UME (UNIVERSITY MADE EASY) - UI/UX DESIGN & APP DEVELOPMENT
Create a high-fidelity prototype of an original innovative mobile app idea, then use that prototype to develop an MVP using Unity 3D.
UME (University Made Easy) is an app that will provide students with an effective way to reach and connect with others across different courses and campuses, as well as their own classmates. The app will also provide students access to all information regarding student matters and events in one place.
The idea was inspired and created through observation over the years – as an undergraduate, and now as a postgraduate – and discussions about this matter with other students. A survey was also conducted to gain further insight.
Timeframe: September – December 2019
- UI Design & Ideation
- UX Research – market, user, demographic – market segmentation, revenue models, competitor analysis, SWOT analysis.
- Marketing Strategy
- Branding, Wireframing, Prototyping
- App Development – C# Coding
About the App
- At the moment, student events are spread across the university website, the student union website, social media, or they are advertised through posters. The survey showed that the majority of the respondents rarely or have never browsed the university website; if they do, it is only to access the student hub. A good number also did not know events were even advertised on the website or about a student union website. The main source of information about student events is through the posters on campus, and sometimes through social
- At the start of each year, students tend to create group chats for the course. However, due to the great diversity of students in university, not everyone uses the same platforms. Therefore, students end up with at least 2 group chats on different apps, or have to download some, and even then, the group chats still would not include everyone.
- Reaching other students is the biggest problem. Students often look to collaborate with others on different courses, need surveys/questionnaires filled in, have job offers for other
students, etc. However, there is no effective way to do this; the survey found that none of the respondents used blackboard to reach other students. Students tend to make posters, send an email out, or rely on word of mouth; but what if the student wanted to collaborate with a student from a different campus? How can they reach them? Sending an email would not be possible in this situation either since there is no way of obtaining this information. Emails also tend to get drowned out after a day. Through blackboard, students can only reach those from their own course or within the same faculty at most, and finding this tool is not easy. Blackboard can be difficult to navigate, and the survey found that a number of students did not know an email tool existed
- The app will give students direct access to information about student events and they will be able to browse them all in one place. The important information – i.e. a concise description,
the cost, place, time, and date – will be on the app, and if they need anything further, they will be directed to the respective sites through URLs. The information on this page will be curated by the students themselves, the student union, and the university. This will be the only place where the university can access and post to.
- Since the app is accessed using student IDs, they will be automatically added to their course specific group chat where they can communicate with classmates, share media, and so on. This will group students immediately into one space and will save time and effort trying to collect everyone’s details, finding the right platform, and creating numerous groups to
- The app will have a noticeboard where students can write posts and upload them on a feed. These posts will reach all students from all campuses, and whoever is interested can
privately message the uploader directly through the app. Every student will have a profile page with their university email and a description box that they can edit. This helps other students viewing the profile to know more about their skills and interests and can also proceed to send an email if that is the method they prefer.
App Functionalities - Visual
My target audience is university students aged between 18 and 24. Students aged 18-24 are the biggest age group in higher education, they are 69% of all students, and they spend the most time online and on their mobile phones; also, 95% of the age group owned a smartphone (Statista, 2019). They are more likely to use apps to help them in education related matters. There are around 2.3 million university students in the UK – this includes both undergraduates and postgraduates – and 16% are studying in universities in London (Hesa, 2019). At the moment, I will only be focusing on students in the University of Westminster and they amount to 19,000.
- Students with part-time employment – students that hold jobs are more likely to be off campus and busy during their time off. They will benefit from such apps more than others since they can access info and contact others while they are away from classmates and university.
- Students living off campus – students living in accommodation/on campus have more chances of hearing about events and interacting with other students, unlike those who live away.
- Students in creative faculties – students on creative courses have more opportunities to collaborate with other students, compared to a finance student for example. They are also generally more outgoing due to the nature of their course. Degrees in the arts and performance have a higher number of contact hours – i.e. times where they interact with others, in front of others, exhibit and present, etc. therefore, they would be more open on working with others.
