HelloMentor - UX Case Study

UX Case Study - Hello Mentor - helping Students Settle in Faster

Overview

HelloMentor is a design solution that enables new international students in Canada to get connected to a mentor in a defined geographic location. It is designed to enhance social interaction and build the confidence of new students as they navigate their way through a totally new environment. Through HelloMentor, users will be able to communicate with mentors who can provide advice on all sorts of issues from academics to social and cultural life.

My Role

  • Product Designer

    User Research

    Interaction

    Visual Design


Understanding the problem

According to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC), as of December 31 2019, there were 642,480 international students in Canada (the figure for 2018 was 568,130). All these students were enrolled in colleges and universities. The top 10 countries of origin of those international students are India, China, Korea Republic, France, Vietnam, USA, Iran, Brazil, Nigeria, and Mexico. This information helped to validate our problem space.

What my project aims to achieve is a solution that can encourage social interaction between new international students and mentors/volunteers who can provide support and good advice to students. Having come to Canada as an international student myself, it was easy for me to connect to the challenges a new international student might face in Canada. In some cases, the problems might be small, like finding a good phone plan or finding good deals when shopping for clothing or other basic needs. At other times, the challenges might be enormous, like dealing with mental health, getting settled with school life, or getting used to the cold weather.

Infographic showing stats about international students in Canada

The design should propose an easy way of connecting new post-secondary students in Canada with volunteers around them to ease their transition into a new environment. The mentors themselves will be people who have been international students in Canada at some point in the past. This research identifies that the most influential information a new international student can get is perspective from someone who has been in their shoes. The scenario being proposed for this would be a mentor matching system where mentees can ask questions from their mentors, seek their guidance.

For this research, three categories of people were interviewed:

  1. Current International Students in Canada
  2. Persons who moved to Canada as international students and have completed their programs
  3. Persons who currently mentor other people in one area or the other

The purpose of the research was to understand the pain points of international students and to gain insights into the current means through which students gain information, or connect with people who currently serve as mentors to them, and ultimately to take some insipiration from each of those mediums.

My research identified the following as the main pain points of international students in Canada:

  • Culture Shock
  • Language Barrier
  • Getting a Job
  • Building/ Developing a Social Circle
  • Empathy Deficit
"How might we help new international students in Canada adapt to a new environment considering that they come from different social and cultural backgrounds?"

What I did

  • 1

    Define the Problem

  • 2

    Come up with Hypothesis

  • 3

    Conduct User Interviews

What I discovered

After the interviews, I analyzed and categorized the user insights using three major themes: Pain Points, Motivations and Needs of New International Students. Under each theme, I also created subthemes based on user responses.

  • 1

    User Pain Points

    • Culture Shock - Interviewees responded that they felt disoriented due to experiencing an unfamiliar way of life.
    • Language Barrier - Some respondents mentioned the difficulties with understanding the language use of locals.
    • Finding a Job - International students experienced difficultycgetting jobs in Canada. This was either due to a lack of Canadian work experience or failure to identify their skillsets.
    • Social interaction across diverse cultures - Students found it hard negotiating the social divide between their classmates and people from other backgrounds.
  • 2

    Their Motivations

    • Ease of Access - Interviewees responded that they felt happy whenever they got information easily or completed a process on time.
    • Joy of Discovering Things - Being away from home enabled international students to discover things for themselves, and to meet new people.
    • The Utility of Social Circles - Respondents got some value from having a circle of friends with whom they could socialize, meet new friends, and help each other.
  • 3

    Their Needs

    • Help/Support - International students need someone to advise and guide them on various issues
    • Empathy - Students want to see and know that people care about them.
    • Finding Information - Students are constantly in need of information relating to their academics and social life

Outputs from Discovery Process

After the interviews, I analyzed and categorized the user insights using three major themes: Pain Points, Motivations and Needs of New International Students. Under each theme, I also created subthemes based on user responses.

Affinity Diagram

To analyze the data from the interviews, I generated an affinity diagram that had all the key insights I was going to be working with. Click here to view the diagram more clearly.

Empathy Map

I created an empathy map to help visualize what I learnt about user attitudes and behaviors, and to gain a deep understanding of the end users. It also helped to validate whether the user data I had was consistent or if I needed to get more information. This way, I had a direction with decision making and I was able to prioritize the needs of the users.

User Personas

After synthesizing my research data, I came up with two user personas. Their responses and needs were to guide my design process

Bringing it all Together

After the interviews, I analyzed and categorized the user insights using three major themes: Pain Points, Motivations and Needs of New International Students. Under each theme, I also created subthemes based on user responses.

Sketches / Low Fidelity Prototype

UX Case Study - initial paper wireframe sketches

Refined Wireframes

UX Case Study - initial paper wireframe sketches

Usability Tests

There were two rounds of user testing for the design solution. For the first round of usability testing, I tested the product with 6 people. The objective was to see if users could easily complete the task and get additional feedback on how the visual interface could be improved. The key insight was for the "Location Permission" page.

First round of usability tests

usability test - user testing result for HelloMentor

Users noted that the Location Permission page made the process for finding a mentor longer longer as it was the last step before the system matches a student with a mentor. So, in improving the interface, I designed the permission request as a modal (overlay) and moved it to the last stage of user onboarding.

Results and improvements from further iterations

usability test - user testing result for HelloMentor

During the one of the usability testing sessions, after a user had successfully completed a task of finding and connecting with a mentor, they asked me: "what if I want to send an email to my mentor instead of sending a message? How can I do that?" Another user found the chat icon to be confusing as it was not clear if it was for sending an email or for chat.

Final Outcomes

After all of the research had been done with careful consideration of usability heuristics, I had to give thought to the look and feel for the app as this will also impact user experience.

Once I had the brand color scheme figured out, the next step was to bring the designs to hifidelity.

The decision to go with a white background was made for the sake of having an interface that is as least distracting as possible. I balanced that out with colored cards and components across the application, while making sure the colors were accessible and inclusive.

Hi-Fidelity Mockups and Interactive Prototype

UX Case Study - initial paper wireframe sketches

Lessons and Future Thinking

I believe that HelloMentor is a holistic mobile solution that provides valuable resources for the education and immigration sector in Canada. It gives every international student a level playing ground such that no one is left behind. One initial concern I had about this design solution was that "how can we ensure this application is not abused?" Admittedly, I am aware that providing a platform for connecting people could get out of hand, if it's not well regulated.

Key Takeaways

One of the major things I learnt is that testing a product helps a lot. Conducting the usability testing opened my eyes to the potential challenges users might face while using the app.

Dissociating myself emotionally from a design project is another thing I learnt. Not in the sense of being apathetic about the design solution, though. Regardless of the fact that I was designing for a user-base I could empathize with based on my past experiences, I had to be conscious of the fact that my feelings about the design features and functionalities may not necessarily reflect that of the users. I learnt the importance of having a defined design library; having a defined system from the start adds some value to the overall context of the project. I learnt how to align my research findings with project goals as the design progressed.

On a final note - and this is also important for me - I have learnt that design is a never-ending process and it can only get better with feedback and iterations.


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