Oasis- Helping new international students transition to new environments.

Mobile App (iOS)
Designer and Researcher (Passion Project)
4 Weeks
May 2019
Tools Used
Invision, Balsamiq, OmniGraffle,
Adobe PS / AE

The Problem

Even though Virginia Commonwealth University is the 5th most diverse 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.
How might we create a one-stop solution
for international students to get the information they need?

The Solution

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.

Project Journey

My role consisted of taking the project from foundational discovery to proof of concept prototype in the span of 4 weeks. Along the way, I conducted research in the form of user interviews, task analysis, empathy mapping and usability tests. I also conducted formative research, worked on concept ideation, setting up a design system and prototyping the research-driven solutions.

How might we design an equipment borrowing system that is intuitive and efficient for students, technicians and the administration?

My Responsibilities

While we all worked together on the research, ideation and visual design phases, I was mainly responsible for creating solutions for problems faced by the workshop technicians working at the Innovative Media Lab. This included everything from sketching to wireframing as well as final prototype and user testing. I also connected twice a week with my team to make sure that the complete product experience was consistent.

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 United States.


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.

Research Goals:

  • Identify major challenges faced by newly enrolled international students
  • Analyze how students are finding information for their day to day needs
  • Identify what kind of activities students engage in to overcome their problems
  • Discover how students cope with stress and loneliness when they feel homesick

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.

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


Key findings from mapping interview notes

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

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

General Living Problems

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

Psychological Problems

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

Social & Cultural Differences

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


User Personas

The insights and information gathered from my research allowed me to develop user personas that helped condense my findings from the surveys and interviews.

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.

Establishing Requirements

I used the insights from the survey and interviews with the users to establish functional design requirements that would guide the concept ideation process. Some of the main requirements for the MVP included:

  • 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

Brainstorming Ideas

One of my favorite parts of the process, I created sketches for three sets of storyboards that demonstrated that satisfied the most number of design requirements, and were exciting features for the Oasis app.

This helped me to understand how the story will flow, as well as how it fulfilled the user needs and possible user flows.


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.


Conceptualization and Sketching

After finding out the basic requirements of the user, the key features were identified and ideated. Sketching helped me as I followed an agile method to quickly get an idea of how the product is going to shape and give a rough idea of the concepts.

Low-Fidelity Wireframing

Once I decided the visual direction of the layout I want to go for, I started to produce a digitized, low-fi version of wireframes based on my sketches. It allowed me to apply the product requirements, ensure elements were in place with the guidance of correct hierarchy, all while avoiding to spend too much time on the design details.


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.


Finalizing the Solution

Due to time constraints, I was only able to conduct one round of usability testing to make sure the experience worked well for the users. I conducted the usability testing with 6 different international students from different nationalities to check if the flow made sense.

I conducted task based testing for the four most important tasks that satisfied the MVP design requirements. The participants were asked to think aloud when performing these tasks to express their joy or frustrations about any of the features the prototype presented them with. Given below are the results:


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.


Next Steps

More usability testing

Conduct several rounds of cognitive walkthroughs and usability tests with participants from different age & ethnic groups.

Add “Phase 2” features

Add an Interactive Campus Map, that helps users navigate to classrooms or other accommodations & Ai learning with features like a companion / AI assistant.

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.

Interested in working together? Get in touch today.

Got any questions, comments, or feedback? Want to collaborate on a project? Need advice? Feel free to reach out and contact me.