Project Land is a creative hub packed in a smart phone app. It is a community platform where students in the creative field connect seamlessly with industry mentors, peers, and professionals while pitching for projects that otherwise get lost in textbook assignments and submission workloads. The aim of Project Land is to help creative talent to find work at their own pace, build a professional portfolio outside of the regular coursework, and stand out in the crowd with a chunk of work that actually matters.
About this Project
This was a concept project undertaken as a part of the UX Design course at Brainstation, Toronto. The design challenge was to create a native mobile app offering a creative design solution to an existing problem space. For the purpose of this project I concentrated on “India” as my demographic location which is also my home country. During this course I wanted to come up with a project that solves a real problem back home and something I can personally connect with throughout my past experiences of living and working in India.
Being a design and communications professor from 2017 to 2019 in a Fashion Design Institute in India – I chose “education” as my target industry. This was the starting point of my design thinking, following which I dived deeper into the UX design process of the “double diamond” – i.e. Research, Synthesis, Ideation and Implementation.
- Product Designer
- 10 Weeks
- Sketch, Figma, InVision
- Education and Social Networking
- Double Diamond Model
Secondary Research Insights:
Current scenario and competitive analysis:
According to an Annual Employability Survey 2019 by Aspiring Minds – 80% of Indian engineers are not fit for any job in the knowledge economy. The survey states a compelling reason, “engineering education India is mainly theory-based. Only 40% of students perform internships, while only 36% undertake projects beyond their required coursework.”
Despite the All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) rule of mandatory internships for students in technical institutions, over 21% institutions teaching engineering, management, architecture and pharmacy do not offer any industry exposure to students, another survey has found. Same is the case with design students. Also, only 4 institutes out of 4,790 had in-depth linkage with industry.
In order to become more competitive in the job market Indian students prefer to study abroad to gain an edge, but sadly this is a luxury not everyone can afford in the country. Even MBA degrees come at a cost which leave hundreds of students stranded in debt every year.
Recruiters today demand a strong portfolio, but it is difficult for students to find industry projects of value and quality which match their core skills. Existing platforms that help find jobs/freelance projects like Indeed, Monster.com and Internshala.com – are all platforms that are either open to professionals of all age groups and experience levels, or lack a dedicated space which is exclusively for students to intern with good companies. Other existing student platforms have weak UI, reliability issues, limited reach and adoption, and overall have failed to provide a strong bridge to the problem.
Young, educated and jobless. This is the struggle of Indian graduates today who find it very hard to stand out with their portfolio of work amid a jobseekers' queue of millions every year. This is due to a significant lack of industry projects they undertake during college years and almost no industry interactions.
How Might We?
HMW help students in India to build a diverse portfolio by acquiring work experience that matches their core skills?
Recruitment criteria for primary research:
I identified my target demographic as Gen Zs between the age group of 18-25 who are currently enrolled for a professional course in a university in India and are in the process of making their portfolio for their upcoming job placements.
I conducted surveys from 70 target individuals in order to validate the problem space and assumptions with quantitative data. For qualitative insight I interviewed 5 target individuals to discuss in-depth about their experiences with the current industry exposure they have and investigate their pain points, goals and motivations around the identified problem.
- Users have a need to add more industry experience in their current portfolio of work to get placed in the future.
- The problem can be solved by bridging the gap between current students and the industry directly.
- The value that my users will get from this project is of a stronger portfolio and better industry connections for future recruitments.
- The user can also get additional benefits such are industry talks, mentorship, contact details, and in-depth industry interactions.
- I will acquire a majority of my users through professional colleges who are active on various digital platforms to seek experience.
Survey Insights from 70 Students
College students agreed that industry interactions during college years will give them an edge over their competition.
Students said that they are willing to take more industry projects during their free hours.
Students said that it was hard/very hard to find industry projects on their own.
Students agreed that industry projects outside of their regular coursework will help them build a stronger portfolio.
Students claimed that they did not have enough industry interactions/exposure till date.
Students are somewhat to not at all confident with their current portfolio of work.
