Facilitating Mentorship through UX

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Client: optoMize

Task: Mentorship app design

Scope: 2 weeks

Tools: Balsamiq

OVERVIEW

With the pernicious qualities of social media it can be a challenge to muddle through the noise and find a true, golden opportunity. What’s more, as a young professional eager to get to work without much experience, it’s far too easy to get wrapped up in the whirlwind of mediocrity.

Fortunately, optiMize, a student-led, non-profit organization helps connect eager entrepreneurs with experienced mentors who can help guide them through a project or idea.

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Official optiMize logo

PROBLEM

As effective as their model was, optiMize needed a way to streamline the process of connecting recent graduates or young professionals with experienced mentors. My task was to develop a mobile application in under a week that is able to seamlessly connect mentors with proteges, enhancing upon the client’s existing community platform.

GOAL

I aimed to create a straight-forward, easy to use application that could successfully engage a web audience, foster a sense of community and seamlessly connect mentors with proteges based on research conducted via interviews and market analysis.

RESEARCH

Brainstorming

I set out to get a feel for our user base. I began brainstorming who exactly would most likely use this type of application. Who would find the application useful? Who would I be designing for? I arrived at young professionals, aged early 20s to mid 30s, most likely recent college graduates who had a strong entrepreneurial drive.

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Interviews

I then set out to the streets of Chinatown in the heart of DC to find potential users who would fit this description. Via guerrilla interview tactics I found 11 willing participants, 8 males and 3 females all aged between 22 to 35. I asked each 8–10 questions (depending on their responses) pertaining to mentor-ship and their level of comfort with technology. Participants were asked questions such as:

What qualities would you look for in a mentor?

How do you find your mentors?

What kind of structure would you look for in a mentor relationship? How often would you interact?

Few responses to the interviews were surprising or unexpected. In fact, I found quite similar responses across the board. The two most impactful to my research were:

 

What is the best medium for a mentor relationship and why?

In person. Human interaction is paramount in building a strong and trusting relationship.

What qualities would you look for in a mentor?

I mostly look for someone who I would want to emulate and someone who I can see myself being similar to in the future.

I realized that potential users cared most about the human aspect surrounding mentorship, they cared more about the genuine connection than perhaps the caliber of advice received. Of course, quality could not be ignored, but users were much more concerned about the former than the latter. And while technology has certainly advanced convenience and accessibility, users wanted to, in a sense, get back to basics. They wanted to “feel a human connection with their mentor,” a sentiment that was at the heart of my design flow.

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DESIGN PROCESS

User Flows

To get a begin understanding how the application itself would work, I sketched out potential user flows that a potential entrepreneur would take while using the app. What steps were required to log in? How many clicks would a brand new user need to take to become familiar with the application? I envisioned myself as the user, drawing out different ideas for navigating through the app, keeping in mind potential frustration points or steps that could lead to confusion.

Based on the responses from the interviews, I knew that I had to have a way to give users a face to face interaction with their mentor instead of just a video chat, phone call, or an email. To accomplish this, I implemented a 40 mile radius restriction in the app in order to only show mentors who are in the immediate area. I also knew that users wanted to find a mentor that would be relatable to them in some way. I inserted a filter function that would separate mentors as users searched by them based on field of work, gender, ethnicity, and age.

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User Flow

Wireflows

After a general idea was formed on how the user would navigate throughout the app, I went forward with some basic wireflows to get more granularity for the application. I took notes on what seemed to flow well, and what seemed cumbersome or downright obtrusive to the overall user experience.

From there I created a paper prototype where, still without too much commitment, I could see what the app would look like in real time. I could also get a feel for how comfortable button sizes were, play with placement, and how the feel for the overall flow was for the app.

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Wireflow redesign through the main pages of the application (Home, Chat, Mentor Finding)

Paper Prototype

Balancing the requirements of my client optiMize and the results of the research conducted, I felt confident in my design. The community section would engage users and provide entrepreneurial stories around which users could read, discuss, and share. The main function of the app, creating impactful connections, would be highlighted to guide, but not force, the user throughout the application

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Lo-Fidelity Prototype

Paper Prototype

The last step was to take the paper prototype to a clickable prototype via Balsamiq to work out any final kinks that may detract from the overall User Experience. 

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Usability Testing

With the prototype complete, it was time to take the model to testing and put real users behind the application. I was able to sit down with three of the original participants interviewed and found an additional four participants willing to test the clickable prototype, totaling seven users. Based on this feedback I received I quickly realized that one of the included functions of our app, the profile filtering function, while convenient, was perhaps a bit too limiting and may put potential users off.

In order to maintain the users’ needs of having a relatable mentor, I implemented a compatibility rating instead that would pair users with mentors based on things such as personality traits, interests, and field of work that users would fill in during the initial sign up procedure. Mentors with high ranked compatibility would be pushed to the top of the list, while mentors that had below 50% compatibility with a user would be hidden from view.

I also learned that some users may face a bit of anxiety if they request a mentor and do not hear anything in response. Based on this feedback, I decided to give potential mentors a limit of five days to get back to users if they request mentorship. Requests going past the five day limit would be removed and a status indicator that shows whether the status is pending, accepted, or removed would be implemented.

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Mentor Matching
Success Page

OUTCOMES

While delighted with how the prototype turned out, if more time was allotted, I would want to see a chat function for the application where users could directly message one another instantly, similar to most social media sites. This would help further foster the community environment that our client wished to promote. It would also be habit forming for our user base, allowing for potential increase use, which would aid in the connection of mentors with proteges.

I also would have liked to have seen a more robust personality/compatibility test implemented that would get a more detailed rating. Perhaps by reaching out to popular dating sites, or digesting well reviewed compatibility research available online, I could get insight as to what factors were absolutely necessary for precise compatibility ratings in order to ensure the right mentors ended up with the right proteges.

With that said, the application provides a much smoother process for ambitious entrepreneurs to get connected with potential mentors. The usability and intuitive nature of the app deliver an easy to use, low barrier to entry experience that will help bridge the inexperience most young entrepreneurs face.

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