While I was able to narrow down my scope to education and my target audience to community college students, my research revealed a disadvantage that these students had in accessing the right resources and knowledge to succeed in their educational pursuits. With that said, I formulated a challenge statement that would desribe the goal of my project:

“Create a mobile app for community college students that can connect them to mentors and help guide them through their college journey”

ideation

finding a place to start

Due to the three-week timeframe, I had to transition quickly into ideation once interviews were complete. I brainstormed different approaches to address the concerns brought up by my interviewees and translated them into low-fi wireframes.

brainstorming + sketches

Now that I was able to identify the needs of my target audience, I was more comfortable brainstorming different ways to address their concerns. After some consideration, I decided to base my sketches on the mentorship app concept I had briefly thought of earlier. For these sketches, I included a home page that featured a profile and upcoming tasks to be fulfilled, a messages page where the user could contact their mentor, and a resources page. Although I would end up adding more to the design later on in the process, I felt that these initial features could begin to address points like task-management and building connections.

low-fi wireframes + user flows

From there, I translated these sketches into low-fi wireframes. I wanted to map out the basic design and steps involved in some of the features that would target some of the pain points identified through my research. For these wireframes and user flows, I started about with functions to schedule meetings and contact mentors (addressing the lack of connections issues), as well as a "to do list" to aid with managing tasks (addressing the concern of not knowing where to start/what to do).  

mid-fi and user testing

assessing and changing the design

With the creation of low-fi wireframes, I was able to move forward with the process. For this phase, I focused on creating a more realistic-looking interface to prepare for user testing. I was able to use feedback from my tests to help improve the concept and design.

mid-fi prototypes + user testing

After solidifying the low-fi wireframes, I began to add onto them in order to bring them into a more developed stage suitable for the first round of user testing. I implemented a more cohesive messaging and scheduling system, a better flow for task creation, and a page dedicated to connecting to mentors. After prototyping the screens to basic functionality, I was able to start user testing. In total, I conducted four virtual user tests. I had the participants share their screens and navigate through the prototype while I watched and recorded anything notable about their behavior and ability to “complete” the tasks. Upon completion, I asked them questions about their experience and whether or not they had any concerns or suggestions. These were some of the key takeaways:

Confusion with the prototype narrative and how to schedule a meeting
Questions about having the ability to edit or delete tasks while in creation or after
Difficulty with card visibility and differentiation

While the tasks did make sense, there were also some areas of confusion. Although not implemented yet, users were confused with where to schedule a meeting after reading the sample text exchange between the student and mentor. They also wondered if it was possible to go back and edit or delete tasks once they had been created or were in the process of being created. Additionally, there was also unanimous agreement that the visibility of the task cards needed some work in order to see them better.

Overall, I understood that I needed to work on clarifying elements and creating a cohesive flow and narrative to communicate the application’s purpose and impact. After further analyzing my feedback, I had a plan to update the features, interface, and narrative to make a better prototype.​​​​​​​

final solution

finalizing designs and finding a good exit point

In the last few days of the three-week timeline, I spent the remainder of my time and energy into solidifying the interface and refining the prototype narrative. I referenced my user persona and interview data once more to ensure that I was addressing the right concerns and building relevant solutions. Upon "completion", I presented my work to my peers.

All of the research, ideation, prototyping, and, more importantly, user interviews and testing, led to the development of a final high-fidelity prototype. This prototype brought together all of the important ideas brought up during the different stages of the design process into a cohesive solution that could help connect students to the people and resources they need to thrive in their college journeys. 

 

At this final stage of the design, users could:​​​​​​​

find upcoming tasks and suggested resources on a cohesive home page

The Home page features a welcoming message, the user’s name, their mentor’s photo, and their own profile photo for a more personal experience. On this page, the user can access a side menu of items litke settings, a visual list of their upcoming tasks (created in the “Tasks” page), and also some recommended resources and events that can help them better understand a variety of college and career-related topics (more items found on the the “Resources” page).

wrapping up

reflecting on the experience

At the end of the project, I took some time to reflect on the project and what I was able to accomplish. Despite the short timeline, I was still able to go through the human-centered design process and create an experience based on the needs of real people.

takeaways

Although this was a class project, I was able to work on a product that revolved around a topic that I am passionate about. This was the first time I worked on a UI/UX project without a team, so there were times where it was challenging not having other people to bounce ideas off of and collaborate in general. With that said, while I was able to accomplish so much on my own, going through this process alone reminded me of how valuable working within a community setting really is and how collaboration can bring about great ideas. Despite it all, I was able to really understand the steps in the design process on a much deeper level. Lastly, and this is usually the case with all projects I work on, I was reminded once more of the importance of including real people in the process (or else it wouldn’t be called human-centered design). The initial interviews I conducted played a pivotal role in the direction of my design, as well as the overall concept, so keeping them at the heart of my project is what drove me to make the decisions that I did and end up with the product that came out of it. If I were to continue this project, I would want to consider how the design and experience would change from the mentor's point of view. 

thanks for reading!
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