Sheridan College is home to over 7500 international students, hailing from 10 different countries. Each year, the college gets thousands of applications from these students. However, most of these applications aren't filled out properly and are usually missing information or contain errors. This causes friction for both the students and the administrators working in the International Office.
Sheridan's International Office reached out to our class and asked us to re-design their international application portal to be more user-friendly, cohesive with Sheridan's brand guidelines and return less errors and discrepancies in international student applications.
The current application system is outdated. It doesn't follow Sheridan's brand guidelines, it has unclear user flows and it isn't intuitive. Thus, many applicants have trouble filling out their applications which leads to errors and discrepancies.
I started by conducting user interviews with current Sheridan international students and asked them about their experience using the current portal when applying to Sheridan College. Here are my key findings:
Language Barrier: Some international students end up giving up on the application because their English speaking skills aren't fully refined.
Agent For Hire: Certain students end up hiring agents to complete the application form for them. This is more common in East Asia (China, Japan). These agents either work with the college or are privately hired.
Payment System: There were concerns that the payment system provided within the portal isn't flexible enough to accommodate different forms of payment.
Lack of Guidance: One of the major issues was that students didn't have the support or guidance needed in order to translate academic requirements from their countries' standards to Canada's.
After gathering data and information from our user interviews, I created user personas of potential users of this portal. We assigned each persona with a user story to better understand their goals and objectives.
- As a student, I want to be able to apply to programs at Sheridan College with ease so that I can pursue post-secondary education.
- As an educational agent, I want to help my client fill out their application so that I can fulfill my responsibilities at my job.
- As an International Office employee, I want to make sure student fill out their applications with the necessary information so that errors can be reduced and I can do my job efficiently.
We also assigned each persona a set of behavioural attributes which would determine their English proficiency, the amount of assistance required, time and financial priority as well as the level of confidence they have to complete the application process on their own.
The next step was to evaluate each persona's expectations of the system and provide context scenarios to illustrate how they would use the system. We identified functional, data and contextual requirements and used them to inform the "what" of our interaction before we moved forward with our design.
I broke down our primary personas' life cycle, when applying for post-secondary. These user scenarios illustrated the ideal interaction and user flow we wanted for our users. They would be able to set the portal to their native language, easily complete the application process, and receive feedback when they've submitted.
After identifying all of our design requirements, we began sketching our initial wireframes and outlined different user journeys. We split our user journeys into two categories:
1. Student who will be applying independently
2. Education agent applying on behalf of their client
Both user journeys were fairly similar to avoid unnecessary confusion for both sets of users. The only thing that differentiated the two journeys was the on-boarding process.
We drew inspiration from Typeform. We wanted the system to provide a simple, step-by-step experience for our users. We used visuals, such as a timeline, to illustrate the student's progress in their application as well as a to-do list with all the tasks required for a successful and complete application.
I took on a user research and user experience role for this project. Although the visual design was handled by my team member Will, I was responsible for creating the wireframes for the Registration flow.
We broke up the system into 2 parts: Registration and Dashboard. In Registration, the user enters the personal information required to create their student profile and pick which programs they wish to apply to. In Dashboard, the user completes a set list of tasks required to complete the application such as submitting documents and paying fees.
This project made me realize all the work that comes before designing the perfect interface. I was really able to dive into the design process and analyze the design problem. Talking to users, crafting personas, scenarios and user flows helped me understand the problem space better and eventually led us to find a viable solution to the problem.
Since this was only a class project, we weren't able to present this to the International Office. In the future, I'd like to test this prototype with our target audience to get their feedback and make the necessary improvements.