Identify a problem on campus, conduct appropriate research and design a potential solution to this problem.

My Role:
User Research, Task Analysis, Ideation, Storyboarding, Wireframing, Prototyping, Documentation.

We based our process on the double diamond approach. First, we discovered different problem spaces to eventually define the right problem to focus on based on the research we conducted. Then we developed multiple solution ideas, and finally converged on one idea and delivered a prototype.

Problem Statement

“Understand how different spaces around campus are being used and enhance students’ experiences by showing them how these spaces fit their needs and interests.”

Within the buildings on the GT campus, there are multiple common spaces that often remain unused, largely because students and other users aren’t aware of their existence. On the other hand, students often find it tough to locate space for individual study, collaborative work, relaxing between classes, or other wants and needs.


Expert Interviews

After identifying a few problems related to space on campus, we set up meetings with the authorities in charge of those areas of the organization. In one such meeting we interviewed experts at the Facilities Management department as well as one of the landscape architects there. They informed us about the current systems that were in place to tackle space related problems. For example, the room reservation website, the sensors in classrooms that collected data on energy consumption, etc.

Ethnography and Contextual Inquiry

To get a deeper understanding of how students are currently using spaces on campus for academic as well as recreational activities, we observed students in popular common spaces around campus like the library and department lounge areas. We also conducted open-ended contextual inquiries with some students. It was important to be cautious while approaching students to conduct interviews so as to make sure we aren’t encroaching on their privacy.

Key Observations:

  • Students choose spaces based on the features they offer like power sockets, whiteboards, etc.
  • Students often use these spaces when they need to spend time in between two classes, conduct group meetings, etc.
  • Students hesitate to sit at empty spots on tables which someone unknown is already sitting at.
  • Students prefer to sit at tables with people they are familiar with, or even sit alone at bigger tables so as to not be disturbed

Task Analysis

We conducted short tasks analyses to understand how students use the current Georgia Tech website for reserving spaces on campus.


Affinity Mapping

By affinity mapping our observations, we found certain behavioral patterns and eventually 3-4 themes on which we could base our final problem statement. We chose to work on the social interaction element that arises in situations where students utilize common spaces on campus. We then refined our problem statement to

“Understand how different spaces around campus are being used to provide students with their desired level of social interaction.”

Affinity map based on ethnography and contextual inquiries.


After developing a more in-depth understanding of our problem space, my teammate drafted a few questions to confirm our inferences. We conducted an online survey through Qualtrics to quantify and confirm these findings. Most importantly, we wanted to gauge students’ level of openness in engaging with others in a public space.

User Personas

Based on our research and the demographic information we got through our initial contextual interviews and our survey, we created two personas to represent our target users.

User Persona 1

User Persona 2


Diverging: Creating Choices

The affinity mapping process gave us our top level problem areas that we could work with. Many of these areas were mutually exclusive. During our brainstorming session, we rapidly came up with approximately 20 possible solutions to address these problems. These ideas were then plotted on an xy axes (Cartesian coordinate) graph; where the x-axis was the feasibility of the idea and the y-axis was the impact the solution would have.

Feasibility-Impact Graph

Converging: Making Choices

We then chose our top three solutions and created lo-fi prototypes of the same. The prototypes included:

  1. An Arduino based cube that lights up in the color corresponding to the desired level of social interaction; green being open to interaction, red being not open to interaction, and a neutral color like yellow that signifies that the student already at the table is open to sharing the table, as long as the other person doesn’t disturb them. The student who first sits at the table has the option to set the cube to their desired state. An additional option for adding a short message was also available.
  2. An AR-based way-finding app that detected empty spaces when the phone is held up in a certain direction.
  3. The third prototype was a kiosk placed on each floor of common spaces with smaller kiosks/screens on the doors of enclosed rooms that required reservations for access. The kiosks would give the student information like the floor plan indicating empty seats, features (whiteboards, plugpoints, etc) available in that area, etc.

Design Critique

We participated in a peer review session to get feedback on our ideas from our fellow classmates and instructors (who were potential users of this product). We recorded the features and aspects that the users liked and dislike, and accordingly made our future design decisions.

Close up of Arduino cube lo-fi prototype

Users tagged each idea with different color stickers to express like, dislike, confusion or neutral feedback


The Arduino cube idea got the most positive feedback, so we decided to go ahead with that solution.


Prototype Details

Rough storyboard

The next step was to flesh out the details of this solution and build a high fidelity prototype.

Design Decisions

At this point, it was important to take some design decisions. The final product should be small and mobile, so that it does not obstruct the user’s path in any way. Based on user feedback, apps and websites were not preferred for this kind of function. Therefore we decided to focus only on the physical cube and not attach any remote element to it. We decided that the user should be able to display a message on the cube by connecting their phone to the cube. The cube should also have a USB input to charge it.

Given the constraints of time, we decided to create a fully working proof of concept and concentrate on the functioning of the prototype rather than its aesthetics. We used a Raspberry Pi to build our main piece of hardware. An NFC tag was used that contained the URL to the prototype to set the message through the user’s device.

Building the prototype

Building the outer cover with acrylic. We decided to frost the acrylic which would decrease the intensity of the light and at the same time increase the surface area that it hits (using the scattering of light principle).

Using the prototype: User selecting the state of the cube.

Using the prototype: User adding a message to the cube via her phone

Final Prototype

The working title given to this product was SociaLight.

Video Courtesy: Morgan O.

Usability Testing

For the last step of this project, we had to plan a usability test to conduct with students around campus. We decided to concentrate on the following aspects:

  1. Explore how personalities (introverts and extraverts) of different users may affect their usage of the SociaLight.
  2. Investigate the adoptability of the product. In other words, is the SociaLight engaging enough for students to actually go ahead and use it? Or will they just ignore it like they do the current reservation system?
  3. Evaluate the different features of the product and reiterate if needed. For example, are the different colors intuitive enough?

Key Takeaways

  1. Observing users in their natural environment can get tricky
    Respecting the privacy of your target users while conducting research through methods like ethnography and contextual inquiry is important. While observing students for our research, we needed to cautiously approach them and explain our research purpose, so as to not create any distress or concern.
  2. An app isn’t always the answer
    As we learnt through our user feedback, it is important to consider the form of our product along with its function. While an app may have been able to serve the same purpose, our users expressed disinterest in downloading one more app on their phone and using it. Therefore the adoptability of our solution would’ve been very low had it been an app.
  3. Continuous feedback loops help move the development process along
    We were regularly getting feedback on our ideas from stakeholders and users, which helped us make important design decisions and also settle disputes within our team.

My Amazing Teammates!

Cheryl Cheong     Jayanth M      Morgan Orangi