Created a native mobile app that helps first year students build an online community with their peers to create meaningful relationships in a fully-remote world.


Hillary carter, Elizabeth Desouza, Patrick Wong


Figma, Sketch, Jira, Zeplin


Ernst and Young



4 Day Sprint


UX Researcher, UX Designer, UI Designer


Waves is an online platform that helps first year students connect with like-minded individuals at Coastal University by giving them a virtual outlet to create meaningful connections in a fully remote world.

Introducing WAVES

The Challenge

COVID-19-related campus closures have impacted nearly every aspect of the student experience. Being fully online means that the usual student onboarding ceremonies, events, communities, and clubs would need to adapt to an online model or be suspended indefinitely. Impacted the most are first-year students, who are at risk of not feeling immersed in the campus experience or a part of a larger student community, resulting in loneliness, depression, and other mental health issues.

EY challenged us to empathize with first year students who were entering Coastal University during the pandemic. They also requested that we leverage any digital technologies available to completely reimagine a first-year student’s education experience.

Brand Guidelines

Before starting to design, we had to consider the following guidelines provided by EY:

1. Your solution must be designed using Avenir as the primary font. You may use additional fonts of your choice.
2. Your design solution must reflect the primary brand colours: #23BE36, #36285D, #3A3A3A, #FFFFFF

1. The solution had to be accessible to the widest audience; thus must be WCAG AA Compliant


How might we help first-year students feel welcomed and part of a community in a 100% online education experience?

Primary Research

EY handed our team three personas to select from for our project. The personas included international students, students with disabilities and mature students. After much discussion amongst my group, we all decided to choose the mature student persona as we were all able to relate closely to that user group. Mature students represent those who are twenty five years of age and older, and have some work experience.

After deciding on a persona, we started interviewing a few people who fit our demographic. The interviews were all conducted via zoom and the findings were very insightful.

✏️ Key Findings from our interview:

  1. Searching for a community online is very time consuming
  2. Students feel anxiety around making meaningful connections with classmates online
Secondary Research

The next step after conducting interviews was to research what were some of the existing personal methods and approaches other universities were taking during the pandemic. We learnt that the national first-year retention rate was only 61%. It was believed that orientation sessions and meaningful experiences played a major role in increasing that number. Additionally, Universities were finding that students were experiencing “zoom fatigue” as they were staring at their computers for long periods of time. One solution for this is generating small breakout rooms to help create more personal connections and a more inclusive atmosphere.

User Journey

We constructed a journey map. This journey map allowed us to visualize the different stages that the user would go through before starting their remote education in the fall semester. From looking at the Journey map, we felt that the best point of intervention would have been after the user was notified that their learning experience would be fully remote but before they had actually started their courses. We understood that once classes started, students would have been more preoccupied with their school work and so they would not have much time to create those meaningful relationships with their peers. Therefore, we wanted to give students the opportunity to connect with others in their school before online classes started.

HMW Question

After creating our journey map, we collectively brainstormed roughly 47 How Might We questions. From there, we moved on to dot voting and narrowed down our scope to 5 statements. Some time later, after much discussion amongst the four of us, we finalized our main HMW question.

 “How might we connect mature students with similar experiences in order to allow them to feel like they’re part of a community?”


Continuing from where we left off on day 1 of our sprint, we independently searched for inspiration from apps that were already launched on the app store. We looked at apps ranging from friendship apps, dating apps, and university apps. We wanted to focus on creating that online atmosphere for students to create those meaningful relationships, hence, we were very open to researching different types of industry apps.


Moving on to sketching, I found this process to be very enjoyable. I personally really liked sketching and seeing everyone’s creative ideas put onto paper. As a team we started off with crazy 8’s just to get our creativity going, and then drew full concept sketches based on our crazy 8’s. After completing our individual sketches, we then reconvened and presented each of our sketches in the form of the art museum.

Concept 1
  • Profile page for students
  • Rating the class for measurable KPI
  • Provide a biography based on their interests, activities and classes
  • Chat function to get in touch with peers and book activities
  • view live videos and participate in activities together online
Concept 2
  • Games and activities for students to participate in
  • Live video chat feature
  • Time of activity is displayed
  • Contact information of the person that completed the activity with, this allows them to maintain a friendship.
Concept 3
  • Students are able to add photos to their biography
  • Students can connect with members in the club
  • Able to view and join clubs online
  • Biography shows the persons preferred communication method

After viewing each other's sketches, we proceeded with dot voting which specific ideas we wanted to include into our solution. Our team felt that it was important to draw out a storyboard as it would help us understand the flow of our persona’s main interaction with our product over time.

The Feedback

Our client said we were off to a great start. The advice we got was to reflect on our HMW statement. Did our HMW statement really empathize with our user and represent the emotional experience for our target user? At that moment, I paused for a second and took a step back to reflect on what our client was asking us to do. He mentioned that if our HMW statement didn’t accurately reflect the value proposition we wanted to bring to our users, how could we design a digital solution that would be beneficial to them? Was our solution really solving our users’ challenges? And just like that we knew we had to go back to the drawing board. As a team we started asking ourselves “Would students feel awkward messaging each other to do an online cooking class together? Would this really allow them to bond and get to know each other?” … This was such an eye opening moment for our team and a learning experience I can promise you I will never forget when designing in the future.

As soon as we got off our call with our client, we started brainstorming. We knew we had to start with tweaking our HMW statement to better reflect the value we wanted to bring to our users. As a team we decided that we needed to incorporate more emotion into our statement and so we arrive at the following HMW:

The Changes

  1. Matching students to pod groups based on their similarities, interests and classes
  2. Providing them with an Ice Breaker activity in the chat to help to get to know each member in the pod, better virtual escape room allows them to bond and solve a common problem together


“How might we inspire mature students to connect to their peers in order to empower them to build a community and prevent loneliness?”


High Fidelity prototyping

After implementing the changes from our pivot, we began designing our high-fidelity wireframes in Figma. Because of the tight time constraints of this project, we decided to divide the work accordingly. My teammates Elizabeth and Hillary were in charge of developing the high-fidelity wireframes, while Patrick and I focused on creating the presentation. I am so proud of all of the hard work my team has put into creating this prototype and still keeping within the design constraints.

Usability Testing

After designing our high-fidelity screens and stitching it together, we completed 1 round of User testing with 5 participants who fit our target demographic. At the end of the usability testing we were left with very valuable insights. However, due to our tight time constraint for this project, we felt that it was best to prioritize the major changes that needed to be implemented in our next phase of design iterations.

We came down to these two iterations in our high-fidelity wireframes:

  1. Users said that they needed visibility of system status to understand when their application would be put in a pod group.
    New users needed a quick onboarding page to explain to them the intended use of the app and its features.
01 The Presentation

On the final day of our sprint, we had to present our project in five minutes to the EY Design Studio Panel remotely. That day we rehearsed our presentation as a group more times than I can count, we were filled with energy and were prepared to show everyone what we had accomplished as a team during that short span of time. For our presentation, my team and I made sure to stress the needs of the user as we recalled what Waleed had said during his feedback session with us. Putting the focus on “why” we designed WAVES was a very integral part of our presentation. After my team had presented for five minutes we awaited for our feedback from the EY design studio Panel.

02 Next Steps

I am so proud of all that my team and I have accomplished during this short sprint. The EY stakeholders said that our team created an amazing human-centred design that aligned closely with their business goals and objectives. Receiving that feedback back from EY was very satisfying, also, because of all of our hard work we were able to win the design sprint!