Middle School Application Process in New York City
Applying to Middle School in NYC is a process that creates stress and anxiety for most parents. It did for me!
I identified that families face challenges every December during the Middle School Application Process. They must:
• Gather information from a number of websites
• Attend school tours
• At times rely on reviews from other parents
A real time commitment!
I wanted to create a product where parents could get all the information they need in one place, including:
• Summary about an individual school
• Scheduling school tours
• Keeping a log of the schools of interest
This would ensure families have enough insights about a school to make informed choices. Plus save time! Basically a one stop shop!
Competitive Research &
I looked at three main competitors and a few indirect comparative products. The direct competitors offered a lot of information that can be overwhelming for parents looking for summaries of each school instead. The indirect competitors I looked at, like Zillow display geographical information in a easy digestible way. Teamsnap, which is a soccer app for parents offers a way for families to communicate and share information with each other.
At the discovery phase of my project, I conducted user interviews in order to get a better understanding of the problem.
Going into the interviews my assumption was I wanted to make this product a place for parents to create a community where they could share their knowledge as well schedule tours.
Key Interview Findings:
The products that exist today provide a lot of information but differ from each other i.e ratings of schools are not consistent which can be confusing to parents
Reviews on these sites can be problematic especially if a parent has a "beef about any one school" as one parent said
9/10 parents said tours where necessary but the current method was horrible "should not be like buying concert tickets" another parent said
Word of mouth from family and friends is great but not how you ultimately decide on a school
Based on all the interviews I created a persona. I referred to this throughout the entire product development process.
Karen is a busy working parent trying to apply for middle schools for her child. She does not have a lot of time and feels she is not doing enough during this process because she must navigate through a number of products to gather her insights as well as find school tour dates and schedule them on her calendar.
Persona & Design
Karen's limited time helped define how much information to initially display about any one school in my product.
Karen's need to easily schedule tours affected the final design tremendously because the focus became primarily about this feature during the design and iterations of the product.
The highlighted area is where I iterated heavily to both the user flow and then to the final designs. In future user flows, I eliminated a major constraint and reduced the steps it took to add a tour date to your schedule which was a primary goal after usability testing.
At the beginning of my design process I created wireframes for testing purposes.
Using Sketch and InVision I created a low fidelity prototype using these wireframes to test on users
There were numerous iterations to these wireframes, especially around the "Tours" feature during and after the testing
To reveal possible usability problems I tested the low fidelity prototype on 6 users.
I tested the entire experience from when a user logs in, to finding a school of interest, to scheduling a tour and finally keeping a log of schools the user liked.
The subjects included three parents I had interviewed earlier as well as three product designers that could offer a different perspective.
All the tests were done in person
The most important remarks were around scheduling the tours and how those dates could be added to a personal calendar.
The final design reflected a much simpler approach to the tour dates feature.
Once I tested out all usability mistakes, I started designing the final screens in Sketch.
I used a light color theme for the UI Design to achieve a simple "relaxed" experience, since the middle school application process can create such stress for most parents.
Instead of recreating new design patterns I leveraged what users are already accustomed to using and seeing.
The design was done for an iOS app.
I am very proud of the clean UI that focused on the content.
Final UI Designs
Parents expressed a wish to see a notes section. Competing with an actual pen and paper or a notes app might not be the right approach but a checklist feature of top aspects of a school might serve parents better. This would require further usability testing.
Parents also expressed a wish to record part of the tours. This is another feature I’d explore in my next steps.
A more robust filtering feature to search for schools across NYC - guided tour with questions that result in a detailed personalized list of choices would also be considered in future iterations.