Unravelling a Better College Experience

Here's how I worked on a Google challenge to connect mentors and mentees.

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about it in 2mins


Applying to a UX internship can be challenging and often confusing. Questions arise like — What should your portfolio look like? What should you talk about in your interview? What are hiring managers looking for? Is there a secret ingredient to securing an internship? Interning at Google has been a longtime dream for many students, including myself. I didn't make it in unfortunately.

While this case study might not answer all of these questions (spoiler alert: there’s no secret ingredient), it was an interesting learning experience and I'd like to share how I solved the design challenge, what I could have done better and what I learned from feedback sessions.

“Your school wants to strengthen the community by encouraging experienced students to connect with new students and help them adjust to campus life. Design an experience that allows mentors and mentees to discover each other.

Consider the needs of both mentors and mentees, including how someone may become a mentor and how to connect mentors to mentees.”

Google Design Challenge 2020, Prompt 2

The main people problem to solve for was;

HMW design an expereince for mentees to connect with mentors that can help encourage their academic, social, economic, and cultural activities, which will amount to better university campus life.

I had 10 days to complete this challenge, I used the step-by-step process to solve big challenges and test new ideas introduced by Jake Knapp on behalf of Google Ventures - Design Sprint

Finding the root problem

The problem - From world-renowned professors to world-class friendships, African Leadership University (ALU) students find a community that embraces them, challenges them, and exposes them to new ideas daily, therefore, the ALU experience is unique for every undergraduate.

Although the school body recently introduced the Learning Efficacy Advancement Programme (LEAP) as a student-led academic peer mentorship programme that is coordinated by the Learning Support Associate at ALU Campuses, LEAP is set up with the sole aim of providing only academic mentorship to students but this initiative ignores the social, economic and cultural life of students that also amounts to a good on-campus experience.

How might we connect experienced students (mentors) to new students (mentees) to help them adjust their campus life?

Findings from Interviews

Why isn’t there an existing platform for this? As I discovered in my initial interview with the admission officer and interns; here are some of the myths that we acknowledged.

- Students have done ultimate research before applying

- Our marketing team effectively communicates all the needs for incoming students

- Students can learn by exploring

In reality, new students face a couple of difficulties due to lack of inexperience and guidance, here are some of the problems that were highlighted from a focus group of 12 newly admitted students (some had to figure these out on their own, while some are still struggling with it).

International students have to self-teach the language of the country those who can't cope are at risk of being swindled when trying to navigate through their study country's social and economic environment.
Older students see no benefits in connecting with new students who are not part of their circle (there’s always the bias of senior students feeling like they are not in the same class with freshmen)
Lack of knowledge or access to areas of interest to encourage social life, ie; a spot to unplug, recreational centers, leisure areas, travel guide (for internationals) etc.
Access to information on how to get involved in non academic activities ie workshops, conferences, seminars, research group-initiatives, clubs and societies etc;
Proper understanding of university major and courses in order to assist them in making a fully informed decision.
Having a mentor can make a big difference in keeping up with difficult curriculums, with productivity hacks, etc

Solving the challenge

One of the main thing my research helped me uncover was root issues, and also quantifying the people problem, and how I could solve for it. The main goal again was to;

Connect mentors that can help encourage mentee academic, social, economic, and cultural activities, which will amount to better campus life.

- Highlight the benefits for mentors and advantages for mentees that can be achieved through connections - this will motivate people to connect.

- Match mentees to available mentors based on similar interest, majors, region, skills, and other connecting factors.

- Provide access to information on both academic, non-academic, and extracurricular activities and events on campus, as a means for students to get together, this will strengthen the community.

- Create a medium where mentors and mentees can have private conversations concerning tutoring, academic and social advice, and also integrate meeting plans (i.e video calls, physical meetups) with students calendar schedule.

- Create a public forum where everyone can have general discussions in relation to courses, majors, academic debates, campus information, questions and feedback, etc.

