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Google Design Challenge
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Timeline

7 days 

My Role

Sole designer, End-to-end experience

Tools

Adobe XD, Paper & pencil

Creating a community that facilitates information sharing among new and experienced students 

New students often struggle with finding information 

about campus life. Experienced students have a lot to offer, but there's lack of a cohesive platform that allows them to easily provide advice to new students. This platform is an attempt to tackle this challenge. 

PROMPT 

Your school is gearing up to welcome a new incoming class and would like to help them adjust to campus life. Design an experience that allows new students to ask questions about school life, and experienced students to share answers and advice. Consider the needs of a student who has questions, and the experience for a student who would like to give advice.

Take a quick peek at the final solution

01. Personalized content

Responses to on-boarding questions will be used to generate tags and deliver content and functionality that are uniquely tailored to user interests and needs. 

02. Tag-based filter system 

Users will be able to discover and filter posts by different topics about campus life. This helps narrowing down results and ensure posts get directed to the right audience. 

03. Encouraging new comments

Make it easy for users to comment on posts relevant to them directly from the home page and award them for their contribution. 
KICKOFF

Brainstorming Initial Questions

After looking at the prompt, these were the initial questions that I had that guided my user research and selection of methods. Given the time constraint, my goal was to gather "enough research" to understand the problem space, user motivation and behaviors, and uncover opportunities for the solution.

New Students 

What type of questions do they have about campus life? 

Where and how do they ask their questions? 

What did they find successful or frustrating? 

Experienced Students

Why would they want or not want to answer questions from new students? 

What can they gain or lose? 

 

Day 1 - 2

Map out the problem

Day 3

Sketch idea

Day 4

Decide on the best solution

Day 5

Build & test prototype

Day 6-7

Final design 

EARLY INSIGHTS

What are new students curious about campus life? 

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Questions that students posted online 

I started off with sifting through comments on online forums to get a sense of the type of questions that new students might ask about campus life.

I learned that new students have various questions, ranging from general questions (e.g. where to eat on-campus) to very specific and niche questions (e.g. how should I fund my program). 

 

The majority of the questions can be grouped as the following:
General Questions About Student Life (Food, Housing, Class, etc.) 
  • What are some fun activities to do? 
  • Where can I do my laundry? 
  • How hard are the exams? 
  • How are certain professors like? 
Seeking Advice to Make Informed Decisions 
  • I want to switch from major A to major B, but I'm worried that...Can someone help? 
  • Should I live on or off campus? 
  • Which insurance plan should I pick? 
Getting Connected with Others
  • Anyone in my class or program? Wanna connect? 
  • Are there any Discord Servers/Slack channels that I can join?
USER SURVEY & INTERVIEWS

New students tend to post their questions on online forum, and...

some don't post their questions at all. Why's that? 

New students posted their questions through the following channels: 
Social Media (e.g. Facebook, Discord, Slack)
Online Forum (e.g. Reddit, Quora, Yammer)
Others
I don't post my questions online! 

* This is a "multiple answers" question. Percentage were removed intentionally to avoid confusion. 

Through 12 survey responses and 3 interviews, I learned that new students seek information about campus life on social media, but prefer posting questions on online forums to increase the likelihood of getting a response. 

Online forums are more structured for Q&A and discussions tend to be more open due to anonymity. However, participants also expressed the following concern: 

"I like posting on online forums like Reddit, but sometimes my post got sunk quickly within a couple of hours." 

For those who don't post their questions, they either refer to the school website for information, relying on friends and family for advice, or lurk on online platforms. They rarely post their questions online as they found the process to be a bit intimidating or responses to be ineffective. 

"There are so many sub-forums, I don't know where I should post in order to get my questions to the right audience." 
"I feel like it's just people's opinions, so it's hard to get real answers. "

Let's switch to the other side! Why would experienced students want to answer questions from new students? 

Through 4 interviews with experienced students (who have studied at least for a year at their college or university), I discovered they are motivated to help out because 1) they inherently enjoy supporting new students, 2) are looking for mentorship opportunities, or 3) are interested in making new connections.

"I'm excited to answer questions that are related to my major or interests. It really cheers me up when I'm helping out new folks."
“Connecting with new students is a way for me to cultivate my mentorship ability.”

Some passively answer questions from new students if they are being reached out to on professional platforms or privately in real-life, and if they happen to stumble upon questions online.

"If I see a question that I think I can offer valuable opinions on, sure, why not? "

Although there are so many online platforms out there for them to answer questions from new students, but they often lack the motivation actively looking for possible questions to answer. 

SYNTHESIS

Problems from new students & experienced students that I set to tackle

New Students
Experienced Students
  • Confusing tagging system on most online platforms
  • Questions get buried quickly and remain unnoticed by others 
  • Receive vague answers or ineffective responses 
  • Questions are sparse and spread out across different platforms  
  • Questions can get repetitive sometime
  • Less motivated to answer questions that aren't relevant to them 
A DESIGN CHALLENGE ARISES

How might we build an interactive community to facilitate information sharing among new and experienced students?

