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The Block Plan

Centralizing academic information for students at Quest University Canada

Problem

At Quest University Canada, students complete a 2-year Liberal Arts foundation hprogram before pursuing a self-designed during 3rd and 4th year. There are many course options in the foundation programs, and there are few mandatory classes in 3rd and 4th year, so students are faced with many exciting course options.

However, gathing information about course curriculums, schedules, and tutors can be difficult. Academic information and announcements at Quest University Canada are delivered through several separate channels including the Portal, email, the university website, and paper mail. The current system makes it difficult for students to have a comprehensive overview of their academic planning, announcements, deadlines, and other important information.

Goal

Design an app that streamlines the academic planning process for students by centralizing academic information and offering tools that help with the course selection and academic planning process.

Responsible for

Ideation, user testing, UX, UI, prototyping

Tools

Adobe CS, paper prototypes, inVision, Flinto

Ideation and Research

Identifying the Problem

The initial task was to design a solution for a problem specific to Quest. I drew on casual interviews and my own experience to discover pain points, wishes, and concerns of students living on campus. Through card sorting, I identified problems or systems that were suitable for the scope of this project (labeled with a red dot). I looked for relationships between suitable ideas and discovered pain points around the task of selecting and registering for courses (blue boxes).

Narrowing Scope & Identifying User Needs

I used a combination of interviews and cardsorting to narrow the scope of my problem and identify the needs of Quest students in that area. I focused on features that centralize information and help with planning rather than integrating existing systems for registration, scheduling, and data collection - integration with existing software is beyond the scope of this project.

Observations:

  • Students tend to casually seek course information through peers rather than consulting the course catalogue or the existing SelfServe system
  • Some courses are offered several times a year with different tutors who come from different academic backgrounds - students want access to a list of who regularly teaches a course and their academic background in order to pick the course most relevant to them

Needs:

  • Students need a better way to browse courses than the system Quest currently uses
  • Students need to be able to keep track of their progress as they fulfill their degree requirements
  • Students want to find and connect with teachers who have done research in their area of interest

Features:

  • Searchable course information database
  • Degree requirement checklist
  • Wishlist for interesting classes
  • Searchable faculty database

Prototyping & Testing

I used crazy 8’s to brainstorm possible layouts and interactions for the course and tutor lists. A grid or masonry layout is familiar but can be overwhelming when content is less visual and more information-heavy. I chose a simple vertical list with the a swipe-for-options pattern which is familiar to both Android and iPhone users.

Through paper prototypes and user testing, I discovered a few key insights that informed the final design of the app.

Outcome 1 : Simplifying Onboarding

1st Iteration : Instructions, then Tasks

The onboarding system takes users through all of the instructions, then all of the required onboarding tasks. Users have difficulty remembering instructions when they reach onboarding tasks but cannot return to instructions without visiting every screen between.

2nd Iteration : Instructions as Overlays

Instructions are presented as card overlays, but users are still occasionally confused about what to do and do not know how to re-access the instructions. With an overlay, users are more likely to breeze through instructions without paying attention.

3rd Iteration : Instruction-Task Pairing

By pairing instructional pages with their tasks and offering a back button to the relevant instructions, users give the instructions the attention they require, are less likely to forget instructions, and are able to re-access instructions if necessary.

Outcome 2 : Home Page

1st Iteration : Unintentional Hierarchy

After onboarding or logging in, users were directed to the ‘browse courses’ page which created an unintentional hierarchy of tools or features. In testing, users interpreted this as the most important or only tool available in the app because it was the first thing they were directed to. Users also reported that the lack of home page was unexpected.

2nd Iteration : Adding a Landing Page

I went back through my notes and re-discovered the insight that students rarely check or read emails about courses on the school’s Webmail system. I created a home page to make all tools equally discoverable, and made it a space for administration to post announcements, deadlines, and course information.

Outcome 3 : Navigation

In the first iteration, the tab bar gave access to courses, teachers, the checklist, and information. There were two outcomes from testing: users did not find the information page useful, and users did not discover the wishlist because it was only accessible from the checklist tab. Adjusting the navigation made all tools equally available to the user from anywhere in the app.

1st Iteration : Hidden Wishlist

2nd Iteration : Equal Access to Tools

Visual Design

Because the content is information-heavy, I focused using familiar interactions, like the swipe-for-options, and a simple colour scheme.

What I Learned

  • How you organize information is important, and users will make assumptions about the value of features based on how accessible they are.
  • Testing a prototype on a mobile device reveals user habits and interactions that aren’t available during paper prototyping, like reactions to micro-interactions.
  • Spending more time on paper prototyping and ideation helps speed the visual design process later on.

Thank you!

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