A mobile application to enable assisted learning for personal development.
Everyone needs a helping hand every now and again. Though, it can often be challenging to find the right person to seek help from. While Youtube does a phenomenal job filling that void, having a mentor who’s been there, done that, makes a world of a difference.
The problem statement posed to me was to design an experience that could match prospective mentors and mentees based on similar interests, location and availability. Here’s my design solution.
Primary Research & Feature Identification
Early into my deliberation, it dawned on me that there were layers to this project that I had to uncover. One study I came across, titled, ’Does mentorship really work? A Multidisciplinary Meta-Analysis Comparing Mentored and Non-Mentored Individuals’ organised mentorship under three distinct categories, namely, Youth Mentorship, Academic Mentorship & Workplace Mentorship. The study also found that academic and workplace mentorship generally witnessed larger impact sizes, when compared to youth mentorship. This was an important finding that played a pivotal role in determining the overall direction of the product. I consequently decided on designing a solution that explicitly enables academic and workplace development by way of mentorship. However it was also my understanding that youth behavioural development could be a potential outcome of effective vocational mentorship enabled by the product. So in a way, the product could facilitate all three. To further understand what people’s views on mentorship were, I decided to run a short survey within my social network. I tried reaching out to a diverse set of individuals by sending my survey, to musicians, writers, journalists and artists, besides just startup forums and entrepreneurs. The questions I posed were primarily to understand the mentor mentee relationship. Here’s a list of some of the questions that were asked:
Formal setups like colleges and offices lent themselves better to finding mentors, invariably within one’s personal network. This does not mean informal setups aren’t conducive to mentorships, though one may infer a harder process of discovery of suitable mentors. To elaborate, the pre-existing social hierarchies within school & office contexts naturally organise mentor/mentee sub sets for easier access. It’s unlikely a manager will look to her sub-ordinate for mentorship. As a result of this learning, I decided the platform would benefit from being an egalitarian one to begin with, and in due course form its own hierarchies that would be solely based on its users’ abilities.
The majority of respondents would be willing to pay for a good mentor’s time, but wouldn’t necessarily trust third party reviews. This finding helped me narrow down on the idea of having a crowd sourced reward system that could replace a traditional review system. The reward system of course, would need some measures in place to combat fraud on the platform.
Armed with these learnings, I began to reinterpret the problem statement and ponder the purpose of the application. I was concerned that merely connecting two individuals, without providing them with adequate communication tools to kick-off their relationship could cause the experience to feel disjointed and incomplete.
Majority of respondents never chronicled their conversations, however 36% of respondents used some form of a text editor to jot down their notes. The fact that the users who did chronicle their conversations, used some form of text editor was an indicator for me to design the application around a chat based communication system, thereby closing the loop on the aforementioned concern.
Although the problem statement was to design an experience to match prospective mentors and mentees based on similar interests, location and availability, post my research I realised that identifying someone explicitly as a mentor was difficult. Individuals with a proclivity to teaching, but lacking formal degrees (like teachers, professors and many entrepreneurs) in a skill they acquired could still be great mentors, and it seemed to me like mentorship was very much, a state-of-mind. A manifestation of empathy that would be difficult to grasp with just a tag on a signup form. In some senses, building a simple networking application almost felt like a trivialisation of an incredibly nuanced relationship. I wanted to come up with a succinct one liner to describe the intended behaviour the application would spawn, and finally settled on ‘assisted learning for personal development’. This definition felt comprehensive and empathetic, some of the core facets of a good mentor relationship.
With some crucial learnings from the data and my personal observations, I decided to proceed with the design of the platform. The application was to enable individuals to connect with others on the basis of shared interests, with an explicit aim to better one’s abilities. Users would leverage the network algorithm to find and build organic relationships and as a result help foster mentorship in a pure and natural fashion. Users would also be able to reward particularly impactful mentors with a goodwill award, creating a pool of recommended mentors in specific domains.
With the application’s foundations sealed, I proceeded onto the next phase of the design process.
I’ve always preferred designing the brand identity before embarking on application design. In the past it’s helped solidify my vision and direction. I believe it’s the simplest representation of a generally elaborate idea and the first instance of scale the designer needs to deal with.
I decided to name the app ‘Guide’ and build on the analogy of guiding a kite to soaring heights. Personal development, be it in one’s career or private life, is a step by step process and so I decided to treat the identity to resemble stairs moving up in a rightward direction. It also resembles an arrow pointing to the same direction, making the identity more serendipitous.
33% of my survey respondents chose the colour blue when asked which colour they associated with learning, while 29% chose yellow and 19% chose green. I decided to go with shades of blue and green as the colours for the identity with the belief that my small sample set was onto something.
With the identity in place, I proceeded to figuring out the top-level workflow of the application. I’m a little old school and so a lot of my thoughts were penned down on A4 sheets in sequence. It’s very cathartic and helps me organise and prioritise efficiently. I have added photographs of some of my musings below. Of course not all my initial thoughts panned out, but that’s the beauty of the design process. Things keep evolving.
In order to plot the various sections of the application, I built a basic storyboard from a new user’s point of view. The storyboard goes over the individual’s journey from
b) Profile Creation
c) Network Search
d) User Matching
e) Requests to Connect, through to
f) Communication via Chat
To understand what data-points I was to use to design the profile and search screens on the application I had to work out how users would be matched. The platform was to take into consideration a user’s location, vocation, gender, interests and guide status (explained in the following section), to create potential match lists.
Although seemingly obvious to a lay man, additional unaccounted data points to be displayed on an interface can cause sub-optimal user experiences. Building user friendly, ‘obvious’ experiences, involves a lot of data stock taking and subsequently, prioritisation.
To me, creating a system with built-in motivators was very important. Mentorship and guidance are extremely intimate processes that need time to foster, and I didn’t want to design a something that would result in the commodification of earnest, well-gleaned advice. This was gospel. At the same time, I needed a way to validate users who were exceptional.
I designed an award system called ‘The North Star’. Each user on signing up would get access to strictly 5 North Stars. Users would be able to award the North Stars to contacts who were truly inspirational mentors . A North Star in short is a one-to-one permanent acknowledgement of goodwill that cannot be renewed. When a user receives 5 North Star awards, she/he is awarded the coveted title of a Guide. Guides are user recommended mentors in their specific domains and are awesome.
The purpose behind creating a finite, non-replenishing medium of exchange was not only to heighten the value of the gesture but also convey the emotional impact of that relationship.
Some of the finer operational details are mentioned below.
For this project I’ve limited my wire-framing and high-fidelity mockups only to the extent of its core functionalities. Some of the more common functions such as the user’s Account Settings section or more nuanced UX flows have been omitted in the interest of time and brevity.
User Flow Map & Wireframes
Guide was an extremely exciting case study to work on. It has the potential to solve a real problem connecting likeminded people outside the realm of dating and purely professional contexts. It’s always difficult to justify another social networking application but quite frankly, I believe the the future will see more niche and focussed platforms like Guide.
Guide could work as a mentoring app, but it could also be so much more! and I hope you had an interesting time reading through my process of arriving at the final design solution.