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OneCrimson.

Redesigning Student Mentorship Experience

OneCrimson is an app to help college students build strong community connections and foster more meaningful mutual relationships between mentees and mentors.

There are mainly three goals achieved in this design: 1)provide a personalized matching process on the basis of common interests and preferences; 2)invite more students to join the community and help them build meaningful relationships naturally; 3)encourage and navigate the transition from mentees (or experienced students) to mentors.

 

*This work was a design solution to Google's summer 2020 design challenge.

Role | Full-stack UX Design

Tools | figma, photoshop, illustrator

Duration | 4 days

Prompt.

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.

Where I start.

My main focus in this exercise is to design a mentorship experience for new students in college considering it is crucial to connect them to diverse academic, leadership, career, campus and social resources provided by universities, which will help them succeed in college life and be well-prepared for bigger real-life challenges after graduation.

 

Besides, while the main user group is new students, I would also like to make this experience accessible and inclusive to all students who seek for meaningful mentoring opportunities that can benefit their personal development. ​

 

Then I start conducting research and analysis on 1) what are the needs, problems, and expectations that mentors and mentees have in a mentoring relationship and 2) how to match the right mentors and mentees.

Research.

Only a few of schools and programs provide their own new student mentorship program. Most of schools primarily rely on one-week or two-week orientation to help new students adapt to college life. (For example, most of schools within the Harvard community do not have student mentoring programs for new students.) There are some obvious problems for each of them:

Mentorship Programs:

  • new students are paired with experienced students randomly

  • not easy to find student volunteers to be mentors

  • not available before the semester starts

 

Orientations:​

  • need significant efforts and time to manage the entire process

  • hard to meet every student' needs (usually only go through general questions)

  • overwhelming (too many things to be figured out in a short period of time)

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Stakeholder Interviews.

Stakeholder 1: New students | Mentees

In order to identify the expectations that mentees usually have, I interviewed 10 students (including 4 international students) who had a peer-to-peer mentoring experience in college. Unfortunately their relationships with mentors usually end quickly. I've collected some unsatisfying feedback:

  • Lack of shared interests

Schools often assign mentors to students randomly. The mentees usually feel that they need to start the relationships with mentors and drive the conversations. However, they don't know where to start in order to lead to a more authentic and open dialogue. 

" Our conversations got dry and I didn't know how to keep it going after asking a few questions about the housing and course shopping."

" I was looking for a potential role model who I could learn from. But it was almost impossible. I was assigned to be paired with an upperclassman randomly."

" My mentor was very nice and supportive. But he was not able to figure out some of my questions since he studied in a different field."

  • Lots of questions arise even before the school starts

New students have many confusions and questions needed to be resolved during the summer. Many things need to be planned out much earlier.

" I wish I could have a mentor earlier...I have more questions before the orientation ."

" My transition to college would have been smoother if I had done more preparation."

" I need some tips to help me make a better decision...especially when the school didn't provide very clear instructions."

  • Maintaining the relationship with mentors is also challenging

The mentor-mentee relationships may end quickly. It is rare that the mentees still keep in touch with their mentors after a month.

" I met my mentor once or twice a week initially but I decided to figure problems out by myself later."

" The mentor-mentee relationship is not organic. What should I expect from my mentor if we didn't end up being friends?"

" I rarely meet my mentors. Meeting so many people and making new friends were challenging already."

  • Cultural Barriers (for international students only)

International students need more support and guidance than domestic students. They have to tackle more problems such as language and culture shock.

" It would be better if I could have been paired with another international student or someone with a similar background. Local students cannot understand my questions."

" My language skills were not good enough, so sometimes I couldn't articulate my complicated situations and didn't know how to get help from people.  "  

" I didn't mean to bother my mentor too much. It was a bit overwhelming for me to start a new life in another country in the beginning."

Stakeholder 2: Experienced students | Mentors

There are only a few of people I've reached out had an experience of being a mentor. Mentors usually have to be paired with more than one mentee. Many experienced students are not comfortable with becoming a mentor since they are worried about that their mentor-mentee relationship is going to be very time-consuming or meaningless. 

Why are experienced students reluctant to become a mentor? I talked with 3 students who used to be a student mentor and 3 students who are strongly against to be a mentor to understand their needs and concerns. Below are some of their main frustrations:

  • Meaningless short-term relationship

Campus life is busy and stressful. People don't want to spend their time on someone who will say bye after a week or a month or just building up a superficial relationship.

