Circles

Circles

Circles

Building a sense of community and belonging among graduate students

Building a sense of community and belonging among graduate students

Overview

Mental stress is a growing concern within graduate education and work-life balance is one of the major factors [1] that contribute to an individual’s physical and mental well-being. We designed Circles, a community-building app for Ph.D. students that aims to improve their work-life balance and potentially reduce stress and anxiety levels.

Overview

Mental stress is a growing concern within graduate education and work-life balance is one of the major factors [1] that contribute to an individual’s physical and mental well-being. We designed Circles, a community-building app for Ph.D. students that aims to improve their work-life balance and potentially reduce stress and anxiety levels.

Overview

Mental stress is a growing concern within graduate education and work-life balance is one of the major factors [1] that contribute to an individual’s physical and mental well-being. We designed Circles, a community-building app for Ph.D. students that aims to improve their work-life balance and potentially reduce stress and anxiety levels.

Role
UX Designer & Researcher

Team Size
3

Duration
10 Weeks

Role
UX Designer & Researcher

Team Size
3

Duration
10 Weeks

Role
UX Designer & Researcher

Team Size
3

Duration
10 Weeks

Solution

Solution

Solution

'Circles' is a community-building app for graduate and doctoral students. The app lets users add other students and professors to their Circles. They can also organize events within their org like Feedback sessions, Readathons, Writeathons, and share their achievements with the community.

'Circles' is a community-building app for graduate and doctoral students. The app lets users add other students and professors to their Circles. They can also organize events within their org like Feedback sessions, Readathons, Writeathons, and share their achievements with the community.

'Circles' is a community-building app for graduate and doctoral students. The app lets users add other students and professors to their Circles. They can also organize events within their org like Feedback sessions, Readathons, Writeathons, and share their achievements with the community.

1

Manage your circles

Create and manage circles

Create and manage circles

2

Organize and attend meetups

Organize and attend meetups

Organize and attend meetups

3

Flaunt & Applaud

Flaunt & Applaud

Flaunt & Applaud

Want to view the designs in detail? Jump to final designs

Want to view the designs in detail? Jump to final designs

Want to view the designs in detail? Jump to final designs

Curious about the design decisions? Jump to final designs

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What did I work on?

  • Created an interview guide and conducted 2 (out of 5) semi-structured interviews with Ph.D. students. Moderated diary study entries of 3 (out of 9) participants.
  • Collaborated with the team and analyzed the data collected, created user personas, and brainstormed final design ideas.
  • Designed 3 major app flows - managing circles, meetups, and user profile  (jump to designs). Created wireframes, paper prototypes, and hi-fidelity mockups of the designs.
  • Conducted one (out of 3) usability test to evaluate the interaction and functionality of the paper prototypes.

What did I work on?

  • Created an interview guide and conducted 2 (out of 5) semi-structured interviews with Ph.D. students. Moderated diary study entries of 3 (out of 9) participants.
  • Collaborated with the team and analyzed the data collected, created user personas, and brainstormed final design ideas.
  • Designed 3 major app flows - managing circles, meetups, and user profile  (jump to designs). Created wireframes, paper prototypes, and hi-fidelity mockups of the designs.
  • Conducted one (out of 3) usability test to evaluate the interaction and functionality of the paper prototypes.

What did I work on?

  • Created an interview guide and conducted 2 (out of 5) semi-structured interviews with Ph.D. students. Moderated diary study entries of 3 (out of 9) participants.
  • Collaborated with the team and analyzed the data collected, created user personas, and brainstormed final design ideas.
  • Designed 3 major app flows - managing circles, meetups, and user profile. Created wireframes, paper prototypes, and hi-fidelity mockups of the designs.
  • Conducted one (out of 3) usability test to evaluate the interaction and functionality of the paper prototypes.

What did I work on?

  • Created an interview guide and conducted 2 (out of 5) semi-structured interviews with Ph.D. students. Moderated diary study entries of 3 (out of 9) participants.
  • Collaborated with the team and analyzed the data collected, created user personas, and brainstormed final design ideas.
  • Designed 3 major app elements  - managing circles, meetups, and user profile - (jump to designs). Created wireframes, paper prototypes, and hi-fidelity mockups of the designs.
  • Conducted one (out of 3) usability test to evaluate the interaction and functionality of the paper prototypes.