Systhesis & Insights
What were my key qualitative insights?
After compiling my survey results I was clear that most of my assumptions were true, and that there is a clear need in the market for a creative solution for students. Through my user interviews I however found out more qualitative data which helped me ideate my solution better. I color coded and divided my interview findings into emerging themes which were then sorted on the basis of key pain-points, frustrations, motivations and goals. My key Insights were:
- Key frustration: Students find it hard to balance long internships with their present coursework at the same time.
- Key pain point: Students do not have enough support, valuable guidance or resources from their present college to connect with the industry.
- Other pain points: They do not have enough knowledge of current industry standards or expectations to be able to build a good portfolio.
- Key behavior: Students use informal social media platforms like Instagram to reach out to companies they like, and cold email contacts.
- Key motivation: Students are willing to take up more unpaid projects in their free time to build their portfolio and also work on projects that they believe in.
- Key opportunity: Students need a dedicated platform where they can reach out to companies they like, and find projects which match their core skill.
Who are my primary and secondary personas?
Based on my key insights, I created Saavi, my primary persona. She is a 21 year old hardworking and self-driven design student who is passionate about building a strong portfolio but her biggest pain-point remains in the fact that she doesn’t know how to connect with the companies she believes in.
I also created a second persona, Rishi, a 24 year old, fun and outgoing design student who is pursuing a PG program in fashion design. He is essentially looking for a bridge to network within the industry and get some substantial work-ex along the way.
Not having enough relevant experience, is a challenge itself while looking for more industry experience as a student. I don’t know how to connect with the companies I truly believe in.
I want to take up some extensive industry internships to understand the complete design process and be able to innovate in my own creative business in the future.
What did I learn from Saavi’s experience map?
However, before moving onto designing the actual solution, I found it vital to map Saavi’s experiences and have a birds eye view of her entire journey. What motivates her towards her portfolio? What her needs are, her hesitations, and concerns in the process?
One unexpected outcome of this experience map was that Saavi felt the most excited about looking and connecting for projects with the industry on “Instagram”. Considering Instagram would not be a natural choice for a professional platform – I realized that students like Saavi find formal platforms like Linkedin, Indeed and Monster.com as intimidating and would rather spend their time on a semi formal platform to connect with proffesionals and browse through peer talent. Taking that as my key opportunity – I made a note on how I can design a dedicated platform that is a mix between formal and informal for students and the industry to connect.
Ideation and Prototyping
How did I start my ideating process?
Once I had my insights and a potential opportunity of design intervention in place – I started with my ideating process at a granular level of penning down my user stories? As a student, what are certain features I want on this ideal platform so that I can fulfil certain actions? After exploring a lot of epics, I went ahead with the most important epic/set of user stories – “the ease of finding projects” for students.
How did I select my task flow to start initial prototyping?
Moving forward I picked up a single user story to select my task and design my task flow diagram. It was most essential for Saavi as a student, to easily find projects in her free time and keep applying for them as easily and professionally as possible. This required her not only to be able to filter and find projects seamlessly, but also to be able to “save searched projects” that she finds interesting, so that she can get in touch with the company later / read more later in order to follow up effectively.
Choosing this as my primary task, I laid out a task flow diagram, also considering system decisions so that I can effectively incorporate warning states and error states in my app design.
Pen and paper sketches:
To give my solution a visual life, I started putting my thoughts into pen and paper sketches. I designed a basic structure for my app, content ideas/placement blocks, and some UI inspirations I could play around with. I did a series of crazy 8’s and used the POP app to test these ideas with some preliminary users to zero down to one idea that I wanted to develop further into mid-fidelity prototypes.
Pivoting flow through User testing iterations:
After the first round of testing of my mid-fidelity prototype I reached a point of pivot in my overall “information architecture”. From a common login screen for every type of user, I pivoted my app onboarding/login/signup into a swim-lane structure divided between students who wanted to look for projects, and employers who wanted to browse and connect with student talent. This made the app flow less confusing – and easy to navigate between two different types of users with different needs while being on the same platform.