" I don't know why I should be a mentor. As a more experienced student, I can barely get anything from the new students. "

" It was annoying that new students usually just treat me as Yelp, Google, Canvas or Student Service. It was a waste of time for me as many answers can be found online."

" This kind of relationship never lasts long. I don't think new students really pay attention to my suggestions."

" I don't know my mentee very well. It was hard for me to stand in his situations to provide useful advices."

  • Misalignment of academic background and non-academic interest

Some mentors do not feel they are the ideal person to help their mentees get connected to the resources they need to be more successful in college life. Mentors would like to know a bit more about their prospective mentors to evaluate if they should match.

" I study architecture but my mentee asked me about urban planning. I don't have sufficient experiences to answer most of her questions."

" When my mentee asked me where he could find the best bar around the campus. I had to say sorry I don't know...I don't like bars or clubs."

" My mentees know much more than I know on many topics. It was embarrassing that I am not always the expert."

  • Limited time availability

It is a big commitment to become a mentor. Students need to carefully plan their schedule and make sure they have enough time available for their mentees. And some students would like to support new students but they may not have sufficient time.

" I would love to support new students but I want to know how much time I should plan for this commitment."

" Being a mentor sounds like an obligation to me. I need more time to consider if I am ready to be a mentor."

" I would be more than happy to help if I happen to have time to assist new students in their transitions to new schools."

Problem.

How can we help college students build strong community connections and foster more meaningful mutual relationships between mentees and mentors?

Solution.

Thus, I will need to achieve the following three goals to solve this problem: 

  1. Provide a personalized matching process on the basis of common interests and preferences     (i.e. academic backgrounds, career goals, availability, etc.) 

  2. Invite more students to join the community and help them build meaningful relationships naturally 

  3. Encourage and navigate the transition from mentees/experienced students to mentors

Ideation, Sketches

& Wireframes.

Once the main goals were defined, I started sketching the user flow and key UI features.

The experience covers three crucial stages (life before, during & after matching):

  • Get to know prospective mentors or mentees through small group chats or 1v1 chats before school starts

  • Match with people who you already have a good conversation

  • Encourage a fluid relationship that helps people maintain connections or seek for future collaborations with peers

Life before during and after mentorship.

Three Stages of Experience

(before school, during orientation, after mentorship )

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Wireframe Sketches

Keeping the goals in mind, I moved to Figma to prototype the user flow after a few iterations by sketching. Below was the final wireframes:

Wireframes_final.jpg

Since we focus on helping students to get connected with people who have the shared interests or backgrounds, I opted for bottom navigation with 3 functions:

  • Discover

Students can post questions or share tips in Q&A, search groups in Explore, and look for people with higher matching percentages.

  • Contacts

Small group chats enable students to get to know a few prospective mentors as well as other new students more efficiently and comfortably.

If people feel they find someone could be a match, they can start a 1v1 chat.

  • Profile

This part allows students to improve their profiles, adjust preferences and check their schedules. It also provides the information that facilitates the potential transition from mentees to mentors.

I will go through the design decisions and details that I made for three essential user flows:

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Onboarding.

To start the journey, users sign in with their school emails to verify their identity as a member within the Harvard community.

The greeting screen invites users to answer a few questions and explain how we can help them fill in their basic profile quickly in order to get more personalized results for matching (Goal #1).

The questionnaire doesn't include too many questions. There is only one question on each screen. Users can easily answer it by highlighting their options. They can go back to previous questions or swipe the screen (or touch the ">"symbol) to go to the next question.

 

People usually don't like long question lists and don't pay too much attention to each question initially. So we only ask a few basic but important questions to get them started. We will also remind users to improve their profiles later. Once users realize that the suggested connections can be more relevant to them, they will complete their profiles more patiently. 

Once they finish the questionnaire, they are directed to the homepage "Discover".  Some additional guidance will be provided if users are first-time using the app. If users do "LATER" to skip the questionnaire, they can still go to the homepage. But there is a big banner hanging above to remind users to continue the questionnaire so we can provide better suggestions.

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Explore.

The app supports users to build a meaningful relationship more naturally (Goal#2). If the users are new students seeking for prospective mentors, we will suggest them checking if there is a small group they would like to join. Each group is created by a few mentors who have some shared experiences. New students can check the group members' profiles, chat with and get to know group members to decide if they feel there is someone can be their match in the group. The casual group chats help new students quickly get help from multiple mentors and have a more natural and easy start for further 1v1 conversations.

