UX Students Help a Local Startup Solve Design Challenges

Undergraduate students taking the User Experience (UX) II course partnered with Meenta to solve communication and navigation issues on the company's website.

Putting Theory into Practice

At Lesley University, students have opportunities to apply what they’re learning in the classroom in the real world. Through internships and collaborative projects with organizations, students not only enhance their own learning but also contribute their perspectives in professional environments.

In assistant professor Lisa Spitz’s undergraduate User Experience II course, students put theory into practice to help a Boston-based startup solve some of their design challenges.

The Client

Client Stephan Smith works for Meenta, a biotech company that has created a scientific equipment sharing platform. On the platform, researchers can find, book, and review an instrument in seconds.

Stephan presented a few of the company’s issues to the class, for example, the need for a user-friendly map on the Meenta website and the need to fix the site’s confusing messenger feature, among other challenges. Students then employed the design thinking process—a methodology that user experience (UX) and interactive designers use to identify problems and create solutions—to address Meenta's issues.

Lisa Spitz was excited for her students to partner with a startup because of the flexibility and variety of needs smaller companies have. “Startups often have a lot of need and little budget, providing the most opportunity for our students to have an impact. They are also more flexible in their thinking, which makes it possible for students to propose a broad range of ideas,” Lisa explains.

The Approach and Solutions

The students formed groups focusing on one of the design challenges. Over the course of the semester, the students visualized possible solutions for the company. As every student approaches design and problem solving differently, Lisa offered multiple design challenges and approaches to solving them.

With students focusing on specific design challenges, their own interests in UX surfaced. “I’ve always been drawn to maps, but it turned out Meenta’s map presented a unique challenge,” says Lauren Cowe ’19, who is working toward her BFA in Graphic Design. “The map visually determined a genome sequencer’s proximity and availability, but lacked clear communication. It was hidden in the navigation and cluttered with icons. It wasn’t really amplifying Meenta’s functionality” says Lauren.

Molisha Kapoor ’20 was on the “map” team with Lauren. “I wanted to create an easy way for the user to search and be guided to find the best sequencer for them. As someone who heavily relies on their phone to navigate home, a working map is crucial. I look for a map that is efficient, user-friendly and accurate, which is exactly what Meenta lacked,” Molisha says.

With projects focusing on visual design communication and complex interactions, students were able to create useful and streamlined experiences for Meenta’s users. “Several of our solutions included the map in list-view, and using profiles and a questionnaire to simplify results. We suggested they eliminate the external map, and focus on streamlining the site for their audience of PhD/graduate students,” shares Lauren.

 

digital wireframe of advanced search feature for the Meenta app.
Lauren Cowe, along with other students working on this challenge, create a tailored search experience for Meenta's audience.

 

Another challenge was the confusing messenger feature. Interactive Design BFA student, Sebastian Arteaga ’20, chose to transform this problem. “I focused on the design of a new platform for messaging communication between Meenta and their customers. I decided on this one because it looked at the overall experience of the user and how to keep them coming back into the platform.”

Sebastian came up with an accessible interface and simple tool for the messenger solution. “The new dashboard is modular, putting at the forefront the messenger for communication between renters of the sequencers and researchers. I made a visible and streamlined notification system within the messenger, letting the user easily identify a Meenta communication status of the sample, or other important information. The idea was to make the process of sequencing through Meenta always visible with information at a glance, minimizing clicks or taps to get to an action,” Sebastian explains.

digital wireframe of advanced search feature for the Meenta app.

 

The Learning Outcomes

Throughout the course, the students and their client learned the key benefit of focusing on the end-user’s experience and the needs they wish to fulfill by using Meenta’s platform.

“I learned that design is about creating solutions with the right information. Finding out the needs of the different stakeholders made the design more useful in the end,” Sebastian explains. “Additionally, feedback is an essential part of the process. Meenta would point out solutions that made more sense for the user. I had initially designed a messenger where all actions could happen, but there was no way to dig deeper into information of those actions. Their feedback on navigating to more information was key in making my prototype a success.”

digital color palate and web icons on a draft sheet.
Molisha creates pattern libraries for the organization so their visual identity can begin to take shape.

 

The class helped Molisha understand and develop a deeper appreciation of UX design. “I always dreaded the design process and wanted to rush to the final product,” Molisha shares. “You have to take the time to research and understand who you are designing for and what it is you’re designing. This is how we’re able to create solutions to problems. If you skip this process as a designer, you could create more problems rather than solving them.”

Over the semester, when the students and client encountered unexpected hiccups, they had to improvise. But being able to be flexible in your approach as a project’s vision and scope evolve is a necessary skill to have. “The students inspired Stephan to think in different ways and he encouraged the students to take the project in new directions,” shares Lisa. “Change in vision is typical when working on a project, but for students, it was quite unexpected. It provided a great learning opportunity for them,” she says.

In the end, the class was able to take several client-defined projects and pull the pieces together. They framed the design problem and defined project goals that enabled both themselves and their client to conceptualize possible solutions, and ultimately meeting Meenta’s needs and making them happy.

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