Understanding UX design according to system standards and user’s mental model:
One of my biggest learnings through this project was understanding the importance of a user’s existing mental model while navigating mobile apps. Digital native users irrespective of their demographics tend to find and use certain features in certain particular positions on any digital product. I therefore did research on what certain icons would mean or confuse a user? I made iterations according to user feedback, system standards, icon meanings globally and typical rules of type to make the app more user friendly and comfortable to navigate.
Designing additional screens after User Testing to communicate value proposition:
After successfully user testing my primary and secondary task flows, I designed a series of additional screens to make my prototype more clickable and give more context to my overall platform idea. I wanted to design these screens to fully communicate the value propositions of Project Land and how it is different from other similar platforms in the market.
Visual Identity Story
What is the mood inspiration of Project Land?
Coming from a visual design background, this was perhaps my most favorite part of the project. It was now time to give a visual life to my idea, and I started scouting for UI inspirations that could inspire Project Land. The mood I was going for was to create a platform that has a sense of community and connection. A fun and vibrant platform for the creative youth, something minimal and modern, an artistic chaos yet clean and simple.
Keywords: Fun, Interactive, Creative, Connected, Artistic, Modern, Community, Build
Why is the app called Project Land?
Have you ever heard of “tomorrowland”? For some it is a place which is more than music, for others it’s a fairy land.
The Concept of Project Land revolves around a story of creating a land (an exclusive space) for creative professionals looking for projects that match their core skills and also landing some great work experience at the same time. Naturally so, “Project Land” sounded like an apt name for this magical place I wanted to create through my app.
Why did I choose binoculars as my logo design?
Project land is all about looking for projects and searching for student talent. The logo is therefore a simplified line version of binoculars which is an optical instrument used for viewing / finding distant objects.
Why is the app designed with a combination of bright and bold colors?
Other than the bold brand colors that were derived from my keywords/moodboard, Project Land speaks of a happy and energetic color palette and UI design. Color blocking is used in many aspects of this project as well. Given the nature of the project that caters to creative students I wanted to create a platform that is full of life and positivity through a colorful graphic element to it.
Most of my user interviews lead me to an insight that students in India currently use Instagram over platforms like Linkedin or Indeed to reach out for work. The informal aspect of Instagram makes looking for projects and connecting with industry professionals seem like a less daunting/intimidating experience to them. Therefore the app is intentionally designed to look and feel semi-formal so that it is easily adaptable and acceptable to my target audience.
What other features does the app have that are thoughtfully designed through user research?
Project Land was created keeping the pain-points, and the motivations of an Indian student at its core and the insights I derived through my personas detailed journey map.
The app therefore has a “verified badge” feature which gives the student and the companies a more secure platform to share and learn from. Through a verification process – the user can be sure that they are sharing with companies which are vetted and of value to their work experience.
The app also has a “like” feature for positive engagement; a “save” feature to easily save projects in your gallery; and “DM” feature to easily connect and message potential employers and team members; and a “connect with the student” feature for companies to be able to schedule online (audio/video) interviews and meetings with students.
The “Apply with CV” feature is kept as a mandatory option to set a basic professional standard to the applications in order to make the process as professional as possible and at the same time inculcate a culture of refined CVs and student portfolios in India. Also, the students are able to upload past projects and curate their profiles as exclusively as they want, just like a personal feed to make that first impression.
How was the hi-fidelity design stage yet another iteration for my overall project?
Once I started working on my hi-fidelity prototype – I refined and redesigned a few screens of my prototype from previous feedback I had received. Without a doubt, the colors, the app name and the logo helped me visualise my own product better which also streamlined my design thinking further.
By this point in my project I had conducted an in-depth research of successful competitor profiles globally and had a fair idea of what a typical user’s mental model looks like on similar platforms. Incorporating that research along with the new features I wanted to add as a follow up of my mid-fi prototypes – this final iteration came out to be a stronger app design for my project.
Its only great if you can market and sell it!
