Throughout this semester our group carried out the user-centered design process from background research to prototyping. First, we researched a problem area related to the prompt of “quantifying campus.” We decided to conduct research and create a design for graduate students at Georgia Tech who have children. This decision was made after much debate, but was justified through research we found from the Office of Graduate Studies that showed us about 13% of on-campus graduate students have children. We then conducted research into our user group and their problems. We brainstormed several design solutions, and tested these different solutions on members of our user group. From the feedback we received from our users, we designed a prototype to allow for more in depth research, such as usability tests.
Parent Connect, our mobile application prototype, is designed to allow student-parents to connect with other student-parents. Users may or may not already be friends with other users they are connected with on the app. The purpose of the application is to facilitate an outlet for them to form new relationships and reach out for help with raising their children. The app allows user to request get-togethers that would allow for a relationship to be made that could then lead to assistance with childcare related tasks such as babysitting or carpooling. The app also features a function we refer to as “circles,” which allows for users to have an active support group of like-minded parents. Users are able to see other student-parents who share friends, and they can then expand their own circle to accommodate more people. In speaking with our user group, the biggest concerns people had was that they don’t know very many other student parents, and they often lack assistance in taking care of their children. Since we know that roughly 13% of on-campus graduate students have children, we decided the best solution for student-parents at Tech was to afford them a simple tool that will address both of their main concerns.
Our prototype was created using Sketch to design the screen layout, graphics, and different static features. We then imported our Sketch file into Framer to make the prototype interactive and allow for animation. Two Framer modules — View Controller and iOS Input Text — were used to help simulate a more realistic experience. The rest of the interactions were manually programmed in Framer. Hand drawn sketches and Balsamiq wireframes were used at the beginning of the prototype development process and used as a guide for the Sketch designs.
During the Fall 2016 semester, myself along with three other Georgia Tech M.S. Human Computer Interaction students researched a problem area related to Georgia Tech students and designed a solution. Each team member contributed to each step in the research and design process.
When looking for problem areas, we began looking at the common problem of time management. In such a large problem space, we began thinking about different user groups that are especially representative of this problem. We initially thought about student athletes, commuting students, students working part-time, and eventually settled on graduate students with kids. Graduate students who are parents have to balance not only their own priorities, but also those of their child(ren) and a possible spouse. These students are not often thought about within the generalized college community, and there are few tools available for students in this particular situation.
For this project, we want to focus on graduate students with one or more kids. These students are enrolled in a full-time Master’s or PhD program, and must be actively living with their kid(s) and spouse in Atlanta. According to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, 4.8 million students were raising dependent children when the research was conducted in 2014. 3.4 million of these parents were mothers, while 1.4 million of them were fathers. A majority of the fathers were married, while most of the mothers were single. Of the married students, many have a spouse that works full-time to support the family, however one article points out that this difference in work and school can often create tension within families due to different perceived goals (http://www.apa.org/gradpsych/2013/03/spouse.aspx). We also often saw a problem of schoolwork getting in the way of graduate students spending time with their families (http://www.apa.org/gradpsych/2013/03/hours.aspx), creating a sense of regret due to mismanaged time. Thus, researching time management of graduate students with kids may help them not only seek a more balanced life, but also limit tensions within the rest of their family.
Task: Getting help with managing life as a student-parent.
Throughout our interviews and research, we found a number of tasks that were common to graduate students with children. While each student often faced unique tasks given their own financial background, ages of children, or where they live relative to school, the most common task was looking for resources or people that could help out their situation as a student-parent. These tasks are mostly information seeking tasks and are not restricted to a specific time or location. Given the hectic lives of graduate students that are additionally taking care of kids (and sometimes working other jobs as well), their search can be performed at work or home, on mobile or laptop, and even while walking or stationary. Additionally, guidance with these tasks could also be provided in-person when talking to advisors or friends of the user. Ultimately, the time limit one has when completing these tasks is often defined by the current situation of the student and could fluctuate significantly due to factors like already being in university, having pressures from work, or needing to complete other tasks involving their children. These tasks are spread out over a longer period of time and occur in no specific pattern, with their search frequently interrupted when more pressing issues are faced. They may be able to receive help from their spouse, however, this is highly dependent on the location of the spouse and their current situation at work.
Students with children seek help from three main different groups: their spouse or significant other, their family — which often includes their parents, or their institution — which in this case is Georgia Tech. Most of the people we interviewed told us their main source of help with their child is their spouse or family. In approaching the task of seeking out help with their child, interviewees told us several times they did not know their neighbors, and did not have friends who could help. Our interviewees also told us that their institution, Georgia Tech, provided little to no help for them. Interviewees are unaware of other students at Tech dealing with the same problems. Additionally, they feel that Tech does not provide resources for them. They expressed interest in communicating with other students with kids, and one interviewee said talking to peer students helped them understand that they were not alone in having a hard time. In approaching a friend for help with taking care of their child — for example, picking their kid up from daycare — students currently text or call their friend or spouse to ask for their help. Communication through the official text medium of the phone, or on a call with voice, provides more validity in the confirmation that their friend will in fact pick up their child from daycare. Parents want to be certain that their child is taken care of, so it seems like a more informal platform, like an app or a website would require a secure and official platform.
