January 2020 - Present
Product Manager (Fall 2020)
Catherine, Maggie, Lucy, Haiying, Phillip, Haichen, Preston, Orko, and Sean @Cornell AppDev
Automatic pairings: Putting yourself out there is hard. A virtual, one-on-one introduction every week invites students to get to know each other better.
Matching based on similarities: With common ground, people are more likely to follow through with pairings have a positive experience during the meet-up.
More friends, less “clout”: There is enough peer pressure and resources around professional development already. We hope to challenge this and create a comfortable space focused on making new friends.
Too often at Cornell, we pass by other students we vaguely know, drift apart from people, or even don’t know the names of others in the same campus group. Within our project team we’ve found that 30 minute chats can help people learn about each other, improve culture, and sometimes lead to life-long friendships.
After a few semesters of coffee-chatting each other we saw an opportunity to for everyone at Cornell to break awkward barriers and improve campus culture.
But what do other students think?
We interviewed and surveyed other Cornell undergraduates about how they feel about their community and relationships with other students. Here are highlights of what we learned:
Many people have close friends but also lots of other acquaintances that they wish they knew better.
Everyone is open to chatting, but don’t want to reach out due to laziness or fear of inconveniencing others.
Students have unique interests and don’t know where to go to meet new people with similar interests.
Cornell students want to form meaningful connections with particular students. But this is difficult because:
Listening to how other students struggled to deepen their friendships or find the time and energy to meet new people helped us narrow down the goals for our product:
After discussing with our team of superstar designers, engineers, and strategists we decided on some constraints and product direction.
First, we need some information about the students to pair them up with others who have common ground to talk about. This content also helps students learn a bit about each other before meeting up. We based the onboarding flow on how students feel more excited and comfortable meeting new people with similar background, interests, or campus groups. We also want to give people a way to connect or communicate outside of the app, since messaging is outside of our constraints.
This cycle of automatic pairings solves three problems students experience:
We explored different hierarchies of the pair's profile picture, demographic information, interests, and groups and also considered not showing the photo altogether. Ultimately, we decided to highlight similarities with a clear distinction and label and give thorough information on the other person’s background. Though appearance shouldn't matter to in meeting new friends, being able to also see the other student's photo can build trust before deciding to meet up.
Students have the most frustration with deciding when and where to meet in our busy schedules. Many complained about having to communicate back and forth, or even not getting a response at all.
Minimizing the friction for scheduling will reduce the barrier for meet-ups. That way, users can focus more on building relationships rather than logistics.
We thought that due to everyone’s busy schedules, students would want to change their availability every week.
However, we realized that students still have typical routines that would be tedious to repeatedly enter. Our revised approach lets them input it once and modify later it when reaching out.
First, we rapidly iterated on the interactions of selecting when and where to meet.
After receiving critiques, we iterated on the third option with a more streamlined navigation. We also focused more on the content in these screens, since we previously struggled to convey the individual time and locations effectively and visually. Simultaneously, we worked on creating a visual design system for the app which is reflected in this later stage.
Though this provided a clearer way of communicating and selecting days of the week, times in each day, and a wider range of locations, we decided that the flow could be more efficient by combining the first two screens. Though separating them could be less overwhelming at first, the content is so similar that we felt students might want to edit the days and times of their availability seamlessly.
This flow shows how a student reaches out and confirms their availability, pre-filled from their weekly schedule (which can be changed in Settings).
Pear is a play on the word “pair”, alluding to how the app matches people in pairs based on commonalities. The name also opened up an exciting opportunity space for creative character design and brand identity centered around the fruit.
Our pear friend gives updates and reminders about pairings and scheduled meetups. It helps prevent bad experiences with pairings who don't respond or don't show up. It’s also the friendly voice that adds a personal and human feel to the app.
The other concept we considered was a coffee-theme, but everyone thought the pear was too perfect!
These prototypes are made in Framer.
Unfortunately, COVID-19 abruptly interrupted our team’s in-person workflow, but we are still working hard and plan to ship at the beginning of Spring 2021. We were still able to conduct remote user testing with our prototype and gained valuable feedback that sparked ideas of how to improve, including:
The pandemic has definitely people’s attitude or ability to participate in in-person meetings with strangers 😢. We will keep this in mind in shaping our product. However, we are optimistic that there will always be a need to feel connected with the community, whether that will be at a campus cafe, over video calls, or some other solution.
Tight knit collaboration. Thanks to constant and thoughtful feedback from other designers and our developers, I learned to not only respond at lightning speed to Slack messages, but also appreciate different perspectives and improve my design work as a result.
Designing on a mission. I truly loved spending so much time thinking about ways to improve the Cornell community. I learned that wholeheatedly believing in the mission of a product fuels my productivity and creativity.
Scrap that! We made countless mistakes and iterations that will never see the light. But pushing through those challenged us to think of other edge cases and possibilities and ultimately create a better app. I can’t wait to see where it goes 🚀
For all the details of the design process, contact me and let's chat!