User Research

With our research, we wanted to study the prevalence of stress and anxiety among Ph.D. students and the factors that cause it. We also wanted to understand their definitions of work-life balance, the current practices they employ to improve it, and the problems they face while doing so.

 

User Research

With our research, we wanted to study the prevalence of stress and anxiety among Ph.D. students and the factors that cause it. We also wanted to understand their definitions of work-life balance, the current practices they employ to improve it, and the problems they face while doing so.

 

User Research

With our research, we wanted to study the prevalence of stress and anxiety among Ph.D. students and the factors that cause it. We also wanted to understand their definitions of work-life balance, the current practices they employ to improve it, and the problems they face while doing so.

 

team

PARTICIPANTS

A total of 5 current Ph.D. students at different stages of their program were chosen for a 30-40 minute long semi-structured interview to get a deeper insight into their lives. 

The interviews were followed by an online diary study with 4 additional Ph.D. students who were prompted to make a diary entry 3-4 times a day for one week.

PARTICIPANTS

A total of 5 current Ph.D. students at different stages of their program were chosen for a 30-40 minute long semi-structured interview to get a deeper insight into their lives. 

The interviews were followed by an online diary study with 4 additional Ph.D. students who were prompted to make a diary entry 3-4 times a day for one week.

PARTICIPANTS

A total of 5 current Ph.D. students at different stages of their program were chosen for a 30-40 minute long semi-structured interview to get a deeper insight into their lives. 

The interviews were followed by an online diary study with 4 additional Ph.D. students who were prompted to make a diary entry 3-4 times a day for one week.

interview

INTERVIEW FOCUS

What does a typical day look like for you? 

What is work-life balance according to you?         

Where do you draw the line between work & life? Is there a clear demarcation? 

How do you strike a balance between the two?

INTERVIEW FOCUS

What does a typical day look like for you? 

What is work-life balance according to you?         

Where do you draw the line between work & life? Is there a clear demarcation? 

How do you strike a balance between the two?

INTERVIEW FOCUS

What does a typical day look like for you? 

What is work-life balance according to you?         

Where do you draw the line between work & life? Is there a clear demarcation? 

How do you strike a balance between the two?

anne-frank

DIARY STUDY

We wanted to get a snapshot of the life of a Ph.D. student. 

Participants were asked to note down the activity they were doing, whether it was work or life related and how it made them feel. We also asked other questions that might affect their mood like where they are, who they are with and why they are feeling the way they are. 

DIARY STUDY

We wanted to get a snapshot of the life of a Ph.D. student. 

Participants were asked to note down the activity they were doing, whether it was work or life related and how it made them feel. We also asked other questions that might affect their mood like where they are, who they are with and why they are feeling the way they are. 

DIARY STUDY

We wanted to get a snapshot of the life of a Ph.D. student. 

Participants were asked to note down the activity they were doing, whether it was work or life related and how it made them feel. We also asked other questions that might affect their mood like where they are, who they are with and why they are feeling the way they are. 

Major Research Findings

Major Research Findings

Major Research Findings

We analyzed our interview and diary study data using Miro to categorize our insights into four major themes.

We analyzed our interview and diary study data using Miro to categorize our insights into four major themes.

We analyzed our interview and diary study data using Miro to categorize our insights into four major themes.

productivity

PRODUCTIVE WORKDAY = HAPPIER PERSONAL LIFE

Participants who were able to make good progress towards the work they are doing during their workday and felt more productive were generally more relaxed during their personal hours. Whereas people who didn't feel productive usually carried their stresses and their worries home and weren’t really able to enjoy the rest of their day.  

 

PRODUCTIVE WORKDAY = HAPPIER PERSONAL LIFE

Participants who were able to make good progress towards the work they are doing during their workday and felt more productive were generally more relaxed during their personal hours. Whereas people who didn't feel productive usually carried their stresses and their worries home and weren’t really able to enjoy the rest of their day.  

