Designing an Ed-tech App to Improve College Exploration for Prospective Students

Malik Mbaye
Black Lotus Ventures
8 min readSep 7, 2021



Desktop and Mobile App Design, Web Design, Marketing Design

The Challenge

Nxstep is a startup founded by former engineers from Google and Twitter. As they embarked on their academic and career journeys, they noticed that the path to success wasn’t always clear. The landscape has changed and unfortunately not all schools and guidance counselors have the resources and information they need to support their students.

This knowledge gap is most critical during the high school to college transition. If you think back, how did you decide which university to attend? It was likely due to general prestige, family legacy, referrals, or your social environment growing up. But unless you know students who walked that path, it’s hard to know exactly what would be the best fit for you.

So the founders of NXSTEP created a new app to address these challenges in the education space. They are redefining college exploration and job search through crowdsourced content, social groups, and 1:1 mentorship.

Since launch they’ve signed up 500+ students and mentors and partnered with 200+ colleges across the country.

Given the success of their MVP, they reached out to us to help rebrand and redesign their app in order to drive awareness, credibility, and engagement.

We designed the NXSTEP mobile and desktop app. We also redesigned their marketing website and created sales enablement assets for them.

The Solution

Visual Design

The visual design direction of the brand was intended to:

  • Inspire trust and credibility
  • Feel dynamic and vibrant

Education is a traditional industry, but their constituents were Gen Z teens. So we had to make the brand feel legitimate for university partnerships and parent perception. But we had to make it feel relevant and dynamic to entice students to use it.

We chose two primary colors to anchor on. A strong blue that is classic and often associated with education. And a fresh radiant green to represent attainment and progression. We designed the rest of the palette to complement, balance, and contrast.

App Design

The NXSTEP app had 3 primary user groups: students, mentors, and admins. Students were the primary users who engaged with content and peers. Mentors provided content, peer support, and academic/professional advisory. Admins oversaw student activity and engagement to stay informed of progress. So we designed the app around each user’s core needs.



Students have a few different ways to engage with the NXSTEP app, including:

  • Learning about different colleges
  • Connecting with peers and mentors
  • Engaging with crowdsourced NXSTEP content

So we created the dashboard to have one central point of reference that allows them to access key touchpoints and see latest activity. We took a modular approach and created modules for all of the most important updates: their scheduled meetings, their groups, their mentors, and recent posts. This was important for creating organization and access.


Search and discovery flows was important because it was the mechanism that connected users to the rest of the app experience. Our goal here was to synthesize and organize. We created an explore feed that had consolidated updates from all parts of the app. We also created separate tabs for each content pillar to make it easy for folks to find what they specifically needed. This included tabs for:

  • Colleges
  • Mentors
  • Groups
  • Photos
  • Videos
  • Written Content

Users can also save all of this content for future reference. Saved content is also easily accessible from the Dashboard.

Profiles and Messaging

The profiles of the app were meant to be a foundation for connection. Often times when people are seeking college or career advice, there are some general questions that you need to answer to help people ascertain where you are and what you need to get where you’re going.

So we created a profile that served like a resume for the students. It captured:

  • Demographic information on their desired major, GPA, current school
  • Their professional/academic resume
  • Their favorite classes, clubs, and top university picks

This way anytime a student was connecting with a mentor, the conversations could be more focused and interactive. To facilitate this we created an in-app messaging feature for 1:1 connections.

Colleges and Groups

Colleges and groups are the foundational pieces of the app. The directory of colleges allows students to get all the info they need on any school they’re interested in. This includes:

  • Overview statistics on chances of getting in, acceptance rate, class size, student body, financial aid info. This allowed them to acquaint themselves with all the core decision making information.
  • Registered mentors and school-specific discussion groups. This gave students a personal connection to the school and allowed them to get an inside scoop on what the experience is like.
  • Crowdsourced photos and videos. This allowed students to get an over-the-shoulder look at what the school looks like. The dorms, the social areas, the classrooms and everything you may have missed on a brochure.
  • Reviews on the school and the experience. This allowed students to hear firsthand what current attendees are sharing about their experiences.


NXSTEP’s mentorship network is a part of their secret sauce. They provided all the value. It’s one thing to centralize important information, it’s another thing to bring people together. Mentors contributed to the app by providing peer mentorship and sharing content on their college experience and helpful tips.


When mentors are building out their profiles, they’ll have the ability to share their academic disciplines and skills. They’ll also be able create paid mentorship packages to allow students to schedule coaching sessions with them. Mentors and students will be able to easily access their schedule and event details from the schedule tab on the bottom nav or from their dashboard.


The in-app content is there for students when they aren’t meeting with mentors. Students can browse photos, videos, and article posts that cover every aspect of the college experience. From dealing with financial aid to adjusting to an 18-credit schedule. This allows the Nxstep app to really tap into the shared knowledge of the broader community and gather insights that may not be anywhere else.


Nxstep partnered with school districts to give entire schools access to the product. So now we weren’t just concerned with the students and the mentors they connect with — we also had to consider the needs of the administrators responsible for the success of their students. Admins cared about student success, and so that mean they need to stay on top of how students are engaging on the platform. They need to be able to identify trends and leverage that information to make decisions about curriculum and support.

So we created an admin dashboard that gave admins insight into:

  • How many students were registered and their demographic info
  • Scheduled meetings with mentors and schools
  • Which colleges, subjects, and mentors were most popular
  • General platform engagement

Thanks to their Nxstep dashboard admins now have more data they can use to tailor their partnerships, recruiting, and/or counseling strategy. Admins now have a 360 view of their cohort and everything they need to support them as best as possible.

Website Design

Once we finished designing the mobile and desktop apps, we moved onto the website. The primary goal of the website was to serve as an awareness and user engagement surface. So we built the site around a couple key pillars:

Product Promotion

One of the primary goals of the website was to create awareness of the brand the product as a whole. So we created a landing page as a primary marketing surface. We also created a “How it Works” page that breaks down everything about Nxstep, the app, the process, the mentor network and more. This helps educate users who need more information before making a decision.


Content was an important pillar because it allowed them to engage with their audience. We helped them create an on-site blog for articles written by the editorial team, mentors, or guest writers. We also allowed website visitors to access Nxstep’s directory of colleges. This serves as a lead magnet for the brand and helps SEO.

One Pagers

The final step of the process was to create a set of sales templates that the team could use for product promotion. We leveraged the brand guidelines we created to design 3 templates with 2 different color variants. These templates were built around 3 sales pillars:

  • Highlighting the product with UI and key benefits
  • Leveraging data and insights to sell
  • Leaning into testimonials for credibility

The final product is simple, lightweight, and visually engaging. True to the brand, easy to edit, and easily sent as an email or takeaway from a meeting.

Parting Thoughts

This project was a great challenge. We’ve done a lot of work in the ed-tech space, but their approach to mentorship and content was unique and it was rewarding to work with them on how to design the most engaging brand and app possible. We love designing for education. Because education is everything. It’s what creates opportunity and social mobility. But far too many are underserved. Too many are taught to neglect their academics because the material and delivery isn’t engaging, or because they don’t have the support they need. But now with Nxstep, that’s changing. Everybody everywhere will have access to world class student mentors who can give them actionable support to achieve their goals.

That’s powerful.
That’s a mission worth rallying for.
That’s Black Lotus.

If you’d like to learn more about Nxstep or discuss potential projects, feel free to shoot me a ping.

Till next time — own your power, give back, and leave no stone unturned.

Black Lotus Out.



Malik Mbaye
Black Lotus Ventures

Marketer | Designer | Founder. Sharing my favorite projects and insights