Users can also look at "Find People" to filter their prospective matches. If users still don't get their ideal suggestions, they can either do "filters" or go to "improve your profile" to get more accurate results. Every time the users filter the options or after improving their profiles, we will display an animation for a few seconds to indicate that we are processing the results and try to find better matches. 

 

People can tap into the profile picture to get to the "Profile" screen which contains individual backgrounds, preferences and expectations. The profile screen helps students know more about each other and look for better matches. The star symbol allows user to save profiles for considerations. The add button allows users to add people for chatting.

Before the school starts and during the summer, students can post questions in the "Q&A" section to get help. Support will not only be provided by committed mentors, other experienced students can play a role as an "occasional mentor" - they don't have to be matched with any of new students, but they can answer questions and provide some tips when they are available. In this way, we can convince more experienced students to join the community since they will also benefit from getting connections and learning about resources provided by peers. Besides, the "Q&A" allows some general information can be more accessible so people don't always need to have 1v1 chat with mentors. It saves both mentors' and mentee's time.

3-Transition.png

Transition.

To encourage and navigate students to become a mentor, the app guides users gradually (Goal #3). First, when students sign up for new accounts, it will ask for their current status. We encourage experienced students to join as a mentor but we don't want to discourage them if they are not ready yet. Thus, it provides an option called "Explore." All experienced students can use all features provided by the app and don't need to feel obligated to contribute as "mentors." It also reminds users who proceed with "Explore" can become a mentor later.

When a student decides to be matched with someone, we will ask him to confirm the type of relationships again. The "mentor >" with an underline implies that the user can switch to other types and check for more information.

In the "Profile" screen, I also highlighted the line "want to become a mentor?" by placing it in an isolated position away from the cluster of other functions.

Notifications may pop up sometimes. Many students understand what they can learn as a mentee but don't realize the benefits of becoming a mentor. So we can explain some good things about being a mentor and catalyze the community bonds.

The personalized notifications also help students to find people who may match their expectations. If a new member just joined the community, we immediately send messages to some users who are likely to be interested in learning more about him. It will call for more attentions from relevant people and help people get connected quickly.

 

High Fidelity.

I prototyped the homepage("Discover") and some other detailed screens in high fidelity based on the wireframes.

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Discover (homepage)

The Harvard Crimson Red is the key color in this design system. It resonates with the whole Harvard community.

On the homepage screen, three big blocks in red tell users the main features provided by the app and invite users to check them out. 

The "Discover" button is placed on the center of the bottom navigation bar as it directs users to this main page.

The background image showing the campus life will be replaced everyday to reinforce the sense of community.

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Questionnaire

The user will be asked a few questions so the basic user profile and the initial matching results can be processed automatically.

Each screen only appears one question - while keeping it minimal and simple, it also helps the user focus on every single question.

The selected options and current progress will be highlighted in red to help the user confirm the answers.

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Suggested Matches 

The matching results were processed based on the questionnaire.

The user can refilter the results based on their own preferences.

 

The user is reminded to improve his profile in order to help him get better matches. The initial questionnaire only asked basic questions, now the user will be convinced to further complete their profile by going to the "user's profile" screen.

Suggested matches are ordered by how much the user's profile matches with others. We emphasize the differences by giving an accurate percentage.

People can save the profiles by pressing stars but they cannot match or chat with them without taking a closer look at their profiles.

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People's Profile

The status (i.e. "mentor") of the person is indicated along with other information.

The shared interests will be highlighted in the red bricks.

 

The user can also know what kind of questions that the person may be able to help with by finding the key words in the red bricks under the "Ask me" section. The similar section called "Want to know" is also included in mentee's profiles.

 

Also, if the mentee would like to join or learn more about any of the student organizations or activities, they can see if that person is affiliated to it.

Once the user is ready to start a conversation, he can press the "add" button, which always floats above the profile button on the bottom navigation, to add the person to the contacts.

Integration.

As a stretch goal, I am thinking to integrate some Google services (i.e. google calendar) and the school system to the app. For example, this app can sync with the user's schedule and figure out the possible availability of the users. Also, the school already collects some basic information of each student, we may want to import them to the user's profiles.

I hope this app provides the opportunities that the members will not be restricted within mentorship relationships eventually since students can always learn from each other and switch between the roles of "mentors" and "mentees." Therefore, students can learn, make friends and will be more willing to build long-term and meaningful relationships. 

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