The app will first be proposed for iPhones. The market share battle between Android and iOS in the UK has reached a near equal point in the second quarter of 2019; the two giants have only a 1.2% difference (StatCounter Global Stats, 2019a). However, Apple phones remain the most popular among users in the UK (StatCounter Global Stats, 2019b), and iOS users recorded higher engagement rates with mobile applications. The demographic of iOS users is also closer to my target audience, from the education level to place of residence and age group.
Moreover, developing an app for iOS is easier, quicker and costs less. Apple’s programming language is easier than that of Android and requires less time. Apple also has fewer devices and operating systems to develop for; it is more standardised, whereas Android is an open source platform and the
fragmentation is worsening. Thus, it is also easier to maintain an iOS app especially because apple users are more likely to update their operating system.
A statistic showed that education is the third most popular category in the Apple App store with a share of 8.52% of active apps being education related (Statista, 2019).
The app will be free for download. Although iOS users do spend more than any other users on apps and other in-app purchases, my audience is still students and the sole purpose of the app is to provide a service that will help them.
The collaboration tool is the app’s unique selling point. It allows users to reach other students across all campuses and engage with students from all courses. The tool is easy to find, use, and get results from. Students post a notice on a feed that everyone can view, and whoever is interested can directly and instantly message the uploader in the app. This makes collaborating a lot easier and faster. The USP is a solution to one of the biggest problems in university.
Mobile phones are becoming an integral part of education, especially in universities when it comes to communication between the institution and its students. For example, research has found that the majority of email opens were done on mobile (Emailmonday, n.d.) and a survey by Blackboard found that ‘majority of students would like to receive updates from their institution via text or voice message’ (GSMA, n.d.). Since students are on their mobile phones a lot more than any other device, VLE systems are being made to accommodate their needs from their devices; and it is giving them direct access to any information they need anywhere they are allowing them work more effectively and efficiently. LMS apps and other education related apps boast millions of downloads in the app stores and great ratings and some universities like Oxford are even building their own applications.
The first thing the app will need is database connectivity and a number of databases for different aspects of the app. For example, the app needs access to the university students’ database to confirm they are a student upon login, retrieve information for their profiles; like what course they’re on and their student email, and from this information, students can be filtered into the right group chats. Another database is needed for the chats and inbox, to send and receive data, store and manage the chat history and shared media, users and so on. A database is also required for the feeds on the events page and the student noticeboard (collaboration page). SQL are popular among the biggest mobile applications like Facebook and Blackboard.
The app will also require numerous APIs, these will include APIs for the login, authentication, profiles, chats, feed content, and notifications. Blackboard and Canvas (another LMS app) have provided a list of all their APIs on their sites.
Lastly, the app will need to be able to access numerous device functions like the camera, device storage, keyboard and other apps like the browser, email, and gallery.
Currently, the app is being made only for university of Westminster students, however in the future, I would like it to be available to other universities in the UK. Also, the app cannot remain for iOS devices only, it needs to be expanded to accommodate androids and other devices too. Additionally, with the rise of international students in UK universities, I would like all students to be able to benefit from this app; therefore, providing the app in different languages would only be suitable. UoW hosts students from 169 different countries and as of 2017/2018 ‘the total number of non-UK students studying in the UK was 458,490’ (UKCISA, 2019) with 106,530 being from China only.
There are two extra functions that I would like to add the app, and these are a search tool and targeted posts. Both functions will further enhance the collaboration functionality. A search tool will allow users to find students with specific skills or interests – found from their profile pages. Targeted
posts will allow students to target and reach students from a specific course depending on their need, instead of posting on a “general feed” and waiting for it to be seen. Only the targeted group will then receive a notification that a student is looking to collaborate with them.
The main revenue source is from an annual licensing fee. A licence revenue model is typically when a licensee is charged for using the app/service. The fee can be charged based on consumption, for example on number of users/courses, or a fixed fee; similarly to how Blackboard works with the university.
