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Utilizing proximity and spontaniety to help communities engage with newcomers

  • Role
  • UX Designer and Researcher

  • Project Description
  • Client work done for Cognizant in class Tools for UX, taught by Wayne Chung

  • Design Tools
  • Sketch, Illustrator, InVision

  • Research Methods
  • Generative make tool, observatory research, survey, user journey mapping, user interviews

  • Duration
  • Aug 2016 - Dec 2016 (4 months)

  • Team
  • Leah Anton, Linna Griffin


How can we help newcomers meet people and get to know people who are willing to share their culture and community, and form deeper connections?


Our client prompted my team and I to understand how we could utilize AR in a desired future, so we began by exploring existing language AR technologies. We then zoomed out and asked ourselves “Why that technology exists in the first place?" This led to a semester long investigation of how people create meaningful connections, particularly in new environments. While my team had a part in all steps of the design process, I led efforts in outlining the generative make tool, creating stakeholder presentations, and designing the initial flow.

Understanding the space

To help us understand the points of the opportunity of intervention in the current state of how internationals meet people, we mapped out the process of moving to Pittsburgh. While mapping, we realized that the richest interactions that we could effectively design for are for emotional needs, as highlighted in our final concept map below.

Mapping the flow of how internationals move to Pittsburgh
Final concept map

Research Methods

Our concept map drove us to investigate this question in our research: How do new international students and scholars develop communities of support upon arriving in Pittsburgh?

Photo from PRISM interview

We directed storytelling interviews with 10 international students to help us understand the emotional journey they took to adjust to Pittsburgh.

We also conducted an expert interview with PRISM, an organization that helps international students and scholars with moving into Pittsburgh, English lessons, and a community to engage with. This helped us understand the current space of how organizations tackle this problem today.


My team garnered 35 responses from college international students in Pittsburgh to validate whether or not the most challenging part of moving to Pittsburgh was finding a community.

Observatory Research & Generative Make Tool

My team participated in an Open House Dinner event hosted by PRISM, where international students had the opportunity to meet families from Pittsburgh and eat an American home cooked meal. I outlined a generative make tool to let participants draw their journey and sort their struggles with moving to a new place. My team and I also participated in the event and observed how PRISM volunteers and students interacted and made connections.

Literature Review

We researched how the psychology of communities are built, how technology can bring people together, and cultural exchange.

Current Technology Solutions

We took a look at current ways that technologies bring people together, including Meetup, Pokemon Go, and Tinder Groups.

Planning our generative make tool to results


A portion of our affinity diagram clusters

From our results, we affinity diagrammed takeaways and key phrases to find patterns and clusters of information. From this session and our research, we came away with three insights to inform our final design concept.

1. Meeting people and overcoming loneliness are the hardest parts of adjusting

2. People build strongest bonds through shared interests

3. Exploring a city enables a person to feel comfortable and gain a sense of belonging


Inspired by the Swedish institution for breaks in the workplace to meet colleagues and take time to get to know one another on a personal level, we concepted aan event application, Fika, that shows events happening around the area in real time, called 'fikas'. We thought this would take away the passivity of current event platforms, that require a cognitive burden of planning ahead. We also thought about adding contextually aware sensors that could help attendees connect with hosts and other attendees after the event to help promote deeper engagement.

Our final concept video

Design Process

In order to validate our concept and design, we came up with a list of scenarios that we thought Fika could encapsulate, and ran these scenarios through to ensure they fit. Some scenarios and use cases include:

Campus (student orgs, school events, study groups)

Public (community outreach, volunteering)

Personal (social, sports, interest meetups)

Business (orientation/onboarding, company events, hangouts)

My main role during the design process was to create the user flow and create initial medium-fidelity screens. While drawing out user flows, we made sure to run through multiple scenarios to help us understand whether this flow could effectively work for different types of fikas.

Whiteboarding user flows
Initial medium-fidelity screens and flow

Example Final Screens

Home screen
Fika details
More info
Recently met
Reaching out

Future Considerations & LESSONS

Given more time, our team would have further investigated these following things:

1. Privacy and security of meeting strangers

2. Investigate deeper, and continual connections between people

3. Relationship between the app and user.

Moving forward, I believe that we must utilize context, spontaneity, and an awareness of our surroundings in order to discover events. Throughout this process, I learned that new technology shouldn't just solve one time problems, but should elicit an experience that helps cater towards emotional needs. Click through our final presentation below!