 

PRODUCTIVE WORKDAY = HAPPIER PERSONAL LIFE

Participants who were able to make good progress towards the work they are doing during their workday and felt more productive were generally more relaxed during their personal hours. Whereas people who didn't feel productive usually carried their stresses and their worries home and weren’t really able to enjoy the rest of their day.  

 

high-five

RELATIONSHIP WITH ADVISOR/TEAM IS KEY

Students wanted the advisor to clearly communicate what the deliverables and the goals are and what is expected from the student before every meeting. In addition, the participant wanted to feel more appreciated for the work he has done, the goals he has fulfilled and the time he has put in to achieve them.

RELATIONSHIP WITH ADVISOR/TEAM IS KEY

Students wanted the advisor to clearly communicate what the deliverables and the goals are and what is expected from the student before every meeting. In addition, the participant wanted to feel more appreciated for the work he has done, the goals he has fulfilled and the time he has put in to achieve them.

RELATIONSHIP WITH ADVISOR IS KEY

Students wanted the advisor to clearly communicate what the deliverables and the goals are and what is expected from the student before every meeting. In addition, the participant wanted to feel more appreciated for the work he has done, the goals he has fulfilled and the time he has put in to achieve them.

work

WORK ENVIRONMENT AFFECTS OUTLOOK 

We were able to find a very close relationship between a student's stress and anxiety levels and his work environment.  In cases where the community and the lab-mates were competitive, it was natural for students to work longer hours and take their work home. Meanwhile, a relaxed working environment motivated participants to focus on their personal life.

WORK ENVIRONMENT AFFECTS OUTLOOK 

We were able to find a very close relationship between a student's stress and anxiety levels and his work environment.  In cases where the community and the lab-mates were competitive, it was natural for students to work longer hours and take their work home. Meanwhile, a relaxed working environment motivated participants to focus on their personal life.

WORK ENVIRONMENT AFFECTS OUTLOOK 

We were able to find a very close relationship between a student's stress and anxiety levels and his work environment.  In cases where the community and the lab-mates were competitive, it was natural for students to work longer hours and take their work home. Meanwhile, a relaxed working environment motivated participants to focus on their personal life.

reflection

BEING SELF-AWARE MAKES THE DIFFERENCE

Students who were better at dealing with stress were more self-aware and took intentional steps to make sure they were happy and relaxed by the end of the day. They were very clear about separating their work and life and made sure both of these got equal importance.

BEING SELF-AWARE MAKES THE DIFFERENCE

Students who were better at dealing with stress were more self-aware and took intentional steps to make sure they were happy and relaxed by the end of the day. They were very clear about separating their work and life and made sure both of these got equal importance.

BEING SELF-AWARE MAKES THE DIFFERENCE

Students who were better at dealing with stress were more self-aware and took intentional steps to make sure they were happy and relaxed by the end of the day. They were very clear about separating their work and life and made sure both of these got equal importance.

A Look at our Users

To turn our insights into design decisions and have an artifact to visualize our users' needs, we decided to make two user personas. Nina is our primary user and Anthony is our secondary user. We used our personas as our guiding stars through the rest of our design process. 
 

A Look at our Users

To turn our insights into design decisions and have an artifact to visualize our users' needs, we decided to make two user personas. Nina is our primary user and Anthony is our secondary user. We used our personas as our guiding stars through the rest of our design process. 

A Look at our Users

To turn our insights into design decisions and have an artifact to visualize our users' needs, we decided to make two user personas. Nina is our primary user and Anthony is our secondary user. We used our personas as our guiding stars through the rest of our design process. 

Coming Up With The Idea

For ideation, we decided to use the motivations in our personas along with our research insights as our starting point. We ideated by using the crazy-5 technique, where we focused on one insight at a time and sketched five different ideas in 5 minutes. This resulted in a total of 10-15 sketches per motivation and about 60 sketches in total. 

Coming Up With The Idea

For ideation, we decided to use the motivations in our personas along with our research insights as our starting point. We ideated by using the crazy-5 technique, where we focused on one insight at a time and sketched five different ideas in 5 minutes. This resulted in a total of 10-15 sketches per motivation and about 60 sketches in total. 

