They say higher education is one of the most assured paths out of poverty. But many young adults today might disagree and search for an alternative that could better satisfy their goals without paying a hefty sum for higher education. While many of those who went to college felt disappointed because they expected something else, leading to costly transfers or dropping out entirely. Students need additional help to make important decisions in this increasingly complex and fast-evolving world. RealRise intends to address this issue by offering students a better way to explore their potential education and career choices and assist them through the whole process.
Before diving into stakeholders interview, I decided to kick off with some secondary research in order to better understand the prominent issues related to students who are looking to pursue higher education. This was done mainly by going through government archives, research publications, news articles, and NPOs in the education sector.
of low-income or first-generation students who enroll in college leave without a job related to their studies or without entering graduate school.
of students surveyed by Strada don't consider their college to be "excellent" or "very good" at connecting their education to meaningful careers.
I define my primary target user as high school students looking for higher education opportunities. However, it is also important to understand students' evolving goals and needs at different stages of their career path. This is why I also recruited a college student, a graduate student, and a doctorate student for my interview, all of whom reside in different locations. Students do not complete this journey in isolation, but their interaction with teachers, friends, and parents also influences the process. During the interview, I made sure that not only I should ask about what they think, but also what their environment is like for them. I had an extensive conversation with a public high school teacher and another one who is a homeschool teacher who gave me expert insights into a broader demographic of students.
Out of the six participants I learned that their pain points can be grouped into financial pressure, inadequate guidance, and the lack of supporting community. For instance, Charles grew up in a conservative white, middle-class family, who has siblings and parents that follow similar career path, does not experience financial problems but is pressured by his peers to prioritize a rigid career choice which confined him from being innovative. On the other hand, Jonah is a first-generation college student who were not able to have much advices from family members, but is given total freedom to choose his own goals as long as he could secure a scholarship. While Sally who came back to school for a PhD because her previous educations did not work out as planned due to misguidance. We can see that as students grow, their problems also change, but what remains similar throughout each stages, even for the teachers is that they wish to be surrounded by a supportive community that could share with them the experience they lack.
The solution to these problems would not fully materialize if I were to only create for student users. To solve such a complex issue, we have to allow relevant stakeholders to participate. Hence, I made a persona for student users and another representing a counselor to assist my ideation phase. Through these personas, I acknowledged that younger students today listen to many social media influencers even for career advice and that their goals are constantly evolving. At the same time, teachers can give limited advice due to a faster pace in changing labor demands. I realized that the two parties must become more trusting of each other instead of growing apart in disagreement to continue on a path to success.
With the primary target user in mind, I mapped out a journey for Daniel from a macro perspective going through different phases from entering high school to graduating college. I broke down his experience within each stage to highlight significant decision-making moments that could be our point of intervention. We can see that the path for a student is not a smooth one but more like a rollercoaster ride with many ups and downs. Daniels experiences a lot of emotional distress when he meets with an advisor or when he is taking exams and towards the end of his junior year when he needs to be looking for a job.
Education is one of the most crucial socioeconomic segments for any civilization. As anyone might have guessed, there are plenty of options catering to different user needs already. Still, they are not doing well enough to prevent high college dropout rates or disappointing career decisions. I researched over 25 different products and organizations that provide existing solutions and grouped them into five categories based on their core features.
From each category, I then pick a few examples that best demonstrate each feature for in-depth analysis. The best place for any student to start looking for a potential career path is undoubtedly CollegeBoard which offers the most extensive resources. However, the lack of dedicated app lowers usability on mobile devices compared to their competitors, such as Niche, which also provides comprehensive data on colleges and career statistics. RaiseMe aimed to the most user-friendly experience, but they still lack valuable content, whereas CollegeVine and College Confidential solely focus on community discussions. Cappex is great for scholarship searching, but the absence of career advice drives users to look elsewhere. On the other hand, Plexuss appears to recognize their competitors' shortcomings by offering the most well-rounded solution but does not stand out in any category due to poor usability.
Building an education platform that will cater to individuals' needs requires thoughtful organization of content to make sure each user arrives at where they want to be. By using cards representing different contents and touchpoints, I put together an overview of the information architecture. Then I develop wireframes to illustrate critical features, including how a student might want to learn more about different career paths by selecting the area of interest, which gradually narrow down to potential majors and colleges. Another value proposition of our solution is to automatically guide and track students' progress throughout the complicated admission process and allow advisors to spend more time on the decisive factor rather than trivial matters. Lastly, the platform should allow for productive discussion amongst students and counselors to broaden everyone's perspectives by sharing past failures and successes.
My proposed wireframe is proven to be successful at allowing users to browse effortlessly. Still, it failed at demonstrating a unique value proposition. To move forward with the next iteration, I decided to redesign the navigation bar by asking several users to sort which key features they would like instant access to. Instead of having the explore page as the default home screen, some users prefer to have a landing page with a condensed dashboard displaying a mix of other helpful information. This feedback made sense to me because RealRise should not only focus on college searching but also include other useful features to create a much more complete guidance experience. Based on previous feedback, I then redesigned the navigation bar to make other key features quickly available at all times by nesting three more features inside the center action button.
The brand RealRise comes from my genuine wish that students should have equal access to quality career guidance that is encouraging, but at the same time realistic to help them realize their full potential. The feelings that I would like the users to associate with this brand include trustworthiness, honesty, optimism, ambition, diligence, and transparency. Instead of going for the generic and predictable upward arrow to illustrate the rise to success, I decided to create an original logomark constructed from familiar geometric shapes that reminds you of high school textbook diagrams or cryptic algebra expression. The result is a brand that truly tries to understand what its users are going through and improve their experience.
Since we already know that college admission is a very competitive and stressful process for many students, I decided to use a cooler tone to give a sense of comfort and calm instead of energetic reds, mystic purple, or generic green. The cyan and blue gradient effectively illustrates the transition towards a positive outcome that a user should expect when interacting with the app.
The wordmark was typeset using Maison Medium, which shares many characteristics of popular Grotesque typefaces but does not feel too rigid while also sharing similarities with monospaced fonts used in coding. The combination of precise geometric shape and nuanced elegancy perfectly captured different students' entire range of goals. For body paragraphs and lower-level headings, Source Sans typeface of varying weights is chosen for its excellent clarity for all screen sizes while sharing similar aesthetics with the brand.
The prototype for RealRise is designed to reflect the different types of users on the platform. Instead of dehumanizing service providers into a corporate entity, I ensured that the student users would be aware of the human counselors and academic peers through available community features. However, I implemented these features subtly so that students would not be distracted from their goals and study time. Progress reports and reminder systems are broken down into smaller milestones so that students can achieve one task at a time, which accumulated into admission into their dream college. I also designed the service with delightfulness in mind to appeal to younger audiences and encourage them to spend extra time on their future. Most importantly, I hope that when users interact with RealRise, they will feel rewarded and that a desirable future is not at all too far out of reach.
After I presented the project to my peers, I learned that, in this case, simplicity could be a double-edged sword. While RealRise, at its current state, focuses on shortening the onboarding time, relying on repetitive interface design patterns could get boring for the users quickly. Moreover, there is a risk that if experience on RealRise is too similar to actual school routine, then some students might interpret RealRise as just another campus for them. If I were to continue working on this project, I would spend more time experimenting on a distinct user interface design and slightly tune up the gamified aspects of learning. Through these reflections, I realized that the challenge in this project lies in how I adjust for the right amount of fun and diligent work.