Here's an overview of what the entire UX lifecycle looks like when I develop an app
In 2020 I roughed out an app from scratch as part of a job interview.
Here's what I did.
The problem, users, scope & constraints, the vision, and success metrics
Mentoring is widely agreed to be a powerful tool to help people grow in their personal and professional life. But many potential mentors are often busy and have a hard time connecting with people seeking help.
Mentor Connection is a heterogeneous app with two distinct categories of participants
Mentees may be looking for help with personal or professional growth
Mentors ideally have 5-10 years of experience ahead of their mentees.
Mentees may be looking for help with personal or professional growth.
Scope & constraints
The project needs to document my thought process through a project’s life cycle, but needs to be fleshed out in about a week with one interaction designer and no budget.
Given the constraints, I decided to focus on minimum viable product, with a quality, but simple, experience. Nice-to-have features were set aside for "next steps" when they came up.
Connect mentors and mentees through an intuitive, accessible, easy-to-use product that surprises and delights.
Establish similar interests
Connect based on location
Make scheduling easy
I then set out some clear implicit and explicit metrics to define what meeting our user's needs would look like.
We could potentially want to include metrics connected to the business model as well, such as app purchases, ads, or organization subscription. But I'm used to working in a context where monetization comes later or in a broader sense and focusing on an incredible user experience is my main focus.
Number of matches
If users are connecting then things are headed in a positive direction. The ratio of initiated contacts to successful matches would also be helpful.
Number and length of sessions
How much time users spend together has a big impact on the mentoring process.
Mentor / mentee review ratings
Consistently positive ratings would let us know that users were finding value in the mentoring.
Onboarding completion rate
Users need to successfully move from downloading the app to onboarding to use it.
Both the uninstall rate and the timing of uninstalls could provide valuable feedback.
Direct user feedback
Direct user feedback would provide a concrete way of knowing our impact.
Mentoring overview, mentoring empathy map, competitor user reviews, competitor app study, and user journey map
During my discovery phase I first explored an overview of mentoring in general, apart from an app. I asked a variety of people about their experiences and turned them into an empathy map.
Then I looked at competitors' apps and their user reviews. Lastly I had two volunteer testers download a mentoring app of their choice and I mapped their journey.
Mentoring seems to be widely seen as a powerful tool in personal and professional growth. For example I saw a lot of statistics about high school students with mentors engaging in less risk-taking behavior and entering into college at higher rates.
Common challenges that came up:
Not connecting interpersonally
Failing to find overlapping time slots
Having a transactional experience
Feeling uncomfortable asking for help
Best practices that were noted:
Employing empathy & active listening
Focusing on actionable guidance
Engaging with a growth mindset
Identifying hopes, fears, and goals
Having a formal but flexible meeting rhythm
Establishing clear expectations
Pairing folks from similar industries or with similar interests
Mentoring empathy map
First, I fleshed out an empathy map by polling friends and family about their mentoring experiences, both as mentors and mentees. I then organized their comments into things they say, think, do, and feel. Lastly I distilled their ideas into pain points and hopes.
Where do people find mentors?
Do I need to already be a mentee to use this?
Does this app vet the mentors?
Why do they need a photo of me?
I want to meet Carolyn Guerrero!
Learning about your mentee and asking them about their priorities every time you meet is key
Do other people need mentors?
Will mentoring really make a difference?
Am I too busy for this?
What if I don't like the person I'm matched with?
Asked about mentoring on their social media channels
Volunteer with an organization
Developed the knowledge or expertise necessary to be a mentor in that particular area
I felt worried that I didn't have enough experience/expertise to offer
Am I being overly needy?
Am I good at what I do?
Will I be liked?
This could be a cool mentor
Hope, anticipation, reduction of frustration
Pain points and hopes
Lack of guidance from the mentor program
I thought my mentees would have a better idea what they wanted from me as a mentor than they did
Having to admit how much you don’t know
When it turns out they’re not willing to listen
This is an opportunity for growth not just for the mentee but the mentor as well!
The absolute joy in seeing them grow and I hope that they will someday surpass you and then pass it on to others.
Get the support I need
Almost all of the apps I looked at either focused on professional or academic mentoring. The majority of existing mentor apps appear to be limited to organizations that subscribe to them. The remaining apps had relatively negative customer reviews.
Here's a sample of some of the user reviews I came across
March 14, 2020
Brilliant idea but the app is horrible to use. Will try again in a few years when the app is working.