Coming Up With The Idea

For ideation, we decided to use the motivations in our personas along with our research insights as our starting point. We ideated by using the crazy-5 technique, where we focused on one insight at a time and sketched five different ideas in 5 minutes. This resulted in a total of 10-15 sketches per motivation and about 60 sketches in total. 

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We were finally able to come up with a bunch of design ideas that focused on one or more of the 4 research insights mentioned above. We finally decided to move forward with the idea of designing an app that helps build a sense of community and belonging for Ph.D. students - Circles

We were finally able to come up with a bunch of design ideas that focused on one or more of the 4 research insights mentioned above. We finally decided to move forward with the idea of designing an app that helps build a sense of community and belonging for Ph.D. students - Circles

We were finally able to come up with a bunch of design ideas that focused on one or more of the 4 research insights mentioned above. We finally decided to move forward with the idea of designing an app that helps build a sense of community and belonging for Ph.D. students - Circles

Why Circles?

We noticed that students who had a positive work environment were happier and more satisfied with their work. They wanted to feel appreciated for the effort they have put in and loneliness emerged as a major indicator of negative emotions. Through Circles, we wanted to
 

 

Why Circles?

We noticed that students who had a positive work environment were happier and more satisfied with their work. They wanted to feel appreciated for the effort they have put in and loneliness emerged as a major indicator of negative emotions. Through Circles, we wanted to
 

 

Why Circles?

We noticed that students who had a positive work environment were happier and more satisfied with their work. They wanted to feel appreciated for the effort they have put in and loneliness emerged as a major indicator of negative emotions. Through Circles, we wanted to
 

1

1

1

Build a sense of community and belonging for students and encourage them to meet fellow Ph.D. students.

Build a sense of community and belonging for students and encourage them to meet fellow Ph.D. students.

Build a sense of community and belonging for students and encourage them to meet fellow Ph.D. students.

2

2

2

Enable students to share their achievements with their community and feel appreciated for their work.

Enable students to share their achievements with their community and feel appreciated for their work.

Enable students to share their achievements with their community and feel appreciated for their work.

3

3

3

Empower students to be more productive by working together with their peers.

Empower students to be more productive by working together with their peers.

Empower students to be more productive by working together with their peers.

Bringing the Idea to Life

To understand the scope of Circles, we sketched out key screens of the app. These wireframes were essential in helping us understand the flow of the app and led us to the low fidelity prototyping phase.

Wireframes

To understand the scope of Circles, we decided to create key lo-fed wireframes of the app. These wireframes were essential in helping us understand the flow of the app and led us to the low fidelity prototyping phase.

Wireframes

To understand the scope of Circles, we decided to create key lo-fed wireframes of the app. These wireframes were essential in helping us understand the flow of the app and led us to the low fidelity prototyping phase.

Picture1
Picture2

Paper Prototyping and Testing

We conducted Usability Tests of the Circles low-fi prototype with 3 different testers who are all current Ph.D. students at the University of Maryland, College Park. We used the Think-Aloud technique along with direct observation to evaluate the usability of the low-fi screens.
Our usability tests evaluated participants based on direct observation of them using the system and through comments we received through the Think Aloud technique. We were able to receive a lot of feedback and observational insights from the three tests.

Low-Fidelity Prototypes

We created paper prototypes and tested out the different features of Circles with 3 different testers who were all current Ph.D. students at the University of Maryland, College Park. We used the Think-Aloud technique along with direct observation to evaluate the usability of the screens. 

Low-Fidelity Prototypes

We created paper prototypes and tested out the different features of Circles with 3 different testers who were all current Ph.D. students at the University of Maryland, College Park. We used the Think-Aloud technique along with direct observation to evaluate the usability of the screens. 

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Major Design Changes 

Major Design Changes 

1

“A way to integrate my calendar to check if I am available during the time of an event would be cool. That way I won’t have to toggle between many applications.”

“A way to integrate my calendar to check if I am available during the time of an event would be cool. That way I won’t have to toggle between many applications.”

“A way to integrate my calendar to check if I am available during the time of an event would be cool. That way I won’t have to toggle between many applications.”

