Peerspace

A peer support platform helping UofT students overcome failure through shared experience.

Collaborator

The Innovation Hub

Timeline

Oct - Dec, 2021
(3 Months)

Sector

Student Life

Platform

Mobile

Team Members

Andy Pham, Ava Xu, Ivy Zhang, Miko Wu

My Contributions

User Research, Affinity Mapping, Ideating, Prototyping

The Context

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.

The Problem

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.

The Solution: Peerspace

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.

How did we land on Peerspace?

The design process

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 started out with a broad design question:

How can we help UofT students deal with, and cope with failure?

Research: Understanding the Problem

Research Process

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

Research Analysis

We consolidated qualitative data from our interviews and surveys into an affinity diagram to visualize common themes in the data

Research Findings

Setbacks are multifaceted

UofT students experience both academic and non academic setbacks during their academic careers.

Setbacks have a significant impact on mental health

70%

of students reported that a failure has had a significant impact on their mood and mental health.

3 Key Barriers to Help Seeking

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

The Importance of Personal Networks

70% of survey respondents and all interview participants rely on their personal network for supports during a setback, most notably peer support

Typically when experiencing setbacks, who do you confide in?

The value and comfort of shared experience

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.

While experiencing a setback, do you ever interact with others going through the same thing?

“Seeking out other students going through the same problems is helpful mentally and practically” (P6)

"it's nice to have people you can relate to, and know you’re not the only one dealing with those things" (P10)

“till the end of the course, I realized it wasn’t just me, there are other people who experiences the same as me, it would be nice to know that I wasn't alone” (P7)

Qualities students seek in a supporter

What students want:
Non-judgemental
Patient
Good-Listener
Patient
Empathetic
Compassionate
Supportive
Honesty
Shared Experience

What students don’t want:
Someone condescending
Arrogance
Toxic Positivity
Unsolicited advice

Defining the Problem:

When students feel disconnected and unsupported during their setback, they are unable to cope, leading to a negative impact on their mood and mental health.

How can we support students at the onset of a failure by fostering genuine connections through shared experiences and vulnerabilities?

Empathizing with Students

Meet Isabelle the International Student

To never lose sight of our users and their needs, we used our data to create the persona of Isabelle the International student.

The as-is scenario takes us through Isabelle’s journey as she performs poorly on a midterm.

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.

So, what does Isabelle need?

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

How can we help Isabelle?

Ideation and Prioritization

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.

We landed on 4 “home run” ideas with the highest impact and feasibility:

Speedy Support

An immediate announcement to express need for support

Shared Experience

Reminding one another that we’re not alone in our struggle

An Anonymous Forum

Anonymous topic-based forum for student struggles

Fake Identity

Concealing real identities to encourage authentic converations

Prototyping: From Ideas to Features

Low-Fi Prototypes

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.

1. Writing a Post

Feature: Students can notify the community that they are struggling by making a post describing their struggle

2. Receiving Support

Feature: Through post engagement, students will be able to receive support and share helpful knowledge.

3. Direct Messaging

Feature: Through private messaging and phone calls, students can have direct conversations with one another while remaining anonymous.

Iterating through Evaluation

Usability Testing

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.

Med-Fi Iterations guided by data

Our evaluation findings were able to inform us of concerns that we then iterated in our med-fi prototype.

Security Concerns

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.

Difficulty in immediate vulnerability

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.

New feature: Live sessions

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.

Honest conversations: Reimagined

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.

Med-Fi Evaluations + Next Steps

With the interactive mid-fi prototype, the team conducted summative evaluation with three representative users.

Positives:

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.

Effectiveness

Users felt the post and live session features to be helpful and effective when experience setbacks.

Next Steps:

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.

Key Learnings

Feedback isn't always unanimous

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.

Listen to the Data

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.

Seek input from the experts

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.