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Found – Helping students find their place

User research to support the design of a college matching app


  • Illustrator
  • Balsamiq
  • InVision


  • Ethnographic research
  • Usability Testing
  • Personas
  • Scenarios and User Flows

My role

Lead visual designer (which in this case mostly meant with wireframing), also sourced participants and conducting interviews, compiling research, participating in the final presentation.

"There are too many options for me to know where the right fit is." Participant, 18 years old

What if we could help students find "the right fit?"

75% of our participants (ages 17–19) said the primary source for how they discovered schools was from people they know.

Prospective college applicants are missing out on potential schools to apply to because a) their websites are horrible examples of user experience and b) the people around them might not know enough about all the schools  available to the student. 

What if an app could help high school students discover schools that fit them best?

We wanted to know how we could help high school juniors and seniors as they start the college process and are looking to find schools where they belong.

To do this, we designed an app with several features that have never been used on college students before in a mobile application format:

  • questions that can help determine a match between a student and a college
  • an individual list of algorithm generated, color-coded schools that help the student understand their chances of getting in
  • a to-do list for the schools the student selects to apply to
  • detailed information about the schools on their list that go beyond the curated content on a college website


"My generation doesn’t have a long attention span so the quick and straightforward information is super helpful!" Participant, 17 years old

"I like the "Tinder" style questions because they're fun and would make me want to go through the college process, because it feels more like a game." Participant, 19 years old

"Color coding a list of matched schools is really helpful for me to understand my chances, and probably would have helped me not waste so much time and money on so many schools that would probably be in red." Participant, 18 years old


This project was completed with a team of designers, and although we each maintained different official roles, each of us participated in every step of the process.

I was primarily in charge of the user interface, but I also organized team meetings, developed research questions, administered interviews, analyzed research, came up with the final concept, produced a lo-fidelity prototype, conducted user research, and implemented feedback into the final medium-fidelity prototype. Our primary question was:

How can an app make the college process more enjoyable and overall less stressful for students wanting to pursue higher education?

Ethnographic research

We conducted a series of interviews in which we sat down with eight students, aged 17-19, who had just finished applying to college or were brand new college freshmen. We were careful to ask open-ended questions so as to prompt storytelling, and we developed rapports with each of our participants, easing them into the process and helping them feel comfortable.

Our desired outcomes were to:

  • Understand positive and negative aspects of the college research and application experience for college freshmen.
  • Learn about specific steps high students are taking to research, select, and apply for college institutions.
  • Understand which aspects of an institution were most important to students when they were trying to select a college
  • Learn about resources and/or people that were most helpful to the students as they searched for the right college for them.

To achieve these goals, we asked questions such as:

  • "What are some general feelings that come to mind when you think about your experience with researching and applying for college?"
  • "What was your process or method for discovering schools to apply to?"
  • "Were there 'dealbreakers' that lead you to not apply to certain schools? If so, what were they?"
  • "Did you receive any guidance from someone employed by or associated with the institution you currently attend/ want to attend?"

Through our interviews, we were able to start identifying patterns between our participants.


The dominant patterns we discovered informed our primary persona, Joey. A persona is a made up character based on research that keeps designers from entering the headspace of, "Well if I were using the app I would want..." 


Although the persona was necessary to create the scenarios, the scenarios (or story flow) are what ultimately impacted what features we included in Found and what affordances we needed to make clear through the design of the user interface.

For example, Scenario 1

It’s 3:10pm and Joey is bored while waiting for his bus, which he has been told will be late. Knowing that pretty soon his parents are going to want to know which schools to take him to visit over spring break, he decides to open the Found app on his phone. Once opened, as always, it prompts him with a series of questions, always yes or no. After answering three questions (with the option of skipping them or doing more), he is brought into his feed. On it are colleges listed from highest match to lowest match, based in his geographical selections (geographical selections like Northeast United States, Southern California, etc.)

After scrolling through his schools he decides to click on one, Northeastern University in Boston. The school has listed basic facts and selected images any admissions counselor might choose to represent the school. After the official page are the testimonials- opportunities for current students and alumni to share photos, stories, and insights about their school. The users posting the information have verified badges next to their names so that Joey knows they aren’t just from a rival school trying to slander its reputation. 

The feedback page is next, where Joey can learn about the experiences of others visiting the campus and first impressions from other prospective students. Because he doesn’t live close by, it gives him a pretty good idea of what to expect when he goes on campus and what to ask when he takes his tour.

He flicks back to his list and taps on the share button so he can enter his parents' emails. Joey’s bus comes and he is happy that at least he got one thing off his to-do list for the night.

Usability Testing and Prototyping

After creating the initial prototype, we had our previous participants test the product. We observed them using the prototype, and took notes on their ability to complete tasks. If they were unsure or unable to complete a task, the fault ultimately lay on us and our design. From our observations and the feedback we received from our participants, we were able to improve our design.

Below is our final proposal for an app concept, not so focused on the idea of what the app looks like but what features it includes.

Using Format