March 23, 2019
A good idea, awful execution. The user experience is confusing. It's not really clear what a user is supposed to do after signing up. On top of that the design is outdated and cluttered with useless UI elements.
June 2, 2019
I just downloaded the app, but i can see there is no option for classifying as just a high school student. I can understand why, but I would like to find help from mentors too, without having to explain to them that i'm actually not from some random university that i picked.
Competitor app study
I convinced two friends to choose and download a mentor app and report on the experience
I chose because it was the first one that actually seemed to be clear about its function in its name
I signed up easily without requiring an email
It prompted me to select my interests from a very narrow list... the three that I chose were peripheral because none of the options were actually close to my interests
When I was offered the list to pair with mentees, the closest in matching interests was 60% and the furthest was 40%- whatever that means
I was not able to see any information about any of the people at all unless I wanted to connect with them
It seemed to be obvious about what it was. It was not.
When I went to sign up it sent me an email confirmation and the link worked directly
I was asked to pick interest areas, but from an extremely limited set of business terms
I was sent to a "begin conversation" screen with a woman's thumbnail in a bubble. There was no explanation about what the conversation would be about.
I went to the listings and found that I was in the "agile" group- no idea what that meant
I found some modules that seemed to explain what I was supposed to do, but nothing made sense to me except that it seemed to be made for a specific company or curriculum
Personas, flow chart, wireframes, prototype, testing, inclusive design, and identity
User journey map
I took the comments and synthesized them to map out an experience with a competitor app
I plugged six personas into the process to help leverage my user empathy
I went with such a high number because I wanted to be able to keep an eye on both mentors and mentees, on top of the categories of academic, personal, and professional contexts.
Yavette Curtis| UX Designer
Education: BA Human Computer Interaction
Pay forward the mentoring she received while in high school and college. Help bridge gender and race gaps in tech by supporting women and people of color.
Busy, frequently needs to reschedule
Not sure how to assess who would best benefit from her coaching
Ethos Elliott | Illustrator
Education: MFA Illustration
Help younger artists and illustrators develop business practices that are sustainable.
Unsure of how to connect to illustrators that are still in school
Low tolerance for clunky apps
Gregg Smith | Nutritionist
Education: MA Nutrition
Would like to donate some of his time to help low-income folks gain access to habits and foodways that maximize their health while minimizing their carbon footprint.
Has a hard time reading his phone
Most potential mentees are relatively wealthy
James Lafiatte| UX Designer
Education: BA Visual Design
Transition from visual design to UX design. Supplement his online UX training while networking.
Doesn't know any UX designers
Swift McFadon | Illustrator
Education: Attending art school
Transition her hobby of drawing into a freelance career that can pay the bills.
Impostor syndrome, intimidated by professional illustrators
Uncomfortable asking for mentoring
Adriaan Hect | Drywaller
Education: High school diploma
Would like to get in shape and stop eating out regularly.
Feels embarrassed by his lack of cooking skills
Doesn't know where to start looking for mentors
I mapped out the basic user tasks that would be needed
I quickly set up some grayscale wireframes so I could get my ideas in front of a few friends and family members.
Then I turned the wireframes into a clickable prototype so I could test it with friends.
It's interactive if you want to mess with it.
I was excited by how much actionable feedback I got just by having some friends go through a clickable prototype. This was easily the most valuable step in the process for me.
"I don't find the first screen welcoming. But it does seem like the purpose is clear. I do get the impression that I already need to have a mentor or be a mentor to be part of this."
"I feel like this question is late. If I didn't want this, would I sign up in the first place? Can something somewhere explain that finding a mentor/mentee is the purpose?"
"I like to take screen shots of appointments and things like that so I would personally like something like 'your coffee is scheduled with ____' and then this information."
A or B?
I ran several different design options by my faithful testers. Sometimes the results were inconclusive, but I always learned a bit more about how users were experiencing the app.
"I like the list, because I like to skim more options than one at a time and then expand if I'm interested."
"I like them both, however I would find [the list] easier to use. "
"I like the swipe one just because it’s super easy to see more information at once versus having to click into the email style one to see the about info."
"Easier to see all info."
I wanted to make sure that the more difficult tasks got in front of testers. Selecting a meeting time and place felt like the two key ones to test.
Overlapping the mentor/mentees available times with the user's actual calendar felt ideal. Graying out the existing calendar and highlighting available mentoring time slots helped clarify the task.
Having users select a list of preferred meetup locations that another user could select between felt like a way to narrow down the conversation about location. Users within a specific organization would need a different experience.
