Google Design Challenge
UX Design INTERNSHIP Challenge Prompt:
A new school year is approaching and the orientation team is looking to you for some design expertise. Design an experience for students to discover orientation events and craft a visual system to accommodate different types of events: sports, music, visual arts, social groups, and volunteering events. Provide high-fidelity mocks for searching, browsing, and viewing the details for these different events.
During orientation, students are inundated with information about academics, campus resources, social activities, and their transition into college life. Not only are they experiencing information overload, they are experiencing it from an array of sources — the university, their college, other departments, student organizations, and more. Students need a way to effectively retrieve and navigate through relevant campus events to enhance their overall orientation experience and encourage campus involvement.
CalCal evokes and supports the spirit of discovery during orientation by aggregating information about orientation events and helping students create personalized itineraries that align with their interests.
01. Problem Definition
When I learned I had received admission to UC Berkeley for a Master’s program, I was ecstatic. I started the countdown to orientation, eager to meet fellow graduate students, learn more about the campus, and start this new chapter of my life.
Orientation itself was overwhelming; everything around me was new and exciting. I was trying to settle into my new home and navigate UC Berkeley’s 1,232 acre campus. I was learning about my program requirements, drafting a rough strategy for my time at Berkeley, and meeting my classmates. To put it simply, there was a lot going on and a lot I wanted to do, but I had no idea where to start.
Events during orientation are important. They create spaces wherein students can meet each other, they introduce campus resources, and they plant seeds for campus involvement. However, finding and tracking relevant events amidst the large amount of information students are presented with during orientation is challenging, especially because event information is distributed across multiple platforms — email lists, department websites, social media, flyers, word of mouth, etc., and hosted by numerous campus entities. At UC Berkeley, orientation events are hosted by the university at-large, each of the 14 colleges (e.g., College of Engineering), and each of the 1000+ student organizations. As a result, students are often unaware of or unable to easily find events that align with their personal interests and enrich their orientation experience.
This led to the question: how might we reduce barriers and enhance the process of finding and tracking events to harness the spirit of discovery and cultivate campus engagement during orientation?
Orientations can vary between universities. Therefore, for this project, I will focus on the orientation experience at the University of California, Berkeley.
Orientation events refer those that are formally organized by a university entity (e.g., Graduate Division, School of Information, VR Club, etc.).
Orientation event schedules are comprised of both mandatory and non-mandatory events. Students are afforded time to attend non-mandatory events.
Non-mandatory orientation events are poorly attended because of low visibility.
Orientation event organizers support the need for a tool that helps students find and track events.
All students have a CalNet ID. A CalNet ID is a UC Berkeley student account username.
In the context of event attendance during orientation, there are two key users—the event organizers and the event attendees. Event organizers are those who are responsible for planning and publicizing events. These user groups can be further broken down, as indicated in the diagrams below:
Given the prompt from the orientation team, the target users of this project are event attendees, or in other words, students. Orientation varies greatly between undergraduate and graduate students in terms of structure, student expectations, and resources at UC Berkeley. Undergraduate students undergo an 8-day comprehensive orientation which includes topics ranging from university policies to college-specific requirements as well as events such as socials and student organization fairs. During this orientation, students are given a personalized schedule and assigned to a group with fellow incoming students and a trained orientation leader (usually a current student). The majority of undergraduate students also live on campus, and therefore also have the resource of their residential advisors who can help them navigate through orientation.
Graduate student orientation, conversely, is largely dependent on the college to which the student is admitted. The School of Information, for example, hosted a 2-day orientation while School of Public Policy hosted a 1-day orientation. In addition to college-specific orientations, the Graduate Division (overarching all graduate colleges) hosted a 1-day orientation. Some of the college-specific orientations, however, overlapped with the Graduate Division’s orientation. During orientation, graduate students are not assigned groups or orientation leaders.
Compared to undergraduate student orientation, the graduate student orientation experience is largely fragmented and lacks student resources. There is an added challenge of the diversity of graduate students; while undergraduates are typically around the same age and share similar journeys (arriving from high school or transferring from a different college), graduate students can vary greatly in age (in my program, for example, we have students ranging from 22 to 37 years old) and life experience (marital status, children, etc.). Most graduate students also live off campus, and therefore are less interested in returning to campus for an event after they’ve gone home. As a result, I chose to focus on graduate students, with the intent of promoting a more cohesive, inclusive, and supportive orientation experience.
To begin, I needed to understand the current context of (1) why students attend orientation as well as events during orientation, (2) how students find events, and (3) what are their criteria when they are deciding whether or not to attend an event. In order to gain insight and identify a relevant problem space, I conducted interviews with Master’s students in various programs at UC Berkeley including Information Management and Systems, Mechanical Engineering, and Global Studies.
It is important to note that orientation takes place in the fall of each year, therefore respondents were asked to recall their past experiences and recount their actions and motivations. To minimize susceptibility to various cognitive biases related to memory and recollection, I chose to speak with first-year Master’s students who attended orientation in Fall 2018.
