Grouper

Overview

An application made to streamline, enhance, and enable connections for remote first year Georgia Tech masters students.

Timeline - 6 months

My role - UX design

Skills - Hierarchical task analysis, storyboarding, wireframing, prototyping, remote collaboration

Context

The People

First year, online masters students rely on their school community for friendship and support, just like any other student.

When school gets challenging, they look to their friends, advisors, and professors for advice and companionship.

The Problem

Online students are separated (figuratively and physically) from their online community and academic support network.

For new students, getting integrated into their community and feeling truly included in an online setting is a crucial, but incredibly difficult task.

The goal

Design a solution to help remote, first year masters students at Georgia Tech connect with their program communities upon enrolling.

Our Solution

grouper

Grouper is a mobile app and a central hub of the different communication channels and subgroups that Georgia Tech master’s students must juggle during remote learning.

Get connected

During orientation, students log into Grouper with their school ID. They get connected to the platforms their online community uses, and enter their interests to find related groups.

Browse and join Groups

Grouper provides an overview of all the groups available in a student's online community, across all platforms.

Students can join any group directly from Grouper, and keep track of which groups they are a part of.

Create new Groups

Students can create new groups hosted on any platform directly from Grouper.

Challenge
Interview participants were hard to reach (we were doing user research during midterms)! We ended up recruiting participants from our own Masters program because hearing about community experiences from students was important, even if our interview population was not perfectly representative.

Research

02. Shared Characteristics
Students connect based on shared interests and identity.

06. Social Cues & Spontaneity
Online interactions fail to replicate crucial characteristics of in-person meetings.

04. Casual Context
Students feel more comfortable interacting in a laid-back environment.

05. Collaboration
Working together towards a common goal helps build community.

03. Sub-Group Formation
Students want to form small groups to build closer bonds.

01. Emotional Support
Online students want to feel safe and supported.

User Characteristics

We used our research findings to begin to piece together our users' goals, motivations, and needs. We ended up learning a lot about how first year master students define community, and the type of support they want to receive.

Design Requirements

With a better understanding of what our users were looking for in their online communities, we were able to start drafting the features our future solution should support:

01. Share User States
Give users a way to convey their attitude, emotions, or availability status.

02. Support Sub-Group Formation
Enable and encourage students to form sub-groups with others in their community.

03. Share Users' Interest Areas
Share user interest areas to encourage and afford initial connections.

04. Customizable
Allow customization to reflect student's unique goals, preferences, and circumstances.

05. Flexible
Support spontaneous and serendipitous encounters by being available on mobile interfaces.

06. Persistent
Create a persistent space and data so that students can save and revisit content later.

07. Collaborative
Encourage and enable collaboration on shared tasks, goals, or activities.

System Goals

Ideation

Process

We started by brainstorming as many ideas as possible individually. We then worked together to combine similar concepts and narrow down our ideas into 12 concepts.

Storyboarding

To start storyboarding, we narrowed down our ideas to two solutions. These ideas satisfied different system requirements, and approached the problem space in different ways.

Revised Concept: Grouper

We created Grouper as a response to our design concerns. Grouper is a central hub of student sub groups hosted across different platforms. It provides exploratory and organizational benefits that can help our users feel a sense of community during their remote program, without the burden of keeping track of another communication platform.

Changing direction

We brought these ideas in front of some HCI experts from our program to get feedback. During feedback, we found three potential problems:

01. Neither concept catered specifically to our user group. They were general solutions that could be implemented in many situations.

02. These solutions add onto the information overload students experience while juggling multiple communication applications.

03. Designing a chat app means entering a very saturated marketplace with highly developed and well established competitors.

Our team decided to take the feedback into account and develop a new solution better catered to our users.

Prototyping

Key Features

01. Users can find, join, or create sub-groups related to their interests.

02. Users can browse and join popular or trending sub-groups in their community.

03. Users can manage sub-groups that they are a part of across separate platforms from a central location.

User Flows & Wireframing

We created user flows and wireframes to illustrate how our users would navigate through the application and interact with our key features.

Branding

The branding and design for Grouper is fun and playful, but also clean and uncluttered. To encourage informal community bonding and personal interaction among Masters students, Grouper avoids appearing too clinical, and instead appears youthful, upbeat, and social.

Iteration

After developing our wireframe and brand, we started building a prototype, and conducted four usability tests to analyze the success of our solution.

Findings collected in our usability testing sessions helped us to iterate on our design. Below is an example of how we iterated on the Recommended Groups page.

Conclusion

Lessons Learned

This case study was never intended to be a fully functional and integrated product. However, the experience of designing and prototyping Grouper taught me some important lessons:

01. It is easy to get caught up in your head and 'think inside of the box' when designing. To avoid this, user needs and goals should be revisited throughout the design process.

During ideation, my team thought only of 'chat' applications because these are the platforms we were accustomed to using. However, if we progressed with a chat app, we may have ended up overwhelming our users with yet another social media platform, or our application may have never been used at all.

02. For an application to succeed, all stakeholders (not just end users) must stay at the front of the design process.

We were able to re-align our design with end-user needs, but there are several other stakeholders we would need to consider if this application ever went into production. For instance - we would have to find a way to motivate existing applications like Slack, Discord, and Microsoft Teams to integrate with our application.