A great idea only becomes a great product if you are able to market and sell it. The key remains in how effectively you can communicate the value proposition of your product to your user. Therefore making a marketing page for Project Land became a natural next step to successfully complete this project.
Considering how users today read and consume digital information – I studied and applied “responsive design” concepts, and designed a marketing website for desktop and a responsive mobile version of the same. The process to do so is defined below through my content flow diagram translating my wireframes from desktop to mobile.
Alternate Platform of choice
What would be my ideal alternate platform of choice?
The final design challenge for this project was to adapt Project Land for an alternate platform of choice. To kickstart my thought process I revisited my persona’s journey map and considered Saavi’s experiences on all possible touchpoints. Considering that this app is designed for the Indian demographic, it is wise to launch it as a “web app” alternatively.
Research shows that most indian students surf the internet with their laptops / desktops which they also use as their primary machine to design and upload their projects during college as well. As Project Land is essentially a creative portfolio and networking platform – it will be easier for the users to look for projects, upload and follow up through a web app simultaneously along with their other day to day desktop activities.
Impact & Future Thinking
What social norms, etiquettes or traditions could change because of Project Land?
Project Land is created for a creative student back in India who is excellent with his/her work but lacks guidance from a pre-existing education style. The country is overflowing with creative talent but lacks exposure to a basic standard of professional etiquette and industry norms when it comes to working in the industry after graduation.
With the adoption of this platform the basic standard of job applications and portfolio qualities would change overall. The platform will set new benchmarks for Indian students as to what their portfolio should look like, and what their competition looks like in the market. The first impression will change overall bringing about a change in hiring standards and talent expectations in the industry as well.
What could make people unsafe or exposed? What mechanisms are in place for listening to the user?
During my user interviews I gathered qualitative insights on what are the safety concerns of my users. Most interviewees shared their mistrust about certain existing platforms when it came to the validity of certain companies that were seeking for student talent. Some vital points to think about were – “Are the companies vetted? Will the companies pay once the project is delivered? Can we communicate effectively with the company if needed from time to time? Will our portfolio be safe to share with unknown employers?”
Naturally, the same mistrust can hamper the growth of Project Land in the future as well. Therefore, already addressing these concerns, Project Land has a vetting feature during signup. Once a user is vetted, their posting shows a vetted badge on their profile. A quick DM feature is available in the app to easily connect and communicate with the company, its team members, and also the students visa-versa. Each student talent also holds the power to curate their profiles in their own way, posting past projects as per their wish and comfort level. Moving forward certain projects could be password protected which will give more security to students over their portfolios.
My learning journey and next steps?
“If you feel it in your gut, and if you see it happening more than twice – it’s potentially a problem. And if you have an active right brain – you can use your design thinking to create a design solution to solve that problem.”
Every single experience we go through everyday is designed for us by someone. Although not all problems are solved, and that’s why designers exist. My biggest learning through this UX/UI Design course was that empathy and human-centered research remains at the heart of all solutions we need to create for the future.
Throughout the journey of this project I realised how Project Land was a part of my heart with what I experienced back in India as a professor with my students. I always wanted to solve this problem space – but I didn’t have the complete knowledge and process know-how to do so. The journey of UX research made me understand data in a way I didn’t understand it before and I thoroughly enjoyed the process.
Ideating the solution and creating it into a brand was personally a career growth for me as a visual designer. Knowing your product at its core is what I learnt through this 12 weeks process and I will continue to inculcate that approach in every project I take up in the future.
I also learnt that the process of turning your black and white prototypes into color is more difficult than one can imagine. Color is beautiful and yet tricky at the same time. You might have a great product in your mid-fidelity stage, but if you fail to translate it into an aesthetic visual product – it can fail miserably. Therefore, I enjoyed the UI part of the project the most and also realized how crucial it is for the success of any product in the market.
Moving forward I want to continue building on this app and if possible, launch it as a real product in the app store with proper funding. I truly believe a simple idea can change lives – and thorough Project Land, I will always aim to make a difference back home, in the lives of Indian students like Saavi.