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Reinventing the U.S. College Application Experience for

Chinese Students

Role    Lead UX/UI Designer

Client    ZLX Inc.

Duration    Aug 2015 - May 2016

The Challenge

Design a platform to provide recapitulative college information and effective application strategy services.

The Impact

In late 2016, after using this app to demonstrate the team's vision, 3 venture capital firms expressed their interests in investment. 

The Outcome

An information hub that allows applicants to accelerate their decision-making process on target colleges;

A social network that connects applicants with experienced and suitable application strategy consultants;

An education platform that provides customized courses to formulate the best application strategy.

 

All in one iOS application.

  Defining The Problem  

Market Opportunity

The application processes can be sorted into two stages: Decide target colleges and develop application strategies. I broke them down into steps to explore opportunities for improvement.

For Chinese students, two major problems make the process unproductive:

Scattered information

Applicants are forced to jump between numerous ranking lists and college news sites to formalize a list of target colleges.

Costly consulting services

A pool of 520,000 Chinese applicants creates a huge market for application consulting. To get a fair quality consulting service, a student needs to spend an average of $20,000 (equivalent to 1/3 of average Chinese family income). 

User Research

5 phone interviews with active college applicants allowed me to understand the true challenges they are facing. 

Scattered, and lengthy information

Surrounded by numerous school analysis resources, applicants often found themselves more confused and distracted. They need a simple system that delivers the recapitulative school information.

Not costly, but ineffective consulting services

Surprisingly, the applicants are willing to pay as long as an effective strategy is developed. The real challenge is to find quality and personalized consulting services. 

Refined Problem

Scattered and lengthy information makes it difficult to decide on target colleges.

Ineffective application strategy makes it difficult to apply to target colleges with confidence.

 
 

  Ideating the Solution  

Required Feature

*Here I use one feature to demonstrate my thought process.

One location with concise college information

The general direction is clear, but what information does an applicant truly need? And when does he/she need it? Referring back to user data allowed me to answer these questions with details.

I further organized the data into groups to drive design decisions.

Sketch

Screen 1

Screen 2

Screen 3

Wireframe and App Flow

I created wireframes to finalize screen layout and arrange the app structure.

I also assemble the app flow chart to describe the detailed user experience through the app.

Prototype, User Testing, Iteration

I conducted 4 rounds of guerrilla usability testings to modify my design. Updated design is listed below.

  Demonstrating the Outcome  

Color Scheme + Font Family

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Open Sans

Functional Prototype

Feature 1 - Application Strategy

The app allows applicants to customize application strategy services by selecting, comparing, or combining preferred courses with consultants.

Feature 2 - College Repository

The app starts with a simple ranking of colleges (left view), followed with 5 sections of concise admission information (middle view). Depends on the levels of detail you need, you may drill down to the thrid level for more information (right view).

 

  Lesson Learned  

Persuasion

At the beginning of the development, I constantly reminded them of the importance of understanding users and the importance of design requirements, I even conducted user research alone. UX designers have a lot of opportunities to work with professional or clients from various areas, but that means there are chances that co-workers or clients are not familiar with UX, which leads to the situation that they don't want to invest time to conduct user research or usability testings. As a UX designer, we don't have to force them to admit the value of doing user research or conducting user testings. Instead, what we need to do is to persuade them to let us do our job.

But, how? Yes, it depends.