Otter Be Aware
UX/UI Researcher/Designer + Presenter
Faye Mensah, Aimee Castellon, Juan Trinidad
Figma, Mural, Google Drive, and Zoom
- Incoming students need support for mental health and academic success
- First generation students and those affected by the Pandemic may need extra support
- What digital solution can we create to help support students and give them access to resources?
of first-year students reported a substantial increase in mental and emotional exhaustion once
Statistics from Inside Higher Ed
of first-year student felt more hopeless once starting school
I served as the team facilitator and point of contact between our team and our instructor. I also took the lead on the User Experience Research portion of the project as well as the UI. My partners Faye and Juan collaborated on the first research and initial iteration then Aimee and I took the project through to final interactive prototype and other deliverables.
- Identify issues facing new students at Cal State University Monterey Bay.
- Define a problem which could use a digital solution.
- Research and iterate on a proposed solution.
From our own experiences we knew transitioning into college can be stressful. We found secondary research to back this up, which showed the prevalence of mental health issues in college students. While our original plan was to target the symptoms of mental health issues, we pivoted to targeting the source, which we later identified through field students and user interviews
Our goal was to develop a digital solution to mitigate new students’ stress as they transition into CSUMB and throughout their time at college.
We developed three personas, Hannah, Julia, and Anthony, to represent our target users and help identify their pain points.
Hannah is a freshman who has never been away from home longer than a week. Since coming to CSUMB she has struggled with making connections, been unhappy with her roommate which affects her mental health, and struggled to keep a healthy work and life balance. She needs to find ways to balance school and work and access school resources to help her with this.
Throughout her day Hannah experiences ups and downs which we identified through a journey map. She struggles to find resources and classes and experiences homesickness. However, these negative points on the journey provide opportunities for solutions. We wanted to identify a way for Hannah to feel supported and like she has the tools to succeed.
Some of Hannah’s fellow students experience the same struggles. These include other first-time students like Julia and transfers like Anthony who are also looking to fit in and have a smooth transition.
Looking at the numbers…
CSUMB Experience Study 2019
of students were satisfied or very satisfied with CSUMB’s overall commitment
to students. What about the 25% who were not?
Statistics from CSUMB Website
CSUMB Demographics 2019
of students are first generation students, meaning they have no direct family members to help orient them in their transition. How can we help them?
We went into the field studies with the goal of defining the main culprit of academic and social anxiety specifically in students attending California State University, Monterey Bay (CSUMB) for the very first time and how this group expresses that anxiety.
Our research team utilized field research techniques to do a deep hangout observation in two Communication Design courses. The team also observed students outside the first year dorms, in the dining commons, and in the library cafe. Observations specifically looked at non-verbal and verbal signs of stress in social and academic settings as well as group dynamics. Any anxious behaviors or social/anti-social behaviors were noted.
We interviewed a total of five students about their experiences being new at CSUMB. My interviewee was a 1st-year computer science major living in freshman dorms. Our interviews were semi-structured beginning with open-ended questions about their background and how they felt about CSUMB when transitioning in. Next we moved onto specific questions about their living situation, friends, study habits, and use of school resources.
From the interviews we were left with more questions:
Research Questions to Explore in Problem Framing
● What are students’ unmet needs as far as school resources are concerned?
● What social activities do first years feel comfortable partaking in that would lead to them forming connections with peers in their major or year?
● What solutions do other colleges employ to create healthy on campus living environments?
Competitive & Comparative Analysis – Link
We examined 5 different digital solutions that could make students feel safe and like they had sufficient resources to navigate their campus.
After identifying competitors/comparators we created a matrix charting the features each app had and rating how well they did each feature
A key part of this process was problem definition. We pivoted our project to solve the cause of student stress instead of looking at ways to mitigate anxiety and stress symptoms through a meditation app as we originally thought. We realized this would be a more impactful solution while conducting user research.
We utilized brainstorming, affinity mapping, and empathy mapping to relate to our users and come up with initial ideas to solve problems they face. We found that new students can become easily confused and overwhelmed by their transition and want easy access to resources.
Low Fidelity Sketching
I learned that I should keep the idea simpler to start, focusing only on key features and adding elements like gamification later. Although we had a lot of ideas for features we ended up working toward making an app with a more singular focus and trying to make it do that one thing very well.
Design Iteration & Testing
During user testing we had opportunities to rework our flows while increasing the fidelity of the application. Our participants also had a lot of useful suggestions for naming and organization/layouts they would prefer and that would help them navigate the screens.
Something I was interested in was learning to annotate designs for accessibility. Utilizing toolkits built by the Figma community I began to explore ways to annotate our designs should they be handed over to developers.
Otter Be Aware exists to provide students new to CSUMB, like our persona Hannah, with a centralized information app to access crucial resources for their safety and wellbeing. In so doing, it delivers an increased sense of belonging, a decrease in stress, and an increased feeling of safety to new students. Towards that end, it offers navigation tools, academic and health resources, and safety features (like an SOS button)
- Refine the Otter Be Aware prototype for development, define MVP, and launch a beta version in conjunction with the first year experience office programs
- Utilize the application to engage students during orientation and provide training and advertising
- Incentivize students to provide feedback in order to measure impact
- Increase student satisfaction, which increases performance and retention
- Promote school programs and resources
- Provide an easy way for students to report concerns, leading to proactive measures to improve student perception of their experience, leading to more interest in the school and programs
- Continue to attract a large number of underrepresented students by providing needed support