Now or Never.
Almost all students reported that they are more interested in and open to attending events that are unrelated to their professional interests during orientation, rather than throughout the school year when their priority shifts from making friends and joining clubs to doing well in classes and finding internships or jobs.
Although most students reported they found it difficult to find events for graduate students during orientation, they were certain there was a plethora of events available; in other words, students couldn’t find events but “knew they were out there”.
More than My Program.
Unlike undergraduate students whose orientation is comprised of both general events as well as college-specific events, graduate student orientations are almost entirely comprised of college-specific activities and events. As a result, graduate students often end orientation with a deep understanding of their program and classmates, but lack of connection to the broader campus community. All students expressed interest and curiosity towards other disciplines, to augment both their academic and social experiences.
Google Calendar versus Facebook.
Most students utilized both their Google Calendar and Facebook to keep track of events, and more specifically, distinguish must-attend from might-attend events. Students referred to their Google Calendar daily, and therefore utilized it for events they needed to attend based on school requirements or strong personal interest. Students often checked their Facebook less frequently, so they felt it was well-suited for documenting events they were considering due to Facebook’s “Interested” event response option as well as the ability to see who else is attending.
Reading Between the Lines.
The attendance count for events is a seemingly innocuous piece of information for event goers. However, almost all students listed it as a key consideration when determining whether or not to attend the event. It was less about who was going, and moreso what the number of people attending indicates. For example, some students thought the number of attendees was directly proportional to how worthwhile the event would be.
Paradox of Attendance.
Most students listed meeting new people as the top benefit of attending events during orientation, however, they were less likely to attend events alone. Students reported that knowing who else was attending the event was a key criteria in their decision-making process. The hesitation to go to events alone often outweighed the motivation of meeting new people.
On the Fly.
During orientation, students expected to be on campus from morning until evening. Some mentioned they would search for and make a list of potential events before arriving on campus. Most, however, searched for events while on campus, especially during breaks in their orientation schedules. Furthermore, they would often change their schedule as they learned of new events or based on how they were feeling.
Through the research, I identified two primary user types based on their motivation for searching events: the outcomes-based event seeker, and the interest-based event seeker.
Interest-Based Event Seeker
Student seeks events based on personal interests or curiosities in order to identify communities of like-minded people. As a result, they prefer events that are centered on a specific subject, such as songwriting, hip-hop dance, blockchain, or hiking.
As an incoming student, I want to search for orientation events that relate to my hobbies or things I want to learn about so that I can find people who share my interests and identify student organizations to join.
Outcomes-Based Event Seeker
Student seeks events based on what they might achieve by attending, such as making friends, identifying potential collaborations, or networking for future employment. As a result, they prefer events that are less focused on a certain subject but rather are organized in a way that is conducive to mingling, such as happy hours or career fairs.
As an incoming student, I want to browse orientation events that allow me to move around and talk to people so that I can broaden my campus community and connect to people I may not meet in my day-to-day.
Facilitate easy and informed decision-making by
providing key information at-a-glance.
Increase efficiency and effectiveness of event
discovery by organizing information in different ways
Using the research as inspiration and direction, I started the execution phase with a brainstorm. I had ideas from mild — improving the functionality of current tools such as Facebook or Google Calendar, to wild — sending students VR headsets to get a feel of the campus layout and preview events before orientation. Below are sketches of some of the larger ideas I explored, before I narrowed it down based on reach, value, and implementation effort and sketched out different directions.
How can we help students discover orientation events,
both from direct searches and browsing options?
How can we help students make decisions about events?
How can we help students track events?
I ultimately decided upon a mobile app, which I felt provided the greatest value for students while minimizing implementation effort. A mobile app would be conducive to the user’s current workflow of finding, reviewing, and tracking events real-time, on-the-go. To illustrate the user journey, I created a wireframe flow using medium fidelity mockups to ensure the layout direction would support the content.
Leveraging Google’s Material Design Theme Editor and UC Berkeley’s Brand Guidelines (color, typography, and graphics), I created high-fidelity mockups for the user journey from on-boarding to tracking events. I chose a size that would be compatible with Apple and Android devices to maximize responsiveness.
Students access CalCal with their CalNet ID, eliminating the need to create a new account and accelerating the on-boarding process. Furthermore, by connecting with their CalNet ID, CalCal can directly get information about the student’s academic background (i.e., their program) as well as their orientation and class schedule.
The dashboard features a single card that displays key information for the current or upcoming event, as well as two actions: view event or get directions to enable students to check their schedule at-a-glance, and to facilitate on-the-fly decision-making. I anticipate integrating with Google Maps to help students with wayfinding on campus.
If the student has nothing coming up, it will be replaced by a prompt encouraging them to discover events.
The top bar includes 3 action items: translate, filter, and search. From the research, I learned that international students can have trouble with English, so I included a Google Translate option. The filter and search options, as well as the tab bar, enable students to effectively and efficiently navigate through the information.
