Studi is a website where university students can upload or view information—such as syllabi and reviews—about their university's courses. In a team of five, I built a minimum viable product (MVP) of the website for the course, ITP 466: Building a High Tech Startup, at the University of Southern California.
My roles for this project were web design, project management, and UX research. The tools I used were Microsoft Excel, Google Analytics, Google Docs, Google Drive, Google Sites, Inspectlet, and Trello.
Designer: With one of my teammates, I designed Studi's layout and features. We used Google Sites to prototype and test the website's designs.
Project Manager: Sharing project management duties with one other teammate, I took care of organizing meetings, documenting, assigning tasks to individuals, and ensuring deadlines were met. My group used Trello to keep track of assignments and their deadlines.
UX Researcher: After my team and I formed a problem hypothesis, we wrote and executed a user research plan. I performed competitive analysis, organized field studies, and distributed surveys to collect data for persona building and design decisions. Once my team prototyped the app, I conducted usability tests to gather insights about design improvements. I also measured product success of Studi by monitoring metrics and key performance indicators (KPIs) with Google Analytics and Inspectlet.
Every year, students spend numerous hours planning out their course schedule for the next academic term (e.g. semester). They struggle with gathering information about a course before deciding whether or not to register for it.
To assist university students with making informed decisions about course registration, my team and I built a website that provides information, such as syllabi and reviews, about university courses. Through Studi, students can find and share documents that would help one another with scheduling classes.
At the beginning of the semester, my team listed out pain points that we have experienced. We strongly agreed that making informed decisions for the next academic term's course registration is a key problem that many students face. Since collecting information about university classes is a difficult and time-consuming task, my team decide to create an MVP of a website that would tackle this issue.
After my team conceptualized our product, I wrote a user research plan to gather data about features that would be needed for our website to succeed. In the plan, I specified the research background, objectives, methods, design focus components, participant profiles, and questions for surveys and interviews.
Once the professor approved my team's research plan, I did competitive analysis for Studi. I focused on two indirect competitors, Rate My Professors and Course Hero. The former contained numerous reviews about professors and provided rated categories (i.e. quality and difficulty) on a 1-5 scale. However, the website's design was disorganized, mainly due to the lack of filters and sorting options for navigating through a pile of reviews. Furthermore, professors' ratings tended to be skewed by selection bias; most reviewers were from students who had an extremely positive or negative experience in class. In contrast, Course Hero contained a vast collection of study resources. Unfortunately, the minimal amount of filters and sorting options made it difficult for users to sift through the large amount of course materials.
One direct competitor of Studi was the site, Student Course Review. It provided informative reviews with a rating system that encompassed several aspects (i.e. enjoyment, quality, difficult, and overall opinion) about a student's experience in a course. The website's content was also very organized; users could easily navigate through the posted content. Unlike the first two websites I mentioned, however, Student Course Review lacked a significant userbase, resulting in a small number of available courses with reviews.
After evaluating our competitors, my team and I conducted a field study, distributed an online survey, and interviewed other students. I organized and analyzed the data collected from our research, consolidating my findings in a document. Based on my studies, I built two personas.
Name: Antoinette Blair
Age: 22 years old
Class Standing: Senior
Wants to take interesting classes that will help her determine her career path
Wants a balanced schedule between her job, extracurriculars, and classes
Struggles to gather accurate data about course workload and the professor's teaching methods
Wastes time searching various online sources for information about courses
Name: Emily Hu
Age: 20 years old
Class Standing: Sophomore
Wants classes that are not difficult or time-consuming
Wants a manageable schedule to maintain a high GPA
Struggles to gather accurate data about the workload and difficulty of courses
Wastes time searching various online sources for information about courses
Based on the two personas and other findings from the research, my team and I decided to implement three key features for our product:
All in One: Include all relevant information (e.g. syllabus, reviews, requisites) about a course
Schedule Planner: Help students plan their week based on the classes that they registered for
Degree Planner: Display students' degree progress based on the courses that they have taken and suggest future courses according to remaining degree requirements or personal interests
During the development stage of the project, I used Google Sites to prototype Studi. The website consisted of a landing page, information about specific courses, a schedule planner, and a degree planner.
After my team finished prototyping the website, I conducted usability tests. During these tests, participants reported their dislike of the product value proposition's phrasing and the website's design.
Forgettable Product Value Proposition: Some participants thought the product value proposition needed to be more concise and catchy. My team came up with three different phrases for the value proposition and presented them to the same participants from the usability tests. Then, I changed the current value proposition to the most popular phrasing amongst the participants.
Unattractive Website Design: Many users wanted a different font and a less bright color scheme. They desired a more modern, professional layout, so I used Colormind, an online AI-powered color palette generator, to create three different color schemes. My team also chose three potential fonts for our website. Presenting these schemes and fonts to the same participants from the usability tests, I discovered that most liked the palette with more muted colors and the font with rounded corners. Incorporating the most popular color scheme and font into Studi, I gave the website a simple, sophisticated design to appeal to university students.
After revamping the website, my team measured metrics and KPIs, using Google Analytics and Inspectlet, to determine our product's success. We achieved a 27% conversion rate, exceeding our goal of 10%. The website also reached our target of 50 signups and concluded with a total of 54 by the end of the semester.
At the end of the semester, my teammates and I pitched Studi to a group of investors invited by our professor. The investors complimented the website's aesthetics and solution to solve a key pain point of university students.
Building an MVP of Studi helped me develop my skills in web development and prototyping. It also exposed me to many aspects of user research. I learned how to do competitive analysis, script interview questions, build personas, and measure KPIs, to name a few. Besides performing various research methods, I came out of this experience with two important findings.
Offering a unique benefit gives a competitive advantage to a product. When I did competitive analysis, I noticed the differences between each competitor of Studi. The aspects of a product that others lacked seemed to have significantly contributed to the disparity between user bases. I realized that having a unique offering can give a product a strong footing amongst its competitors.
A product that does not solve an actual issue or fulfill an existing need can fail. One of the main objectives of user research in this course was to set up my team's project for success. During lecture, I learned that a product that does not add value to people's lives can fail financially, because it would lack an addressable market. Thus, it is important to identify and understand a pain point through user research. Supported by data, an effective solution to the pain point can increase a product's chance for success.