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NOV 2020 - FEB 2021
Adobe XD, Miro, Illustrator, Photoshop, Monday

The university FH Aachen currently uses multiple different platforms for students and lecturers for important processes and tasks around the university life. This project includes a new concept to combine everything in one application.*  The goals are to automate and simplify administrative processes for students and lecturers and to offer new networking possibilities with other students and faculties.

* There was no official assignment from the university.
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Worked with Anneli Lux
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PROBLEM

Frequent organisational problems among students and lecturers and a poor cooperation network between students and faculties

The university FH Aachen currently uses more than 10 different platforms for students and lecturers for important processes, information and tasks around the university life. (Due to covid the amount of platforms increased). Through user research, we discovered that there are the following problems:

 

  • Too many platforms with inconsistent design are confusing, especially for new students 

  • Platforms have poor usability and are not responsive

  • Transfer of information doesn’t work between faculties, administration offices, students and lecturers 

  • Required administrative tasks cost much time

  • There’s not much networking or team projects between faculties

GOALS

1.

Make organisational workflow smooth and simple

2.

Shorter ways and time saving processes

3.

Make complex information easy to understand

4.

Improve networking​

5.

Use Corporate design of the university​ consistantly

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LOGIN

Before

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After

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1 App, Single Sign In

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NEWSBOARD

Information flow: Before

Information flow: After

Website
Instagram
Email
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Platforms
Course groups
Bulletin board
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Customisable news feed: All important information at a glance 
Timetable + link to room plan
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ROOMPLAN

Quick access to most important/bookmarked rooms

Navigation and quick overview of: opening hours, room details and specific room information, reservations, capacity

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Closed rooms are indicated
Room details + current indications
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CALENDAR

Different views

Quick overview of timetable and  appointments. Can be synced with private calendar. University deadlines and appointments are updated automatically.

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Course details and links to course chats, location, description & lecturer's contact information.
Manage appointments and send appointment invitations
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Appointment tool

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MY STUDIES

Management of courses, exams and study progress

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Course registration: Before

Course registration: After

Reminder

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Course groups are created automatically
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Automatic categorization into courses according to the applicable examination regulations
Register all compulsory courses with one click
Info on how many courses have to be selected
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Overview of courses

Links to course chat and timetable
Lecturer's contact information
Course deadlines are added to the calendar automatically
Quicklinks to all  relevant platforms/apps the course requires

Managing exams

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Explanation of which exams should be registered
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Use Case: The deregistration deadlines of exams have expired

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Info on what to do in case of sickness, delay,...
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Contact information of lecturer and registrar's office
Download/Upload of forms 
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Mail is filled automatically with the information the administrative offices need

Overview of study progress & preview of the coming semester

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Easy to understand and personalised overview of the study regulations
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MENU

Quick access to important features and links to external apps and platforms that are frequently used for studying

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Overview of borrowed books, return deadlines, orders and reservations
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Overview of all canteens nearby with navigation + daily menu
Student projects and jobs that connect different faculties
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SERVICES

Quick overview of matriculation number, student card balances/debts and quick access to scan function and certificates, forms and applications.

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CHAT

Easy and quick connection of students, alumni, lecturers and administrative offices with chats for courses, semesters, student projects and counseling centers of the university

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RESEARCH

We first looked at the current situation, analysing the 10 different platforms. 

We then sent out a survey to better understand the pain points and needs of the students and lecturers.

450 students and 40 lecturers took part, although many lecturers didn’t complete the survey. We had some learnings regarding surveys and decided to focus on the interface for students. 

 

 

Findings about students:

  • Students were very frustrated with the current system and very excited about a new one

  • They preferred the idea of a smartphone app (although a download of the app shouldn’t be mandatory & there should be a desktop version)

        Their biggest pain points are:

  • Connecting with other students and faculties is wanted but doesn’t work well (especially during Covid)

  • Information flow is very bad (important information doesn’t reach the right people; it’s difficult to find information on multiple topics)

  • Every platform system requires a new sign in

  • Current system has poor usability, is confusing and not responsive 

  • It’s complicated & inconvenient to choose the right courses and register to them 

  • Many lecturers don’t use the system, which means more extra work/time

Findings about lecturers:

  • Most lecturers feel confident in using digital media

  • Lecturers want more transparency and data security

  • The current platforms are reluctantly used or largely avoided due to poor usability

  • Lecturers would use a new system if it would be convenient, easy to use and centralised

  • Lecturers want facilitated exchange with colleagues (across faculties) and alumni

        Their biggest pain points are: 

  • Lecturers find it hard to keep track of appointments and deadlines

  • It’s difficult to book rooms

  • Entering grades and creating course groups is a time consuming and inconvenient process (has to be done manually)

To further empathise, we each created 4 detailed personas (2 students, 2 lecturers), doing an extra internet research to include different subjects, students with kids, different semesters and age groups. The personas were later used for feature refinement, use cases and user journeys.

