Helping new international students transition to new environments.

Mobile Application (iOS)

Designer and Researcher
(Passion Project)

4 Weeks
May 2019

Tools Used:
Invision, Balsamiq, Photoshop,
After Effects, OmniGraffle



Even though Virginia Commonwealth University is the 5th most diversed college in Virginia, international students still feel lost in a new country. They face adaptation challenges including General living, Academic, Social, Cultural, Psychological and Emotional Problems.

As a young child, I've personally faced similar struggles when moving from another country to the United States, as well as moving to and from different cities throughout my life.


The solution, Oasis is a mobile application featuring voice user interface and AI which can be used by international students for searching new places, asking questions, finding friends, and learning more about different cultures.

Users can discover new places, ask questions, meet new people and learn more about different cultures to have an overall better college experience.

Research Phase

Understanding the user needs

In my initial research, I interviewed several students, conducted online surveys and observations to examine the life of international students. This helped to identify their needs and the things that influenced their academic, social and cultural transition in the U.S. I wanted answers to questions such as:

  • What are the major challenges faced by newly enrolled international students?
  • How do students find information for their day to day needs?
  • What kind of activities do students engage in to overcome their problems?
  • How do students cope up with stress and loneliness when they feel homesick?


To fully understand the target audience, I interviewed 10 international students from a variety of ethnicities studying diverse fields at Virginia Commonwealth University. The interviews were semi-structured and lasted for about 20 to 30 minutes.

Most of the students said that they faced problems in finding accommodation, dealing with bank accounts, preferred food, and getting a driving license etc. There seemed to be a lack of information about local events and activities, even after regular newsletters and announcements.

View the Full Interview Plan

Online Survey

I divided the online survey into 4 sections. General Information, Cultural differences, Technology and Goals. This data helped in taking a lot of informed decisions.

Research Insights

Framing the Problem

Bringing all the research data together, I broke down all the major challenges faced by students into 4 main themes which were:

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Academic Hardships

Classroom learning struggles from lack of English proficiency and time for completing assignments.

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General Living Problems

Getting accommodations, technology, driving, transportation, insurances, credit cards, bank accounts etc.

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Psychological Problems

Feeling of isolation, homesickness, boredom, and stress from various problems & challenges.

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Social & Cultural Differences

Making friends, understanding local culture & slang, going out for events, restaurants, food, festivals etc.

Problem Synthesis

Affinity Diagramming

I structured my findings with an Affinity Diagram to help understand and digest what I had gathered from my survey and interviews. I refined them into common themes such as user problems, needs, goals, emotions and pain points.

This session helped in prioritizing the data of problems, issues and challenges faced by the students.

Listing Affinity notes according to issues

Categorizing Affinity notes into different themes

User Personas

Understanding the User

The insights and information gathered from my research allowed me to define the potential target users of the product.

I created two personas that represented a user group who faced similar problems. My design decisions that followed were based on these user goals, needs and pain points. They gave a clear picture of the users expectations as I developed Oasis and its features.


Identifying Different Scenarios

From the ideas generated in the brainstorming sessions, I sketched three sets of storyboards that demonstrated actual use cases and user scenarios on how a user would move through that part of the story.

This helped me to clearly depict specific features and how they fulfilled the user needs.

(Click to enlarge images)

Decision Making

Rationale behind the solution

After the storyboarding session, I finally decided on a fitting solution for the problem and what features or functionality it will have.


  • Provide Personalized information
  • Users don’t like basic information
  • Needs to be portable & easy to access
  • Users need friends to help and guide them
  • Different users with different habits & issues
  • A lot of voice & chat apps already in market


  • A mobile app for both iOS & Android
  • Gamify new environment and culture to educate students
  • Allow students to connect with each other and complete initial steps
  • Use the concept of AI & machine learning to collect personalized information
  • Function as both voice assistant and a chatbot to fulfill all use case scenarios


  • Personal Assistant based on Voice & chat
  • Users can explore places, events, restaurants etc. according to their likes
  • Quiz type interactive games to involve students in learning new norms & culture
  • Create groups based on interests, Chat, & share events or plans among themselves
  • Personalized Machine learning sync with real-time user data like geo-location and event calendar
Flow Diagram

Mapping out the user experience

Next, I started to design for the user experience with the user flow for the app which helped identify what people using the product would need to do based on the accomplishment of specific tasks within the app. Once the user journey had been set, I moved onto the design flow for general and specific use cases.


Designing initial interface


Low-Fidelity Prototyping

Based on the main features and task flows of Oasis, I created low fidelity wireframes on Balsamiq Mockups with the following user flows: 1) User Onboarding, 2) Voice & Chat UI, 3) Group Chat, and 4) Play feature.

Visual Design

Defining Style Guidelines

Before I moved into High-Fidelity Wireframes, I developed the Visual Style Guide to show the colors, fonts, icons and other elements of the product I wanted to stay consistent and on-brand.

I chose Blue as my main color because of its association with stability, trust, intelligence, and truth. The mood board here helped to visually translate the feelings, and emotions to be created for Oasis as it symbolized a subtle reference to the theme of journey and the feeling of lightness.

User Testing

Finalizing the Solution

Due to time constraints, User testing and cognitive walkthroughs weren't carried out to find out usability issues within the app. However, with more time, the plan would be to have several rounds of cognitive walkthroughs and usability tests that last for about 15 minutes with potential users who are all international students. Below are a few tasks that would be asked during the session.

Task 1: Create a group titled “Food Lovers.”

Task 2: Play a game based on the topic of Shopping.

Task 3: Schedule a movie with your friends within a group.

Sign up and login process

Users can login using Touch ID, Face ID or Voice Password as well as email and password. To Sign up, users can use a voice password, Touch/ Face ID for fast & secure login, or enter details with an existing email account.

Onboarding & Personalization

Users have the ability to choose tasks they want to complete from an existing list, or they can add their own tasks. Users can also select their interests for more personalized suggestions and notifications.

Creating your Groups

After a user selects the groups fitting to their tasks or interests, they can start connecting with the people in that group. Creating new public or private groups is also an option if they want to connect with other people in their contact list.

Creating or Sharing Events

Users can create events in any group and share with its members. The events are synced with their calendars and will receive notifications and reminders. Users can see details like date, time, people going etc. and RSVP.

Gamifying the Learning Experience

The users are also asked if they want to play a game based on the information provided and probes a small quiz in the form of a game to earn rewards. Future plans of this include providing coupons of different stores, restaurants and events.


Project Takeaways

Confirming my hypothesis through user research
Through previous encounters and being a first-generation college student myself, I suspected that finding resources was a common issue across the United States and that international students could benefit from this app. Despite that, I only became completely confident in my hypothesis after I interviewed international students who expressed the same concerns that I had heard and experienced before.

Empathy for the users
Even though we may be experts on smartphone usage, many international students, especially ones who are less educated, may not be. Not only that, some of them may not be very fluent in English which was shown through many user interviews. Therefore, having empathy for the users was very important. I had to keep these constraints in mind while designing and avoided complex design patterns for the sake of the user.

Due to the time constraints, I was only able to do a minimal viable product, but with more time, these are some features that I would like to add:

  • Include more Machine Learning functionality with features like a talking virtual friend
  • Collaborate with different stores and restaurants to offer best deals as per the user's interests
  • Add a Safety Feature – that alerts a few listed emergency contacts during emergency situations
  • Add an Interactive Campus Map, that helps users navigate to classrooms or other accommodations
  • Conduct 4 to 5 more usability testing assessments with participants from different age & ethnic groups

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