A peer support platform helping UofT students overcome failure through shared experience.
The Innovation Hub
Oct - Dec, 2021
Andy Pham, Ava Xu, Ivy Zhang, Miko Wu
User Research, Affinity Mapping, Ideating, Prototyping
When the Innovation Hub prompted us with the question, “What matters to UofT students?” We felt that Failure is a worthwhile topic to address, where a digital solution had the potential to make a meaningful impact on all UofT students.
UofT students are burdened with the pressure of upholding the school’s narrative of excellence and prestige. When faced with a setback, this pressure, along with the stigma of failure takes a heavy toll on Students’ mental health and well being.
A mobile platform for UofT students to support one another other during their setbacks through shared vulnerabilities and honest conversations, with the goal of normalizing failure.
The design process consisted of 5 x 2 week sprints, each culminating with a presentation of our progress to our instructors, classmates, and industry professionals.
We conducted secondary research to better understand the impacts of failures and setbacks on students’ mental health.
We then proceeded with our primary research of current UofT students or recent grads.
12 semi-structured Interviews
52 Survey Participants
We consolidated qualitative data from our interviews and surveys into an affinity diagram to visualize common themes in the data
UofT students experience both academic and non academic setbacks during their academic careers.
of students reported that a failure has had a significant impact on their mood and mental health.
Through our research we were able to discover 3 key barriers UofT students encounter when help seeking:
The confusion and inaccessibility of UofT resources
The stigma of failure and self-judgement
Support often feels impersonal or unhelpful
70% of survey respondents and all interview participants rely on their personal network for supports during a setback, most notably peer support
Students described sharing their experiences and vulnerabilities with others who are in the same boat as a highly effective way to cope with their setbacks. This helped them feel less alone and normalized their hardships, alleviating some of the stress and anxiety around their failure.
What students want:
What students don’t want:
To never lose sight of our users and their needs, we used our data to create the persona of Isabelle the International student.
Initially, we wanted to focus on the seek help stage of the process, however after further thought we realized that in order to be most impactful in Isabelle’s journey, our solution actually has to intervene as soon as she encounters failure.
Isabelle needs to feel supported at the onset of a failure so that it doesn't spill over into other areas of her life
Isabelle needs a way to remain anonymous so that she can be her authentic self
Isabelle needs to know there are others in the same boat as her so that she does not feel alone during her moments of failure
Each team member generated ideas that can improve Isabelle’s journey and solve her needs.
We then voted on the ideas in terms of impact and feasibility.
An immediate announcement to express need for support
Reminding one another that we’re not alone in our struggle
An Anonymous Forum
Anonymous topic-based forum for student struggles
Concealing real identities to encourage authentic converations
Through our chosen ideas the team was able to align on 3 features we wanted to tackle in the MVP. I was responsible for drawing the low-fi prototypes.
Feature: Students can notify the community that they are struggling by making a post describing their struggle
Feature: Through post engagement, students will be able to receive support and share helpful knowledge.
Feature: Through private messaging and phone calls, students can have direct conversations with one another while remaining anonymous.
The team conducted usability testing with 4 representative users.
The users were given 3 tasks to complete, each tackling a different feature of the app and were then asked follow up questions.
Our evaluation findings were able to inform us of concerns that we then iterated in our med-fi prototype.
Concern: Opportunities for trolls to abuse the app and prey on those who are emotionally vulnerable.
Iteration: Adding DM friction by allowing users to accept an incoming message.
Concern: Weak sense of safety as anyone could sign up for the app
Iteration: Sign up is now only through official UofT ID, to provides an added layer of security and accountability.
Concern: Students are more likely to explore other posts first before sharing their own vulnerabilities.
Iteration: Reducing the prominence of the post feature to encourage browsing before posting.
With the security concerns that arose around anonymous 1 on 1 conversations, we needed to give users with a different way to take part in honest conversations.
We decided to introduce a new “live sessions” feature on the app where students can listen to live audio sessions about various topics around failure and overcoming hurdles.
With the interactive mid-fi prototype, the team conducted summative evaluation with three representative users.
Ease and likeliness of use
All 3 users found the prototype very easy to use and claimed that they are very likely to use the app when they encounter a failure or setback.
Sense of Safety
The various security features (UofT login credentials, voice changing, reporting) provided a sense of safety to participants.
Users felt the post and live session features to be helpful and effective when experience setbacks.
Clarify unique icons
Users had trouble understanding the “Boat” emoji icon, which signifies “same boat”.
Find more ways to encourage posting
2 / 3 users unlikely to write a post in the beginning, instead they will observe others’ posts and decide if the platform is effective or not.
When dealing with multiple stakeholders from different backgrounds, interests and areas of expertise, you are likely to receive conflicting feedback on your design. It's important to remember that this is normal and that all feedback is valuable.
It's easy to come into a project with preconceived solutions, or to hang on to a feature or functionality that simply isn't working. The research data collected throughout the design process is immensely important - even when it's inconvenient, and should always be used to inform and defend your design decisions.
During our final playback, an industry guest gave us the feedback that we're designing an app that tackles the sensitive issue of mental health, without having talked to any mental health experts who would have extensive knowledge and expertise about our problem space. This type of app could have negative consequences on users, and taking this additional step could help prevent any unintentional harm that it may cause.