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We also did a research on the organisational structure of universities in Germany and of the FH Aachen to better understand possible requirements and constraints. 

What we found was: 

  1. The organisation of universities is decentralised which results in the bad connectivity between the faculties and makes the implementation of broad digital solutions more difficult BUT the administration is centralised

  2. The university only has a small budget

So how might we improve the connectivity and provide a better information flow while staying on a lower budget? We focused on the ‘low hanging fruits’ (features that make a big difference, but doesn’t cost that much) and on tasks that could be automated easily. We used an effort model to make an effort-benefit analysis.

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COMPETITIVE ANALYSIS

We looked at the university app of the RWTH university for inspiration and also found several apps like Studo and UniNow that aim to make the student’s life easier. 

Inspiration/Takeaways:

  • Newsfeed → but customisable/without games, ads or useless information that distract from studying

  • Calendar/time table → but colour coded/+ possibility to sync with private calendar/+ automatically entered deadlines/including irregular courses/+ list view

  • Chat for questions and exchange between older and younger students → + alumni and lecturers

  • Canteen informations → but for every canteen in the area

  • Integration of QR Codes

  • Roomplan with opening hours and infos + overview on the capacity of learning rooms/library

  • Infos for freshmen → but better inclusion into the features + infos on final papers

IDEATION

We started by brainstorming feature ideas.

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An effort model that compared the current situation with our feature ideas helped to visualize the individual steps of each task students might have to accomplish. 

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We then defined 9 important Use Cases. They showed the context of a task or goal: what influence which people and instances have and how the app features are related to each other.

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With Empathy Maps and User Journeys we could spot possible questions/pain points a user might have while using our app.

The UX methods helped us to improve the features and spot challenges and opportunities along the way. We used the insights for Wireframing and the Navigation concept.

Some important insights were:

  • Appointment setting tool and room plan are huge time savers

  • Search function in room plan is important (users might not know room numbers)

  • Users might need explanation on how the app works + confirmation screens where processes are automated/with sensible topics (e.g. registering to exams)

  • Opportunity to easily automate and simplify the course registration (e.g. show courses that overlap in time/filter courses by study regulations/create timetable and course group/enter deadlines in calendar...) 

  • News feed should be home screen (it's linked to multiple important features)

  • When attending courses on campus, students may have to find the next room in a short time span

  • When attending courses online, students need quick access to the different platforms/links to the meeting rooms that the course requires

  • Special cases must be considered for exam registration (e.g. thesis, being sick,...)

The hierarchical relations were defined in a sitemap.

We did several variants for the main navigation as we had many features that required quick access. We asked circa 30 students for feedback to make sure the icons are clear and to help with the decision.

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This version allows a quick access to all important features. Features that were rated less important in the survey can be found under the Menu button. 

The "Favourites" Button was ruled out as it was too confusing and complicated.

We did Wireframes that allowed us to visualize the use cases and to make changes at an early state.

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DESIGN

First, we wrote a design brief that summarized all the insights that were important for the UI design.

We used the Corporate Design of the FH Aachen and added a few extra colours for colour coding and error messages.

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A big challenge was that we needed to provide quick access to several important features within one small screen, without it being too cluttered. This is the solution we came up with:

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Possibility to fit many functions
Important/frequently used functions quickly accessible via floating button

NEXT STEPS

This was a very big project, so there are a few points that are still to be realized.

  • Completion of the course catalogue

  • Use Cases for final/first semester

  • Additional login for services and for exams

  • Payment transactions

  • Onboarding

  • Interface for lecturers

  • Interface for tablets & desktop

  • Programming

  • Test phase with users & optimizations based on the results

  • Clarification of open questions (regarding finances, integration of application papers and more administrative services etc.)

REFLECTION

For both of us, this was the first app that we were working on from scratch, so we learned a lot in the process. 

UX Methods

We lost some time by using UX methods that didn't fit the project or didn't give any new insights. Still,  it was a very good learning and an opportunity to explore different methods and how they work, what exactly they are good for as well as the different ways to use them. 

 

Survey

As it also was our first survey, we learned that it’s better to leave more space for neutral answers and more free boxes for other answers, especially when we don’t know that much about the users. It’s also important to not influence the participants of the survey beforehand with the possible answers or the question. 

 

Teamwork

Working in a team was really fun and opened more opportunities for the project. We learned a lot from each other and how to coordinate and work according to our strengths, passions and weaknesses. 

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