BECOME A MENTOR
I did my initial wireframes in grayscale to eliminate color dependence in the UI for folks with color vision deficiency.
I tested a broad color palette against WCAG's AAA standard of a contrast ratio of at least 7:1. This allowed me to make color decisions for the UI's look and feel.
While working on personas I remembered to add pronouns to the app's fields (with nonbinary options) to make more space for all users.
Users were put off by my grayscale wireframes. Next time I'll have a disclaimer about that not being the finished design. But it did prod me to think about colors and branding.
Splash screen tests
I started by running some splash screens by folks. I played with two different color schemes and two different fonts for the rough logo.
I got two key unexpected insights from the feedback: First, the design with my illustration of two people having coffee on it was universally popular. Second, there was only negative feedback about the trendy red and blue color scheme. I had been worried that the blue/green scheme was too sterile or medical, but friends found it soothing and inviting.
Next I presented four variations of a more actionable UI's vibe and got more feedback using a "borda count" ranked voting approach.
Sometimes I'm suspicious of taking direct user feedback on designs too literally, as the request that they have an opinion often seems to create unusual opinions. I'd rather watch them in action and then ask for explanation. In this situation that wasn't feasible, but it was certainly still useful to hear what folks thought.
"I dislike whatever shape is behind [it]."
"Comforting and welcoming."
"Feels like you see a bit of personality or...character in it?"
"A big no for me."
"I want pretty much everything in dark mode all the time--too much white... hurts my eyes... would make me avoid the app altogether."
"More impersonal and blank."
"Feels oddly balanced to me."
"Feels not too dark, I don't love dark mode, but also not overly bright."
I was surprised by how unpopular the clean white design was. I'm still trying to wrap my mind around the value of dark themes and darker screen designs in general. I worry that they have the potential to be emotionally heavy even when they're easier on our eyes.
Color & logo
I went with the cool green/blue color scheme and worked out a palette that would allow for a darker theme.
Initially I went with Futura, but it wasn't feeling friendly enough for me, so I dug around for a softer font (Omnes).
Launch strategy, onboarding, exploring, and motion & microinteractions
It may be beyond the scope of interaction design, but I found myself thinking about functionality based on some of the launch strategy.
Signal long-term commitment
Emphasizing that there are long-term plans for the app could help early adopters decide to dive in.
This service would definitely be beholden to the network effect: additional users increase the value for each user.
Bowling pin pattern
Following Geoffrey Moore's bowling pin strategy, we would want to keep networks clustered. Rolling out by city, company, or school could be a big help.
One way we might keep networks clustered is by only allowing users to register with an invitaiton.
I wonder if we would need to incentivise mentors in order to create value for mentees.
High fidelity mockups
In the end, I went with Material's "self-select" model for onboarding. It felt like the best option for getting the users into viable profiles as soon as possible.
"The Self-Select model allows users to customize their first-run experience by making a short series of choices. This experience provides implicit education, giving the user a sense of control and vested interest in the screens to come."
I went with a bottom navigation bar due to how few top-level destinations I had
I was worried that cards would feel too much like a dating app to users. But they were preferred over a list by most of my testers.
Motion & microinteractions
I often look to motion to help bring joy and surprise to a project
"Motion is emotion"
Success metrics, ratings, other platforms, minors, remote mentoring, mentor training, and Google apps
We would want to actively use our metrics to monitor our users' experience and drive ongoing design and improvement of the service.
The ability to rate both mentors and mentees could be extremely valuable. There is inherently a power dynamic in mentoring, so finding ways to verify a mentor's interpersonal skills and good behavior seems particularly important.
A desktop web portal could be a great extension of the service, especially in a corporate context where work is done more on desktop than phone. Watches and smart speaker interaction make sense as nice-to-haves.
It seems clear that adults mentoring children and teens is one of the most impactful types of mentoring happening. But it's equally clear that an app pairing minors with adults brings very serious user safety issues.
I imagine that partnering with one or more organizations that already pair adults and young people would be the best way forward. Their own internal background checks and training would be the crux of safety, with the app serving a pairing and scheduling function.
The ability to mentor remotely over video feels extremely promising. Integration with Zoom or another platform would be needed.
Having online training modules for both mentors and mentees seems extremely helpful. Developing a common vocabulary and common expectations would go a very long way.
I think it makes sense to focus on mentor education specifically though, as they have a leadership role. Modules and quizzes establishing the basic values of mentoring make sense as a gateway for mentors. But they would only be as useful as the quality of their research and writing.
Interacting with apps
Other apps could connect nicely with this service, most notably a calendar.