Making college orientation
Google Design Challenge for 2019, influenced by my experience as RA facilitating orientation (and perhaps an ode to the power of Youtube)
As an RA, I was asked to help organize freshmen orientation and I noticed how difficult it was for NYU students to find the right orientation event. At NYU, orientation events are communicated through flyers and (way too many emails). The Google Design Challenge for 2019 was to make this exact process easier, which after my time as an RA sounded like the perfect task. My goal for this project was to make more than just event marketing app andactually tackling students' biggest orientation concerns.
Through my user research process, I discovered that students had two main motives when navigating orientation events:
1. Finding events that appeal to personal interests
2. Finding events that they can make friends at
In the mobile app, events that appeal to motive one are highlighted in the “For You” page. The desire for friendship is achieved through the social aspect of the app. Students want to go to events where they know they can make a friend/further grow a friendship. In the app, students can connect with one another through QR codes and see which events their connections are attending, and as a result, spotting which events can help them build valuable friendship!
“Orientation is Always a Blur”
I initially began my research by talking to students around my campus about their orientation experiences. However, I quickly discovered that all my interviewees struggled to recall details about their orientation experiences or even which events they had attended since it had been months or years since they had participated in orientation.
Luckily, there are hundreds of YouTubers who have vlogged their college orientations. The vlogs were the perfect window into orientation because I was able to learn about numerous experiences in a short amount of time and learn about the pain-points students experience as they were happening.
What Watching Vlogs Taught Me
Very few of the student vloggers talked about which orientation events and instead, they focused on the social aspect of the activities; specifically, on how they bonded with their roommate or made a new friend. Of course, students were still primarily picking events that appealed to their hobbies; however, the motive to attend an event was less about the topic and more about the possible social interaction.
The vlogs indicated that students are not merely interested in discovering events that appeal to their hobbies. Instead, students actually have two motives when selecting an orientation event:
Reduce the stress of orientation by attending events that they know they will enjoy and feel comfortable at
Alleviate fears of leaving home by attending events they can make friends at
At this point, I knew I had to create a product that offered two “filters” (I am using this word lightly) for the two different motives.
But what does that mean? It is quite apparent how one would make a filter for “sports-related activity” but how does one filter “friendship making”? To answer that question, I conducted four more interviews and developed user personas accordingly:
Jordan has trouble deciding which events to go to because while some sound interesting, they are unsure if anyone will be there and they do not want to be alone. Yet, they also worry they will miss out on a memorable “friendship making” experience.
While typically introverted, Alex is eager to attend as many events as possible, even the ones they would typically not be interested in, since they are aware they will struggle to reach out once school begins.
There are two themes that can be seen in these personas: overwhelming anxiety and social connection. I used these themes to break down the challenge into two steps, each step addressing one theme.
The biggest challenge was determining how I could filter or highlight the “friendship making” events. My first thought was to have students RSVP to events on the app. However, I quickly realized generalized RSVP’s are not valuable information because users are already aware that other students are attending events. Instead, users need to know if they will have the chance to make a meaningful connection.
I turned to binging more vlogs, through which I was quickly reminded that students continuously connect at each event and prompted made me wonder:
What if students could see that a previous “connection” was attending an event?
You may wonder, how is this different from two students exchanging numbers? The answer is information visibility and access. When trading numbers students tend to:
1. Forget whom they connected with throughout the day
2. Feel anxious to reach out to someone they just met and ask the very personal question, “What’s your plan for the day?”
As a result, they have no idea which events offer the opportunity to make friends.
I designed a simple interaction that pulls from existing social media applications and the user behaviors they have established. The reasoning behind this was to maintain a high level of familiarity and to ease anxieties in forming connections by normalizing it as a part of the app experience.
Sticky Notes from Brainstorming
My next step was to address the theme of overwhelming anxiety and not overwhelm students with a long list of events.
In order to reduce to cognitive and visual load, I decided to divide the events into simple categories ->
“Personal matches” (events appealing to personal interests) are placed in a separate, individual category called “For You”.
I realized that “non-match” events (events that were not relevant to personal interest) exist on a spectrum, ranging from “I could maybe do that” to “I would NEVER.” I decided to break up "non-matches" by themes (sports, food, volunteering, etc.).
In the future, I would like to conduct user testing with students that are undergoing orientation or recently have. Our minds constantly rework our memories based off the emotions we are associate overtime with those experiences. Thus, with time users may not have the most accurate memories of orientation and as a result, these users’ insights are not as applicable as the insights of users that recently experienced orientation.