Assuming the user has shared her calendar with the app, a clash/no clash feature is provided, to help the user verify if there are any other events during that time period.

Added a calendar feature when a user RSVPs to an event, to enable the user to verify if she has any other events during that time period.

Added a calendar feature when a user RSVPs to an event, to enable the user to verify if she has any other events during that time period.

2

“In other apps, I’m used to seeing a profile icon where circles’ logo is.  It is confusing.”

“In other apps, I’m used to seeing a profile icon where circles’ logo is.  It is confusing.”

“In other apps, I’m used to seeing a profile icon where circles’ logo is.  It is confusing.”

Interchanged the position of Circle’s logo and the user’s profile icon, in order to adhere to the existing mental model of users.

Interchanged the position of Circle’s logo and the user’s profile icon, in order to adhere to the existing mental model of users.

Interchanged the position of Circle’s logo and the user’s profile icon, in order to adhere to the existing mental model of users.

3

“The organizer field is redundant if I’m creating an event”

“The organizer field is redundant if I’m creating an event”

“The organizer field is redundant if I’m creating an event”

Removed the ‘Organizer’ field in the Create Meetup page.

Removed the ‘Organizer’ field in the Create Meetup page.

Removed the ‘Organizer’ field in the Create Meetup page.

4

“An option to skip fields like ‘Bio’ is helpful as I’d rather fill the bio later by visiting my profile.”

“An option to skip fields like ‘Bio’ is helpful as I’d rather fill the bio later by visiting my profile.”

“An option to skip fields like ‘Bio’ is helpful as I’d rather fill the bio later by visiting my profile.”

Added a ‘Skip’ button for the Bio and Interests fields, so that it is the user’s discretion whether or not to add this information on signup.

Added a ‘Skip’ button for the Bio and Interests fields, so that it is the user’s discretion whether or not to add this information on signup.

Added a ‘Skip’ button for the Bio and Interests fields, so that it is the user’s discretion whether or not to add this information on signup.

Bringing It All Together

We started out by creating a Moodboard to get a feel of the visual direction we wanted to take. After defining a clear design language, we moved on to create our Hi-Fidelity Mockups on Sketch and later collaborated on Figma to give the design some final touches.

Bringing It All Together

We started out by creating a Moodboard to get a feel of the visual direction we wanted to take. After defining a clear design language, we moved on to create our Hi-Fidelity Mockups on Sketch and later collaborated on Figma to give the design some final touches.

Bringing It All Together

We started out by creating a Moodboard to get a feel of the visual direction we wanted to take. After defining a clear design language, we moved on to create our Hi-Fidelity Mockups on Sketch and later collaborated on Figma to give the design some final touches.

d

On-Boarding

The On-Boarding process of Circles is fairly intuitive and straightforward. The user has to enter their details along with an optional short bio and interests. User is also added to their university’s circle by default.

On-Boarding

The On-Boarding process of Circles is fairly intuitive and straightforward. The user has to enter their details along with an optional short bio and interests. User is also added to their university’s circle by default. Once signed up, she can view her feed and meetups.

On-Boarding

The On-Boarding process of Circles is fairly intuitive and straightforward. The user has to enter their details along with an optional short bio and interests. User is also added to their university’s circle by default. Once signed up, she can view her feed and meetups.

Manage Your Circles

On Circles, you are a part of different work communities called ‘Circles’. Users can manage circles they are a part of and add people from their organization to different circles. Circles helps instill a sense of belonging and community among students.

Manage Your Circles

On Circles, you are a part of different work communities called ‘Circles’. Users can add people from their organization to different circles. The app works within an organization and can be accessed only by the students and professors of that organization. Circles helps instill a sense of belonging and community to students.

Manage Your Circles

On Circles, you are a part of different work communities called ‘Circles’. Users can add people from their organization to different circles. The app works within an organization and can be accessed only by the students and professors of that organization. Circles helps instill a sense of belonging and community to students.

Create a New Meetup

With circles, students can create meetups to organize events like Paper Presentations, Readathons, and Writeathons. Circles promotes in-person interactions with your peers and helps you be more productive by leveraging your work communities.