The second revenue source is from ads, although it is not a major nor a constant source. This will only be applied when external guests will be hosting events in the university and want to advertise it on the ‘student events’ page in the app.
Blackboard is one of the top 5 VLEs (virtual learning environment) currently used in the UK (UCISA, 2018); it also dominates the learning management system market. Blackboard offers a mobile solution that provides both students and staff with a platform to connect, share resources, and stay informed about everything happening on the course. On the app, students can receive updates, view marks, submit work, have access to a deadline calendar, and many other tools. It is a free app, with no ads or in-app purchases. However, the app lacks some of the useful tools found on their web version, like being able to access feedback uploaded by instructors, or the email tool, and lacks in the collaboration side.
Canvas follows Blackboard closely in terms of top 5 VLEs in the UK and is an LMS too. Like Blackboard, it has a mobile version for students and instructors, and it offers the same services and functionalities. Canvas takes the upper hand though, because it also allows students to take quizzes on the app, send and receive messages, and create collaborations; however, they are limited functionalities. For example, a collaboration is created by a student and only those added can view the details, meaning they are limited to a group known by the user and they are typically within the same course – i.e. if they have a group project and need to share documents or make a presentation together.
Moodle leads ahead of Blackboard and Canvas and sits at number 1; in fact, Moodle and Blackboard were once in a partnership before it ended in 2018. Moodle’s LMS services and functionalities are technically the same as its competitors, but it distinguishes itself through its content creation and customisation abilities. However, it falls short when it comes to the devices it supports.
For the app, there will be three different types of marketing. Although one of the benefits of a licensing model is that the licensor does not have to worry about the commercialisation, the app is still more “social” compared to other education apps.
Social Media - Instagram
When discussing marketing for a mobile app to a young target audience like 18-24s, social media simply cannot be left out; digital marketing is also essential since my market segmentation consists of students who are off campus sometimes. The platform that will be used is Instagram since its user demographic matches the app’s target audience. Statistics by NapoleonCat (2019) show that out of the 23.18 million Instagram users in the UK (as of October 2019), 24.6% of those users are between 18 and 24 years of age.
Instagram offers great tools to effectively market the application. For example, it provides access to analytics which allows one to review how the content is performing and manage it. There is also the wide use of hashtags and the chance of partnering with the university to promote the app. Additionally, Instagram ads are an option and a very efficient tool to get the app out there and reach as many users as possible. In fact, engagement rates on Instagram are much higher than that on Facebook or Twitter and Instagram’s potential advertising reach is 849.3 million users (Hootsuite, 2019a). For example, to market the app on Instagram, a story ad can be uploaded with a call to action button to download the app from the app store. Statistics show that ‘500 million people use Instagram Stories every day’ (Instagram, n.d.), ‘62% of people say they have become more interested in a brand or product after seeing it in Stories’, and one-third of the most viewed Stories are from businesses (Hootsuite, 2019b).
Offline Marketing - Posters
After the survey, the results showed that the majority found out information about events, collaboration requests, jobs etc. from the posters put up around the campuses. Since posters are obviously reaching students, advertising the app on posters is an additional way to gain exposure, and is also one of the most cost-effective forms which is especially useful for a new app. Besides being cost-effective, posters offer continuous exposure and are more flexible to design and produce. Most importantly, posters can also be interactive through the use of QR codes; these codes will take the audience directly to the app store and there they can read more if they want or just download instantly.
Marketing on the App Store
Due to the large number of apps on the app store and the apps being uploaded every day, it is becoming harder for newer apps to be seen. Apple offers search ads that allows the app to be seen at the top of the app store’s search results. It is important to go through the app store optimization step first which is similar to that or search engines, and the main purpose is to increase app downloads. One way to do this is by improving search rankings; it is important that the right keywords are used and in all the right places, like the app name, subtitle, and app description.