The Browse page features vertical scrolling to enable students to focus on one event at a time, which is reflected in the current way in which students browse events. Students typically evaluate events individually, not comparatively. This type of scrolling also mimics other platforms popular with students such as Facebook events and Instagram.
Finally, each event card contains the key criteria and actions students make when determining whether or not to attend an event to facilitate the event discovery process.
Browse: Event Type
Based on a survey of how other platforms categorize events as well as the type of events at UC Berkeley, I chose to include six chunks to provide enough nuance without overwhelming the student. To improve scannability, each row is anchored by a relevant icon.
It is important to note that the names of these chunks may need to be revised based on input from user research and writing to ensure intuitive comprehension.
To increase focus on the search task, I used a parent-child transition that expands when the student presses the search icon (shown on the browse page). Students can search for events through text, with suggestions, or voice, with Google Assistant. The voice assistant could also serve as an orientation leader for graduate students to help them find relevant events. Once the student writes or verbalizes a search, the search child will self-dismiss and display a list of relevant results.
Students can quickly filter options by using chips and sliders to select various criteria including date, location, event type, outcome (“Good For”), and attendance count. Students can also easily remove filters on the browse page rather than navigating back to the filter options.
It is important to note that these filter criteria may change based on user research.
To manage the amount of information associated with events, I used the strategy of progressive disclosure and the 80-20 rule to ensure only the necessary information is displayed at any given time. If the student presses on an event card, they will be shown more details about the event.
From the research, I learned visuals such as photos or videos were rarely viewed or considered because they failed to provide students with key information for making a decision. As a result, I chose to only include relevant written text with some icons to aid scannability.
I also used tags — event type and outcome — to support both the interest-based and outcome-based event seeker. In addition to the information pictured, the user can scroll down to read a brief description of the event or join a discussion with other students. I anticipate the discussion being a venue wherein students can coordinate and potentially find someone to attend the event with them to alleviate the paradox of attendance identified in the research.
I referred to common calendar layouts to create a sense of familiarity so that students would instinctively know how to use the calendar. Students can quickly switch between days, or open the menu to change the calendar view. Students can also distinguish, at-a-glance, both events they are attending as well as those they are interested in.
Students can quickly add events using the floating action button (FAB). The FAB can also serve as encouragement to discover and add events. Students can add events in one of four ways: (1) from an event card shown on the browse page, (2) manually typing in event details, (3) entering an event’s URL, or (4) taking a photo of an event flyer (using Optical Character Recognition via Google Keep or Lens).
By entering an event’s URL or taking photos of flyers, CalCal can successfully aggregate event information (if the event is not in CalCal’s database).
It is important to note the challenge of aggregating information, both physically and digitally, due to varying data structures and categorization.
Check out an interactive prototype of my solution here.
If given an opportunity to re-do this exercise, here are some elements I would like to include in this design process:
Interview key stakeholders involved in the redesign to understand their priorities and objectives, identify their technical constraints and capabilities, and learn about any problem areas they have uncovered.
Work with the user research team upfront to conduct a deep-dive into students’ orientation experiences. Ideally this should be done during orientation, using methods such as diary studies, observation, and interviews, to gain more accurate insight into student behaviors, barriers, motivations, and frustrations.
Conduct user testing after constructing a wireflow to validate direction, prioritize features, and adjust accordingly before diving into hi-fi mocks.
Fine-tune writing, interactions, and visual details
Build screens for different states
Evaluate design on different screen sizes
Explore technical feasibility for aggregating data, creating events based on images, etc.
Get feedback on screens from team members and stakeholders
Test screens with users to evaluate current direction and prioritize product features
Ensure designs meet web accessibility standards
Accommodate Cultural Differences. Given the large population of international students, we should consider different ways to translate and contextualize the information.
Expand Scope of Application. Explore possibility to expand solution to include undergraduate orientation and/or campus events that occur after orientation.
Improve Wayfinding. Some students listed the difficulty of finding buildings and rooms as a barrier to attending events. They stated that if an event was located in an unfamiliar part of campus, they are less likely to attend. As a result, we should consider how we can improve wayfinding, perhaps through improved signage on campus, a map that overlays directions using augmented reality technology, or enabling students to tour the campus through virtual reality.
Support the Event Organizer Experience. Include features, capabilities, and guidelines to support event organizers and ensure CalCal is able to effectively and accurately retrieve event information.
Preview the Event. Virtual reality can help students with the event discovery process by providing a preview of the experience, especially for events that are unfamiliar and hard to understand through photos, videos, or text descriptions. Similar to movie trailers, VR could be used to provide a snippet of an event so that students can get a better sense of what the event entails and what to expect.
Encourage Social Connection. Using the event attendance info — people interested and people attending — consider providing a visualization that shows the attendee breakdown. Also consider ways to connect people who are attending events alone.
Increase personalization. Develop an algorithm to improve event recommendations. Algorithm could be based on tracking the user’s activity — time spent on page, clicks, added events (interesting vs. going), and more.