As part of a User Experience in Design course at the University of Minnesota I conducted a month-long user study and wireframing project with three other students. Our client was Check & Connect, a student engagement intervention program in which mentors work one-on-one with teenage students at risk of dropping out. Over years of documented work, Check & Connect (C&C) had demonstrated the long-term success of its interventions, but the paper-based system for tracking student data was limiting their potential for deeper analysis. They asked us to develop recommendations and wireframes for a web-based interface for C&C mentors to manage student data more effectively.
This project gave me the opportunity to conduct a real user study with access to real users of a real product. We used a number of UX methods to tackle the problem: directed storytelling, developing personas, conducting a heuristic analysis, developing wireframes and testing them with users, surveying users on the desirability of certain features, and delivering a final report and presentation to our client.
While the project went through a number of phases, the main product was the wireframes. View our live wireframes with the link below, or page through the annotated wireframes PDF embedded below the link.
One of our top priorities in designing this data entry interface was making it approachable and desirable to C&C mentors. We learned that each C&C program would have to voluntarily choose to abandon their paper-based system for the new website, so we wanted to present them with something familiar enough to make them comfortable with the switch. Given the chaotic environment in which mentors worked and the hesitance to abandon the paper and pencil, we designed a flexible entry form that organizes the check list in the same format of the spreadsheet (month view), with the option to view in a different, more focused interface. We felt that this option was key. If you're used to the spreadsheet, you should see something similar to the spreadsheet at first. Once your ready, you can switch explore the other entry method, which we thought ultimately would be more convenient. In this setting, this kind of respect for the current system was key to navigating an optional implementation.
The other focus of our design was making the site desirable, not just in how it looked, but in what mentors got from it. As an organization, Check & Connect wanted to get more clean data out of its mentors, but what we learned from our interviews was that data organization was not a top priority for the mentors themselves. The mentors just cared about being good mentors to their students (naturally). It wasn't enough to explain to them how a web-based entry system would help their bosses. We need it to help them in ways they actually wanted to be helped. From the interviews we gleaned that positive reinforcement is a challenge with some mentors, so we made sure that each student's page would highlight their successes just as much as their problem areas. This incentives mentors to adopt the system because it helps them identify improvements that they might have missed. It gives them good things to say to their students.
With only one month to complete the whole project, I knew there was much more we could have done, but tight deadlines and difficult prioritization is probably just as common in "real-world" settings as it was in this course. Even in this short amount of time, I learned so much about what goes into a user study. I came away with so much respect for this process, and an excitement to continue pursuing this field of work.
If you're interested in diving deeper into the project, you can read the full report below.