Informing the Campus
Information is the life blood of any large organization, yet UT Dallas, a growing Tier-One university with 27 thousand students, largely relies on flyers, posters, rotating TV signage, and sandwich boards to desiminate information. Frustrated with this experience, myself and a group of students took it upon ourselves to improve life on campus with a mobile application for students, faculty, alumni, and staff that increases discovery and engagement with campus resources, organization, activities and more.
Our challenge was to present the user the most relevant information by understanding their context while avoiding information overload and respecting their privacy. With so many functions possible for the app to accomplish, we had to make sure that it was approachable and usable by the different stakeholders on campus. We wanted the app to be immersive by capturing the essence of the different schools and organizations, yet still be UTD official.
This was a volunteer project led by a team of 8 students. For the problem we were solving, we anticipated a likelihood of starting a company to offer our product to other universities. My role in this project that lasted 3 months, was to cover research, interaction design, and product management.
How does word spread at a university?
We knew we first had to take time to understand how universities work, and discovered what might be considered obvious. College campuses are a microcosm for the real world; they have government, commerce, programs, community, administration, policing, and accommodations that’s alot of information to generate, disseminate, and keep up to date.
Current mechanisms aim to share information by being presented where the target audience - students, visitors, community members - are likely to be. These solutions including flyers, posters, rotating TV signage, sandwich boards, text message alerts, and email announcements vary in factors such as:
- Depth of information they can deliver.
- Personalization of the information to the audience.
- Ability to update with new information.
- Frequency of impression.
- Ability to stand out and grab audience attention
Building Campus OS
Smart phones have become the new personal computers for a reason. The information delivered by mobile applications are not limited in their level of depth, personalization, and update-ability. In addition, the frequency and prominence at which users are notified can be regulated by the user themself. The perfect balance. Let’s build the best campus app out there!
- Be a Utility: Improve the campus experience by being an indespensible tool for discovery, engagement, and organization.
- Understand Context: Present the right information at the right time by factoring in schedule, day, weather, location and other factors the user permits.
- Visual Consistency and Delight: Modularize information and leverage existing mental models to increase usability and delight.
Mapping the Content
Structuring the interface
Drafting the flows
Place Picker: We wanted to allow students to easily get information about the buildings, attractions, and gathering areas that make our campus unique. So from the campus map students could search or drag around to select places, view a summary and visit their pages.
Place Page: The place pages would display information including times of availability, distance from location, upcoming events, available resources, how busy it is there and more. Tapping on an organization or event associated with that place would open a modal that gave more information and allowed users to RSVP or follow them.
Tweeking the look and feel
UT Dallas is marked with an impressive level of diversity, not only in its student body but its programs, building architecture, organizations and more. We wanted all this to shine through the interface, so the visual language - designed by Izuchukwu Elechi - made use of photography, color accents, and nicknames that embody organizations, events and places.
Universities are slow to adopt new technology
Our team of 8 design and engineering students worked hard to design the best app for UTD. We presented our designs to fellow students who gave us resoundingly positive feedback. Still, it was a challenge to get university buy-in. At the time, the university had revived a 3-year old, student government-led effort to build a UTD app. We made it clear that our team was well equiped to build this app and within the ACM club, maintain the app with a steady flow of incoming and outgoing students. However, after 3 months, 5 meetings, and over 20 email exchanges, they let us know they weren't interested in letting students run such an operation. They were satisfied with the app designs that student government had developed 3 years back. An app that they have yet to develop.
In the end, it was a fun project. I got to learn how to work within a team of designers and engineers, to advocate for the user and prioritize features. We learned the importance of being professional and selling ideas to the right stakeholders.