Through our search, we couldn’t find childcare specifically oriented towards graduate students. However, there currently exists three major child care websites available generally to all parents, and, therefore, our user group. These sites — care.com, sittercity, and urbansitter — allow parents to create a profile and send out a public request of their needs. These sites help parents find child care, senior care, special needs care, tutoring, pet care, and housekeeping. All three of these websites give the user an initial prompt of asking them if they are a sitter or a parent. Sitters create a profile and receive reviews from parents they assist, which will then in turn increase their credibility to new potential parents. These websites require a transaction between parents and the sitters, and can often be very costly. The student-parents we interviewed expressed concerns about the financial burden already being weighed down on them from their child and their education. We hypothesize from our interviews that many students do not use these tools because they simply cannot afford them. Additionally, these tools require a higher level of trust because while sitters have reviews on their profile, they are a complete stranger to the parent. Additionally, the sitters are often not parents themselves, so they likely do not fully understand the challenges of childcare in the same way a parent would.
Additionally, we conducted our own research into the types of programs and resources offered at other universities around the United States. We were also interested in what made a university or graduate program “family friendly”. In general, we found that many universities offered programs and resources that were more oriented towards childcare, especially for mothers in an attempt to encourage more women to pursue graduate studies (for example, maternity leave, nursing rooms, and mother support groups). Still, some of these resources were still beneficial to both fathers and mothers that are students. Our additional research with these topics are included at the end of this document.
Usability Criteria & Principles
The design must be allow for a lot of user control and freedom. The design is meant to allow student to seek out help for whatever they may need and in whatever way they see fit — voice call, text, email, etc. A design that allows for freedom of use will be most long lasting and accepted by our user base. Additionally, because the design will be intended to assist a real life situation — child care — the other major design principle is that there must be a match between system and real world.
In connecting with people to assist with their children, our users felt it preferable that the help came from someone in their community. Trust is an important principle in this system because users have to trust someone to be able to assist with their child. When designing our system we must consider this in each design decision and enable the system to convey a sense of trust when connecting users.
Similar to trust, it is important that users are able to connect in a personal to help the user feel comfortable with the support being provided. For example, if a parent is able to speak on the phone or even in person, they would be more likely to be comfortable with this person providing support for them and their children.
Our users lives are very busy and complicated, so in designing a solution, we must consider Johnson’s principle #5: Don’t complicate the users’ task. For finding assistance and support, our users don’t want to spend time filtering through information that is not relevant to them. We must focus on simplicity. To achieve this we will not overload the users with information, but rather focus on the most important info. This way the user can easily decide if a specific piece is relevant or not. If it is not they can quickly move on to the next. If it is relevant, they can select it in order to view more specific information.
To collect information about our users after our initial literature review, we created a survey to collect basic information like:
- Number of Children and their ages
- If the other parent lives in the same residence
- Willingness to be contacted for further information
This survey was purposely made to be as short as possible so that we could encourage as many people to the take the survey. Additionally, its main purpose was to get contact information of students that we could then interview and possibly observe in further stages of our project. This survey was then posted on the “Georgia Tech Graduate Studies” Facebook page, and additionally distributed to the mailing list of those living at the Graduate Living Center (GLC), where many graduate students with children live.
From this survey, we gained 12 responses, with seven of those responders giving us permission for further contact. An email was sent out to each of those people, asking for an interview at a time convenient for them.
Questions asked during the interview included:
- Basic background information (age, how many kids, ages of kids, location of residence)
- What does a typical day look like for you?
- What are the challenges of graduate life?
- What has GT done to support your particular situation? What could they help with?
- How do you spend time at home?
- How much time do you spend with your family daily? On the weekends? Are you satisfied with that amount? How do you typically spend that time?
- What does your spouse do? Have they taken on additional roles since you started graduate school?
- What was your main reason for going to graduate school?
- Do you use any tools to organize your schedule? To organize you and your spouse’s schedule? Any communication tools you’ve found useful?
Each interview lasted slightly longer than one hour. These questions, along with many others, were asked in a semi-structured interview format to explore different aspects of each graduate student’s life at home, at school, and at work. These questions helped us see their genuine reaction and understand what were the aspects of their unique situation that they were most excited about or were bothered by the most.
Information gained from these interviews was then transferred to post-it notes to create an affinity map (see image at end of section). With over a hundred notes each tagged with the corresponding user, each note was then added one-by-one to understand how they relate to other notes and observations that we saw. We were able to narrow down our columns into ten columns with their own idea or general problem. After a photo was taken, each was then added into an excel spreadsheet, where the notes were tagged by color to associate them with their corresponding user. Columns that had the most color were selected to be the most representative of our user group and therefore the most significant problems we might be able to solve.