Create Meetups


With circles, students can create meetups to organize events like Paper Presentations, Readathons, and Writeathons. Circles promotes in-person interactions with your peers and helps you be more productive by leveraging your work communities.

Create Meetups


With circles, students can create meetups to organize events like Paper Presentations, Readathons, and Writeathons. Circles promotes in-person interactions with your peers and helps you be more productive by leveraging your work communities.

Get Invites And Attend Meetups

The user can then RSVP events, and also check for possible clashes with other events. Circles enables users to work together with their peers, get more work done, and ultimately feel productive.

Get Invites And Attend Meetups

A user is notified of an event when the event organizer sends an invite. The user can then RSVP to the event, and also check for possible clashes with other events that she has responded to. Circles enables users to work together with their peers and ultimately feel productive.

Get Invites And Attend Meetups

A user is notified of an event when the event organizer sends an invite. The user can then RSVP to the event, and also check for possible clashes with other events that she has responded to. Circles enables users to work together with their peers and ultimately feel productive.

Share Achievements

Users can Flaunt their work and Applaud others on their achievements. Circles helps to create a more supportive work environment by motivating peers to appreciate and value each others contributions.

Share Achievements

Users can Flaunt their work and Applaud others on their achievements. Circles helps to create a more supportive work environment by motivating peers to appreciate and value each others contributions.

Share Achievements

Users can Flaunt their work and Applaud others on their achievements. Circles helps to create a more supportive work environment by motivating peers to appreciate and value each others contributions.

Circles Video Prototype

Circles Video Prototype

Circles Video Prototype

Conclusion

Conclusion

Conclusion

My biggest learning from this project was creating a product from start to finish: from conducting user research to defining design requirements and developing prototypes and testing them with actual users to know why things don’t work the way we think they will. I learned the importance of capturing in-situ data through diary studies and understood how different it was from retrospective interview data.
 

My biggest learning from this project was creating a product from start to finish: from conducting user research to defining design requirements and developing prototypes and testing them with actual users to know why things don’t work the way we think they will. I learned the importance of capturing in-situ data through diary studies and understood how different it was from retrospective interview data.
 

My biggest learning from this project was creating a product from start to finish: from conducting user research to defining design requirements and developing prototypes and testing them with actual users to know why things don’t work the way we think they will. I learned the importance of capturing in-situ data through diary studies and understood how different it was from retrospective interview data.
 

What will I do differently?

What will I do differently?

What will I do differently?

1.  While brainstorming ideas we focused a lot on the motivations in our personas, taking them way too literally. It limited our ability to come up with an idea that's truly transformative. If given another chance, I would ensure the team takes a data-informed (and not data-driven) approach to design.

2.  Although we were able to evaluate the functionality and basic interactions using paper prototypes, we weren't able to test out our hi-fidelity mockups. Another round of usability tests, focusing on visual design and interactions, would ensure a truly user-centered experience.

3.  A complete design system along with the moodboard would have ensured the consistency of visuals throughout the app.

1.  While brainstorming ideas we focused a lot on the motivations in our personas, taking them way too literally. It limited our ability to come up with an idea that's truly transformative. If given another chance, I would ensure the team takes a data-informed (and not data-driven) approach to design.

2.  Although we were able to evaluate the functionality and basic interactions using paper prototypes, we weren't able to test out our hi-fidelity mockups. Another round of usability tests, focusing on visual design and interactions, would ensure a truly user-centered experience.

3.  A complete design system along with the moodboard would have ensured the consistency of visuals throughout the app.

1.  While brainstorming ideas we focused a lot on the motivations in our personas, taking them way too literally. It limited our ability to come up with an idea that's truly transformative. If given another chance, I would ensure the team takes a data-informed (and not data-driven) approach to design.

2.  Although we were able to evaluate the functionality and basic interactions using paper prototypes, we weren't able to test out our hi-fidelity mockups. Another round of usability tests, focusing on visual design and interactions, would ensure a truly user-centered experience.

3.  A complete design system along with the moodboard would have ensured the consistency of visuals throughout the app.

Thanks for checking out our project! Cheers!

Thanks for checking out our project! Cheers!

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