STREETALK

OBJECTIVE

Foreign students coming to the United States for school after have a difficult transition when integrating into their new home. Social isolation, cultural misunderstanding and language confusion result in these students often having nowhere to turn with their questions. My team was asked to help design a resource to help alleviate these difficult moments. Utilizing UX research techniques, we helped create a solution that serves to onboard these students into their new world.   

TEAM

5 UX/UI Designers and Researchers

TIME LINE

4-week project

MY ROLE

My role was heavily focused on research planning, ideation, helping to develop the visual elements that made up the wireframe as well as the majority of research synthesis.  

OVERVIEW

Onboarding App for Acclimating to American Culture

Acting as a cultural and slang onboarding resource for Chinese students coming to the United States for college, Streetalk aims to ease the transition for the 360,000 Chinese students currently in the United States. ​

The two founders, who immigrated to the US as children, sought our UX expertise and asked our team to validate their initial idea of an MVP: a dictionary utility for American slang that had both English and Chinese definitions.

THE PROBLEM

Through research, our team uncovered the core needs and pain points of Chinese students coming to the US for college. We synthesized that problem into the following statement: 


Newly arrived Chinese students told us they were scared to converse in English and they needed a tool that would give them the confidence to make connections in their new home and converse freely with their American peers.

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Aimee Venot

CEO & CTO

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Lulu Song

CMO

DISCOVERY

Our team utilized a mixed-method research strategy, which included competitive analysis, domain research, user interviews, surveys, and a card sort. We uncovered key insights that helped frame the problem and bring about a prototype that addressed users' core needs. Our research takeaways included:

Heavy Focus on Culture

In an assessment of the competitive landscape, we uncovered a need for a mobile app that would provide a heavier focus on bridging the cultural gap than purely providing a language learning tool.

Dictionary not Going to Cut it

The first MVP that Streetalk proposed was solely a slang dictionary, which already existed by Google or Urban Dictionary. Users had a hard time remembering unfamiliar slang long enough to spell it out and look it up later and were more likely to turn to someone nearby to ask the meaning. We needed to create an app that would provide cultural context and greater depth of language comprehension simultaneously.

Answers to Sensitive Social Questions

Chinese students often struggle with cultural barriers when entering life in the United States such as knowing how to interact in an American-style classroom or the finer points of dating and relationships.

Help with Conversational Skills

Students new to the US are caught off guard when the English they experience does not match with what they learned. Chinese students don’t learn conversational skills, only written and formal English. From this insight, we discerned that having a language lookup function did in fact add a lot of utility.

PERSONA CREATION

Our team created a primary persona, Zhang, as the target user for Streetalk. We crafted Zhang's character and story from the recurring patterns and themes we noticed in our research and incorporated our founder's ideal market fit.

To emphasize our empathy with users' struggles, we created a journey map of Zhang's journey coming to the US. This journey helped inform our design going forward as we could address her explicit problems when designing solutions.

Persona Creation and Journey Map

Our team created a primary persona, Zhang, as the target user for Streetalk. We crafted Zhang's character and story from the recurring patterns and themes we noticed in our research and incorporated our founder's ideal market fit.

To emphasize our empathy with users' struggles, we created a journey map of Zhang's journey coming to the US. This journey helped inform our design going forward as we could address her explicit problems when designing solutions.

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IMPROVING USER ENGAGEMENT

Although outside the scope of our original assignment, we determined we could create greater value by focusing on the content of the app. Our criteria were that content must keep users engaged and also answer real questions. 

  • Content Categories. We recognized we need to create material around the following categories: health care, housing, living on campus, technology, interpersonal, and internships.

  • Chinese-to-English Ratio. Any how-to guides that are in long-form text need to be in Chinese to be useful and accessible to the end-user. 

  • Visual Content. Users reacted negatively to visual content that relied on cultural context to be understood. As an example of this, our founders had the idea of including memes in the app. We tested this concept and learned that memes did not translate because of a lack of cultural context. Instead, including videos and Gifs proved to be more effective media.

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ADDRESSING THE CHALLENGE

Ideation

When ideating our first concepts, we turned back to our journey map and user insights to help guide our solutions and to ensure that what we created would be in line with both the vision of the app and the end-users’ needs. 

Testing Simple Dictionary or Content-Based Dictionary

  • The Goal. We set out to determine how much content the user needed to gain utility from a definition page of any given word. ​

  • The Problem. Users need to know what American slang words mean to converse in conversational English. ​

  • The Results. Users wanted dictionary content to be robust to give a full understanding and nuance to the word they were interested in looking up.

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Simple Dictionary 

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Content-based Dictionary

CULTURAL CONTENT

We compared three concepts: gamification, static lookup, and discover feed model to discover the best learning experience for our users. 

  • The Goal. How did the user want cultural content displayed to them and what format would be the most useful for learning?  

  • The Problem. Users need to know answers to cultural questions that arise: how can we engage users in a meaningful way on this level? 

  • The Results. Users reacted favorably to an interactive experience that integrated new words (dictionary) and cultural context in a discover feed that was curated to them through segmentation and area relevance. Both gamification and a more static category based utility did not test well and left users disengaged

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Gamification

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Static Lookup

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Discover Feed

PROTOTYPING

In our mid-fidelity mock-ups of the MVP, we created a feed-based mobile solution that relies on a modular design. We included real content in our testing so that users could interact with modules and judge if it had personal value for them. Our app is divided into four functionalities: Discover, Search, Dictionary Modules, and Cultural Modules.

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DISCOVER

We designed the discovery section to be customizable according to where users are on their journey. Customization includes segmentation profiling as well as location-based recommendations. The feed includes a side-by-side dictionary and culture modules. 

The Problem. Users need a way to discover new content and be exposed to cultural ideas and words that they might encounter in their current life stage. 

Our Solution. Using a familiar mobile pattern, we created a discover feed curated for the individual that refreshes regularly. Users can save content for later and browse daily to learn useful cultural context and new words. 

SEARCH

Our design favors the search option for looking up specific cultural topics and American slang words. In the instance where a word is not present in the database, a 404 page would allow users to request a definition.

The Problem: Users need a way to look up specific words and cultural questions so that they can find answers.

Our Solution: Using a search look up that doubles as a category based browsing, the user can type in any keyword and is shown many results that might be relevant.

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DICTIONARY

Once the user clicks on a specific word, the app displays a definition page, which gives examples and further depth of context. This aims to give the user a full breadth of understanding beyond just a simple definition. 

The Problem. Users need to understand a new word and the entire meaning that it implies. 

Our Solution. Our solution gives audio examples, a definition in both English and Chinese, conversational examples, and GIFs providing context as to when to use a word. 

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CULTURE

Once a user searches a particular word or clicks into a module on the discover feed, they are taken an entire module with information such as guides, videos, and related terms and phrases. 

The Problem. Users need a way to look up cultural questions so that they can learn about the nuances of living and studying in the US.

Our Solution. We designed the app to give users individual cultural content blocks, written by Americans, and presented in a way that caters to a Chinese audience.

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My Learnings

This project increased my skills as a designer and as a strategic thinker. Some of the most valuable lessons I learned include: 

  • Start-up Challenges. Streetalk is a startup in its infancy with no outside funding and is limited in the scope of how fast it can scale content. The founders' main objective was bootstrapping a solution, and we were constrained by money and a lack of time.

 

  • Research Documentation. I took ownership of documenting high-level project takeaways by synthesizing all of our research findings into a digestible form. This allowed our research to live on in the hands of the founders as they pursued further iterations. For example, I documented that users often say they want something but later demonstrate the opposite.