Mapping out the user journey and feature scopping

Paying close attention to my mentee persona's feelings, experiences and how my solution addresses and eases his pain points and improves his campus life. The features that were needed, actions and pieces of information were already clear and the goal here was to visualize the user interface, user interactions and task flows.

Deciding functionality from user stories

Here are some of the functionality that I highlighted focused on the mentee as the primary user, this showcases some actions they will be taking and details relating to those tasks.

From the first look into the sketches and the user stories, the real brain teaser when it came to prototyping and visualizing ideas was; how can i make the interface intutitive and simple, reduce congitive load while providing mentees with a clear way to easily connect. In the top view I opted to show only one primary action - the search bar, where people can search via interests or names or keywords.

I then opted for bottom navigation with 4 main views:

- Connect, Explore, Messages, & Profile

Each tab represents a different cycle in the users progress towards finding their perfect match, and as the user gets closer to his goal he moves through the navigation from left to right

After filling up the sign up form users are prompted to set up their profile, this will include answering some question that will help us match their profiles successfully with respective mentors or mentors.

This step can be skipped but users will have to complete it at a later time to increase match percentage.

The next step will be where the user has to select if he is joining as a mentor or as an intended mentee.

The explore view is fairly simplified and focuses on discovery and community.

While the Matches page provides curated matches that are a best fit for what the mentee is looking for, the Explore page provides mentees with more information on groups to join, things to do on campus, events that he can attend based on his interest, all of these contribute to helping him integrate better with the community

This page shows how an intending mentee would view suggested mentors.

Each Card contains a photo of the mentor, their name, their class, major, and a percent match. If a mentee clicks on one or more mentor images, the card become selected, the top app bar transforms into a contextual action bar, and the mentee has the ability to connect, favorite or delete the selected mentors.

I also capped the maximum number of suggested mentors set to 7 for a lower cognitive load. If there are more, a “See All Mentors” button appears.

If a mentee continues scrolling down the homepage, they will see an “Explore Groups” section. Since building community is one of the app goals.

Mentor Profile Page
Allowing mentees to learn more about potential mentors and provides all necessary information to allow for informed decisions on which mentors to request.

For mentors, they are able to review a prospective mentee’s profile to learn about their interests and background.
Just as mentees can request mentors, mentors are able to browse mentees and request to mentor them.

One of the challenges I faced here was prioritizing information shown on profiles so users can quickly read through to decide whether the mentor or mentee is a good fit.

Learnings & Reflection: What I learnt from feedback

There is no right answer
As with most design challenges, the focus of the exercise is less on the “final” execution and more on the thought process and design decisions made throughout it. When in doubt, a condensed version of the general UX design process should be a great framework to approach your solution.

Don’t design in a silo.
Even though 7 days can be a short period of time to get a full-on user testing or interview session running, try your best to get as much external feedback throughout your design process! One of the most important core principles of UX lies in user insights, so it’s a huge plus if you’re able to document and showcase in a short design sprint.

Manage your time well.
The biggest challenge for me during my Design Challenge wasn’t actually the exercise itself, but more about the timing of when I had to complete it. I happened to receive the brief during a particularly loaded school week, so managing working on the exercise on top of everything else was definitely a test of time management. Keep in mind, you can ask your recruiter for extensions if there are more serious circumstances that you can’t work around!

Consider the flow and structure of the presentation.
Similar to how the structure of a case study can make or break a project — the same goes for the flow and structure of your deck/presentation/slideshow/etc. Keep in mind that your Design Challenge might be shared remotely with other internal Googlers, so make sure you provide adequate context in case someone looks through your presentation without you being there to speak through it.

The point of the design exercise is not to test for the right answer; it’s to see how people think. Former Google Ventures design leader - Braden Kowitz, says the biggest questions designers need to answer in a product design challenge is; "Can designers get beyond the interface and think holistically?" and that's what i try to do with every experience I design.