SYNTHESIS

Translating research into key design goals

Make it easier for students for ask their questions and quickly access info that they need
Keep experienced students engaged and invite them to provide advice to new students
Direct posts to the right audience to facilitate info sharing within the community
The end goal is not about asking questions and giving advice, it's about information sharing
PERSONA

Considering the needs of extreme users to create a more inclusive solution

Lurker Sheldon

Learn from other's comments

Observer

Low online presence

"I don't want people to find out that's me who's asking that question." 

Curious George

Post questions online

Inquisitive

Active participation

"Curious to find out more about campus life...hope someone's gonna get back to me soon."

Enthusiastic Marisa

Responds to questions

Ambassador

Engaging

"I'm excited to answer questions from new students because I've been there myself as well." 

Occasionally responds to questions

Observer

Casual and chill

"I might chime in depending on what the objective is and what they’d wish to know."

Sporadic Mark

Instead of focusing on two primary persona - typical questioner and responder, I created two extreme users to consider the needs of those with lower participation to discover more possible use cases. Through designing for extreme users, it pushed me to create a better product for typical users. 

USER FLOW

Exploring the end-to-end experience

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IDEATION & WIREFRAME

On-boarding Experiences

When I was creating the user journey, I realized there was a lot of complexities involved. For instance, how should I balance the nuanced needs of both user groups? Should I create two different versions of the platform based on their roles, new students and experienced students? 

But technically speaking, a new student can provide insights to other new students, and experienced students can also ask questions. 

After thinking more logically, I decided to only personalize the home page to provide users with quick access to tailored content and functionality that match their interests and roles. The rest of the platform will remain the same for both groups to promote greater user freedom and control. 

1. Create an account/login
Creating a new account or log in through existing social media 
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2.  Answer preference questions
Answers regarding major/interests (tags) will be used to generate personalized contents 
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3. Selecting roles 
Prioritize content and functionality that users will see on the home page 
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4.1  Home page for those who pick "Ask questions" 
Personalized contents for users who are looking for information or asking questions
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4.2 Home page for those who pick "Give advice" 
Encourage users who are looking to give advice to answer questions that are relevant to them
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User Feedback

Participants really liked how they could directly access personalized content when they first landed on the home page. They found this to be convenient and aligned with their expectation of ease and speed. 

Simplifying the process of asking questions 

and seeking information

In order to help users direct their questions to the right audience and receive timely responses, it's important to build a robust sorting system. Considering the technical constraints and the complexity in developing an algorithm, it's important to use design to guide users to "sort" their posts. The "Suggested Tags" was designed to achieve that. 

As the research suggested, not all users are comfortable with posting their questions online. As a result, I created the "Followed this Post" feature to allow users with lower online presence to receive updates about new comments on the posts. 

1. "Create post" directly from home page
When the "Create Post" button is selected...
a pop up appears. Once users enter the content, the system will suggest tags to help users to direct their posts to the right audience. 
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2. "Follow Post" to receive updates 
Users can explore different topics to post their questions or find relevant posts
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If the user sees a post that they are interested in, they
can follow it to receive updates when more comments
come in
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User Feedback

Participants thought the "Suggested Tags" was helpful in directing questions to the right audience. They also liked how they could explore posts by different topics.

 

However, they found the school banner on top to be unnecessary on the topic page and mentioned they didn't like how the filters were hidden. 

Design Change

Before
School banner was unnecessary and distracting on the topic page.
Now 
Removing the school banner and shed light on the topic to provide users with a more immersive experience. Filters are used to encourage high quality responses and expedite searching process
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Increasing user engagement through delight

As revealed by user research, experienced students are motivated to offer advice either because of intrinsic motivations ("feels good" to help others) or extrinsic motivations (e.g. recognition, mentorship opportunity). 

Given the scope of this prompt, I decided to integrate game elements such as points and badges to encourage experienced students to share their insights and knowledge in the community. Their contributions would be recognized and can lead to future leadership or mentorship opportunities (e.g. peer mentor, college ambassador) through collaboration with the university new student programs. 

1. Earning points and badges 
Users will be rewarded with points that can earn badges
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2. Top contributors 
Users with the most contributions will be recognized
on "Topic" pages
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User Feedback

Participants thought the idea of collecting badges and showing their names as Top Contributors would encourage them to provide comments. They thought it was fun and would like to collect more badges to show off on their account pages. 

Making new connections

Both target user groups expressed the desire to meet people and make new connections. One typical question that they asked was about the invitation link to join social media groups to connect with people in their programs or with similar interests. However, those links aren't easily accessible online and get buried quickly as more posts come in. 

As a result, I decided to surface the "Group" feature on each topic page. Users can easily click on the "Join" button that will link directly to other social media groups (e.g. Facebook group, Slack channels).  

Join groups 
Users can easily joined groups that they are interested 
in to form new connections with others 
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FINAL DESIGN

A supportive community for campus life 

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REFLECTION

Looking back and running forward

Designing for Delight 

If I am given more time to dive deeper the question, I would explore and brainstorm more ways to designing for user delight as it is a key driver of inspiring high quality responses flowing within the community. 

Google Intergration

I thought it could be interesting to explore how the platform could better take advantage of other Google services and integrate into the rest of the Google ecosystem. 

Feel free to check out my other projects :) 

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