Getting to know
the land of dreams.
"How do people drive on the right side of the road here! Weird huh!?"
Product Design & Sketcher
Presenter (Business Case)
Helping international students cultivate a sense
of belonging in the United States. Our platform enables people to connect from various backgrounds and explore the cultural shift!
This project spanned ten weeks as part of an undergraduate course on the User-Centered Design process at the University of Washington.
Defining the Why?
Upon arrival in the United States, new international students often find it difficult to adjust to American culture and society.
Many experience culture shock, feel homesick and sometimes have difficulty making friends and finding communities where they feel like they belong.
This project spanned ten weeks as part of an undergraduate course on the User-Centered Design process at the University of Washington. Team of three. We selected international students as our user group, because all of us were familiar with struggles involving immigrating or moving countries. We learned that although each person’s journey as an international student is uniquely different, there were some common pain points for many people. Finding a comfortable community or making friends is difficult when someone is placed in a new country with different cultures and norms.
[That's me in the middle; trying to find Indian food in Chinatown during my first week as an International student. You can only guess how that went :) ]
Marking the problem space
How might [international students] achieve
[belongingness with American culture and society]
so that they can
[better adjust to the new culture and explore the community around them. ]
In order to design a way to help mitigate this challenge, we went through the following research, design, and prototyping processes. From interviewing international students, to going to focus groups; extensive user research was the first step!
The purpose was to obtain a deeper insight into pain points that were common throughout the process of acclimating to a new country.
STEP ONE: SEMI STRUCTURED INTERVIEWS + FOCUS GROUPS
After initially deciding that our user group would be people new to the United States, our first step was to conduct user research. We did our user research through conducting semi-structured interviews. Each group member interviewed three people that had recently moved to the United States. We asked questions about difficulties they had faced when moving here, as well as experiences they had that made the process easier for them.
Our team decided to attend a culture conversation group, which was a 'Foundation for International Understanding Through Students' event.
It was a small group of several international graduate and undergraduate students, who spoke about their experiences with stress. For example, academic stress was very common for the group members, who spoke about how it was often much more difficult to get internships because they weren’t citizens of the United States.
STEP TWO: SYNTHESIZING RESEARCH WORK
Enjoyed the new experience! But lacked ways to approach new people (strangers!).
Getting along with the US culture wasn’t hard, in fact they enjoyed it once they started hanging out with a group of people.
US lingo is hard to learn.
Basic terminology used in US was hard to catch, they had a hard time at workplace or school because of it (Typical American terms like “to-go meal, confusing names for streets and different driving rules”).
Not ready for the 'Capitalistic money minded culture.'
They felt that US has a money minded society, where you have to pay for every thing/service you use (Paying for carts at the Airport was odd for them, as in all other countries luggage cart is provided for free).
Want to branch out and new people apart from whom they already know.
Many knew people from their country living in US.
They wanted to meet knew people with diverse experiences and stories to share.
Say hello 👋
[ created a user journey map based on one of our personas, Jericha Kaur, to obtain a deeper insight into the lives of our user group ]
Envisioning the Solution;
Our mobile application, Belong, provides a platform for them to connect to new people from different backgrounds and with common interests. Belong also enables users to reflect upon their experiences and track their growth in this new stage of their life. We believe that our solution can bring people together and facilitate thoughtful reflection, fostering a deeper sense of belonging in international students
Following the research stage, our team created design requirements based on the insights we had gained through our interviews, personas, and user journey map. We wanted to be able to agree on a few core design requirements so that we would have a clearer idea of our application as we moved forward.
These key design requirements are:
Allow users to meet & interact with new people with common interests.
Allows users to reflect upon and share their experiences moving to America with other people.
Allow users to communicate with others and connect with them.
Now with certain design requirements in mind, I created these storyboards to showcase possible ideas for what the mobile application might do. This helped me paint a picture of our solution with user needs in mind. Some of the use cases are sketched here.
Early exploration around how would the user flow through the information without feeling overwhelmed. This is where new ideas/functionalities were discussed and mended with the design flow.
After a lot of discussion, we decided to focus our app into two main features: connect, where people could meet other people through shared interests, and reflect, where people could review and look back on their past experiences
Crafting the Solution
I decided to create a paper prototype to get a clearer sense of our visual and design plans for each page of the app.
The paper prototype focused on three main tasks:
adding a new interest to create a group and add a new event,
adding a new reflection to a user’s journey, and
viewing a past reflection.
I felt that these were the most important functions of our app, so I intended for the paper prototype to help us evaluate and solve usability issues early.
To evaluate our paper prototype, we did three rounds of usability testing with people we had interviewed. We wanted to get feedback on our designs to know if our user group felt that our app could reduce some of the pain points associated with moving to a new country.
The main findings from our usability testing were:
In the prototype, the “my journey” screen showed a person walking up a mountain.
However, our users felt that the mountain metaphor was very unclear.
Our users wanted more opportunity to personalize their profiles and control over who they were matched with
The app needed a simpler way to add an interest.
Using the feedback from the usability testing, I created annotated wireframes that outlined the application’s layout and visual design. This process helped us visualize what the final version of Belong would look like. We made several important design decisions, such as switching from a hamburger menu to a bottom bar and figuring out locations for add and back buttons.
[ My goal was to make the layout of each page as consistent as possible.]
the final look
help kindle a sense of belonging to this new world.
The Loop; Reflection
Start testing early & communication is the key :)
Creating Belong was simultaneously fun, interesting, and challenging. We planned from the start to design for a user group that we cared about and found meaningful, so ultimately, we feel proud with what we have built.
I believe that one of our biggest challenges was deciding on an idea for the project. Our user group is incredibly large and diverse, with many unique pain points. The design requirements part of the project was especially difficult for us, as we did the assignment without having a clear idea about the direction we wanted to go with the app. By the time we got to the information architecture portion of the project, however, we had spent hours discussing and finally felt like we knew what we were doing. I learned that, in order to be successful, every step of the project would require a lot of thought and effort.
While creating the app, one of our biggest fears was that a social media or messaging app would create digital silos for international students and discourage them from interacting with other students. We addressed the problem by not making any part of the app specific to international students and marketing the app towards all students, but if we had more time, we would want to design the app in a way where we were certain that it would bring students together.
Belong was the most intensive team project any of our team members have done so far in college. As a result, each of us learned a lot about teamwork. At the beginning of the quarter, it was easy for each of us to speak to the importance of communication and organization. However, with significant time pressure, it was often difficult for us to properly communicate and make long team meetings on top of our already busy lives and schedules. Despite this, we made it a priority to talk about problems that we had and discuss ways we could improve after each project. By the end of the project, we felt very confident and comfortable in each other and our ability to work as a team.