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 quality application strategy services.

The Impact

Around mid 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 future 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

Most of the application processes can be broken down into two stages.

To explore opportunities for improvement, I broke down the stages into smaller steps. All steps are required for application and need to be planned carefully.

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

Scattered information

Currently, applicants have 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 $20,000 (equivalent to 1/3 of average Chinese family income). 

We decided to make the application experience better, and cheaper.

But before moving forward, I conducted user research to drive our strategy and design effort.

User Research

5 phone interviews with active college applicants allowed me to gain a deeper understanding of the actual challenges they are facing. 

Scattered, and lengthy

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

Not costly, but inefficient consulting services

Surprisingly, the applicants are not worried about the cost as long as the consultant can develop a personalized efficient strategy. The real challenge is to find quality and personalized consulting services. 

Refined Problem

5 phone interviews with active college applicants allowed me to gain a deeper understanding of the actual challenges they are facing. 

Insights from User Research

These are included in the below persona.

User Pain Points determined Core Functions

Application Strategy

Connect students with experienced consultants

School Repository

Provide a central location for quality school information

Below, I use the function "School Repository" to demonstrate me thought process.

Decided on What Information is Needed

Data from user interview helped me prioritize needed information into three levels. I then organized them into three screens. 

Level 1 - First thing an applicant wants to know

School Ranking

Level 2 - Information for decision-making

School Location, Application Deadline, Popular Majors, Total Expenses

 

Level 3 - Information for the application process

Detail Information about Admission

Screen 1 to show school ranking

 

 

Screen 2 to show high-level school information, admission information, and expense information

Screen 3 to show detail admission information

Reframing The Problem

Sketches

Screen 1 focuses on showing ranking information.

For Screen 2, I focused on exploring a clean organization to display information in groups.

For Screen 3, I adapted the layout from Screen 1 and 2 to keep consistency. Meanwhile, I wanted to make sure users can locate to detail information easily.

Wireframes and App Flows

Wireframes to arrange the app structure.

App flow chart to describe the detailed user experience through the app.

Prototypes, User Testing, and Iterations

I conducted 4 rounds of guerrilla usability testings to verify my design. I then updated the design based on user feedback, which is listed below.

Ideating the Solution

Ranking is the #1 key when comparing schools

Along with that, the applicants also want to know if the school offers the desired major, if the living cost is affordable, and if the environment meets his/her expectation. 

Acceptance Rate is crucial  

Surprisingly, the applicants may not apply for the school that has a higher ranking but a low acceptance rate. It is because of the level of effort they put into application preparation. 

Deadlines are often overlooked 

These are included in the below persona.

Application Strategy

Connect students with experienced consultants

School Repository

Provide a central location for quality school information

Below, I use the function "School Repository" to demonstrate me thought process.

Data from user interview helped me prioritize needed information into three levels. I then organized them into three screens. 

Level 1 - First thing an applicant wants to know

School Ranking

Level 2 - Information for decision-making

School Location, Application Deadline, Popular Majors, Total Expenses

 

Level 3 - Information for the application process

Detail Information about Admission

Screen 1 to show school ranking

 

 

Screen 2 to show high-level school information, admission information, and expense information

Screen 3 to show detail admission information

Sketches

Screen 1 focuses on showing ranking information.

For Screen 2, I focused on exploring a clean organization to display information in groups.

For Screen 3, I adapted the layout from Screen 1 and 2 to keep consistency. Meanwhile, I wanted to make sure users can locate to detail information easily.

Wireframes and App Flows

Wireframes to arrange the app structure.

App flow chart to describe the detailed user experience through the app.

Prototypes, User Testing, and Iterations

I conducted 4 rounds of guerrilla usability testings to verify my design. I then updated the design based on user feedback, which is listed below.

 

Here's the Outcome

Color Scheme + Font Families

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Open Sans

Functional Prototype

Core Function No.1 - Application Strategy

The app connects student

Core Function No.2 - School Repository

The app starts with a comprehensive list of schools (left view), followed with sections of critical application information (middle view). Depends on the levels of detail you need, you may drill down to the next level for more information (right view).

LESSON LEARNED

Persuasion

Since all of the team members are not familiar with user research, at the beginning of the development, I had to constantly remind them 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. 

© 2019 built by Liang Zhao with LOOOOOVE

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