User Interviews — Key Takeaways
Students with children do not have much time on their hands. They often need assistance with childcare but don’t have the time or energy to actively seek out help — especially if it is hard to access. These students feel that their school is not providing the necessary assistance they require, and while they do want more help in childcare, they do not know where to turn. Many have the luxury of relying on a spouse or family member to help with childcare, but for some the burden falls heavily on them. Most of the people we talked with did not know their neighbors well and were not aware of many other students with children. These students want to be able to better connect with their Georgia Tech community and their cultural community to be able to find support.
3 Ideas to Prototype Further:
- Wearable that monitors student-parent’s child.
- App that connects student-parents with each other.
- In home device that monitors when child/family is home.
Prototype #1 — KidConnect
KidConnect: A wearable that monitors student-parent’s child
From our research we found that with the busy schedules of student-parents, spending more time with their child is a need that they want to address. We approached this problem with a solution similar to a fitness wearable. Like a fitness tracking application, the goal of this system would be to make the user more conscious of how much time they spend with their child, and be able to recognize trends and increase this time towards their goal.
The associated application would pair with a wearable for the parent and another for the child. The system would monitor when the two bands are in proximity of each other and track that time within the application. This data would then be visible in the application for the user to be able to recognize trends. Parents would be able to view this data if they like, but the main use of the application would be viewing suggestion notifications. The application would be recognize trends and give the user notifications to suggest ways the parent can spend more time with their child.
Prototype #2 — ParentConnect
ParentConnect: App that connects student-parents with each other
Given that student-parents often receive a lot of outside help, this mobile phone application aims to connect Georgia Tech student-parents. Not only would parents be able to share details of daycares and other important information critical to child care for our age group, but parents would additionally be able to coordinate their schedules to suggest carpools and other shared activities. For instance, after schedules are compared, the app might suggest that the two parents alternate taking each other’s children to school depending on the day. It could also coordinate times when student-parents could babysit for each other. Not only would this make coordination easier, but also reduce babysitting costs to zero if both student-parents exchange fairly.
Upon opening the app for the first time, users would be asked for basic information to create a simple profile, consisting mainly of their location, number of kids, and their ages. They would then provide a typical weekly schedule, or import their own from their phone. This would allow the app to then calculate times when one student-parent user might be free, while another is busy.
Once this information is entered, we would suggest connections to other Georgia Tech student parents that share similar schedules to facilitate starting carpooling rides. Thus, one parent would drive one day, and the other might drive the other day, increasing time available for the parent. We would also allow users to see requests for babysitters. Instead of using money, student-parents would use credits equivalent to one hour of babysitting each to “pay” for babysitters. To earn more credits, student-parents would be notified when someone requests a babysitter during a time they are typically free. By swiping right on a notification from their lock screen, they would be given a confirmation and then further details about babysitting on that particular occasion.
Lastly, we would have an area called “Resources” where student-parents could see reviews of nearby daycares and schools. We would also allow parents to review kid-friendly activities in the nearby area.
Since student-parents are very often on-the-go with frequently changing and hectic schedules, it suggests that the best form factor for something like this would be a mobile phone application that would be easily accessible during most of the user’s day. Thus, if a parent needed a babysitter quickly for later that night, they could request one through the app.
Prototype #3 — Family Bowl
A bowl that senses when a marble associated with a family member is placed in the bowl. The bowl has RGB lights that are red when no one is home, and turn green when all family members are home. The hypothesis is that the family will be more conscience of when they are and are not together. Since they are more aware, they will then try to be together more often. Additionally, the bowl will send push notifications to the parent’s smartphone if the child is home alone. Via this connected smartphone application, the parent will be able to look at a live picture of who is home and who is not. This will allow for the parent to feel more connected even when they cannot be physically home.
As seen in figure 0, when nobody is home the bowl is red. As different family members come home, they place their associated marble in the bowl and the bowl changes color. If a child is home and a parent is not, a push notification will be sent to a parent’s phone alerting them.
We interviewed users to find out which prototype they would most want to use and also which would be most effective. From this research we found that Prototype #2 was the best option to move forward with.
Throughout the prototyping process, our group was able to use several different design tools. These included: Balsamiq, Sketch, Framer, and InVision. The design process was completed in stages. Before working on P3, we had rough Balsamiq mockups of our initial idea that were presented to two users with their children alongside our other initial ideas. Feedback from this session was helpful in our initial dive into creating a more polished flow, where we met as a group and sketched out on a whiteboard the desired user journey through our app. From here, we drew sketched wireframes. These were later adapted to new Balsamiq wireframes, which turned in Sketch screens, and eventually interactive Framer files. Our Framer prototype allowed users to sign in and explore the different pages that are offered in our app. We had a handful of users look through the app, and we received very helpful feedback from this quasi user testing. From this, we iterated on our initial app design and created a new user interface in Sketch.
Revised High-Fidelity Prototype
Thanks for reading!
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— Steve Jones