UC Berkeley App Overhaul
UC Berkeley App Overhaul
a user walking us through the most used applications on his iPhone
As one of the main components of our interviews, we asked participants to walk us through the applications they used the most. This showed us what features were common among good iPhone applications as well as what kind of information people like to access on their phone.

When building an application as general as the UC Berkeley iPhone App Suite, it is extremely important for us to consider a number of different possible uses for it (see brainstorm header picture).
The UC Berkeley, Stanford, and MIT iPhone application suites (left to right).
UC Berkeley (old version)
While the old UC Berkeley app retains some of the features of college apps like sub-apps, it is essentially just a pointer to the mobile website. From our preliminary user research we have discovered that the biggest issue with the app is that it has too much information. Users only use their smart phones to access certain information - superfluous information on the app seems to just get in the way.

As a product of a private mobile application development company, the Stanford app is put together quite well. We thought to expand our user research beyond the UC Berkeley student population and ask some Stanford students what they thought about their app. This group said the same thing about the Stanford app that that UC Berkeley students said about their app - simply, there is too much information. About a third of the icons on the Stanford app link to other applications, which go unused by most students.

While we weren't able to talk to any MIT students about their app, the homescreen presents a good example of user centered (graphic) design. Students at MIT are generally very quantitative, analytical thinkers. The grid in the background with the two color scheme in the objects in the foreground gets this characteristic across quite well.

Our Design
After conducting initial user research and analyzing other existing iPhone applications of relevance, we produced the wire-frames below:
One of the most obvious features is that our design only contains 8 sub applications and one feed for News and Sports:

Simplicity does wonders for usability, so we wanted to only include the most essential subapps in the suite while still appealing to a diversity of users. We got to the list above by reducing a larger list of 15 items. Most of the subapps speak for themselves, but I have provided brief discussions of a couple of them

News and Sports
We did not include a subapp for News or Sports despite the fact that these are usually included in similar apps (i.e. Stanford and MIT), because we found that most students don't read the news or sports on their phone - a lot don't even read the news at all! To overcome this, we chose to have news and sports highlights glide across the bottom of the screen in the app. This allows students to be informed - at least to a small degree - on campus news and sports without having to go out of their way for it.

Bear Walk
Bear Walk is a service in which university staff escort students to various destinations around campus late at night when it might be somewhat dangerous to walk alone. We chose to include this as its own subapp and not part of Emergency because we thought that setting it apart would prompt students to use it more. There is also a late-night shuttle service available to students that has a similar purpose - we are considering including it in a second iteration of the design.
A brainstorm for UTour, a social self-guided campus tour application to be included in the Berkeley iPhone App Suite
 a social self-guided campus tour application
In addition to redesigning the UC Berkeley iPhone App Suite in general, we are also adding two new innovative features as stand-alone applications. The first is UTour, a social self-guided campus tour application. Here is our justification for developing this kind of app:

The growing number of smart phone users has prompted many higher institutions to develop mobile applications for self-guided campus tours to cut down on the costs of hiring live tour guides and deal with the increasing number of students visiting their campuses. These apps get the job done, but they lack the social intimacy of being in a group of people led by a guide. Being able to talk to others on the tour and ask questions is an integral part of the tour experience and it is largely missing from self-guided tours.

UTour is a standalone application - will be adapted for the UC Berkeley iPhone app suite - that not only guides users through campus, providing them with relevant information along the way, but also allows them to post comments and questions about their tour.

The wire frames are pictured below in chronological order:
In designing UTour, we tried to simulate all of the positive features of in-person campus tours while staying within technological limitations and trying to maintain a usable, elegant interface. It is important to note that augmented reality has become fairly popular for apps like this, but we chose not to use it because it didn't fall in like with our user experience vision.

UTour is about experiencing a campus in as many ways as possible. When at a given stop on a tour, users can read up on the history of what they're looking at and view pictures - like most other self-guided tour apps. On UTour, users can also see videos relevant to the site that they are currently at - an a cappella group singing there or maybe the chancellor speaking there. An audio player tool at the bottom of the screen plays the text written in the description, allowing users to free their eyes and do what they came to the campus to do - see it!

When walking from one location to the next, instead of only giving users a map to follow, UTour also has written directions and street-view pictures with arrows. This ensures that users get to the next location quickly and without any trouble.

Probably one of the more innovative features of UTour is the social component. At each location, users can make comments and pose questions, as well as up-vote other users' comments.
a gammified discussion forum for campus issues

UPDATE (January 31, 2012): CampusInSight has received honorable mention in the finals of the Big Ideas @ Berkeley competition.
The other feature we are introducing into the UC Berkeley iPhone app suite is another stand-alone application: CampusInSight, which allows students to gain rewards for sharing their thoughts on campus-related issues with peers and administration.

College administrators make decisions that affect students every day, whether in regard budget cuts or tent-themed political movements. Many students have very passionate opinions about a lot of these issues, so it is important that administrators listen to them. Unfortunately, even with well-organized student governments representing them, many students voices are not heard. Many good ideas are lost in bureaucracy and timidity. 

CampusInSight allows students to share their good ideas with peers and administrators, and be rewarded for doing so. Here is its design:
We wanted to keep the design for this app as simple as possible to encourage students to actually use it. When a user first opens CampusInSight, they will be shown the current topic or question up for discussion and two text-boxes for them to input a concise response and elaboration on that response respectively. The questions are replaced every two to three weeks and are chosen partially by a the administration (or another overseeing body) and partially by users through a voting process.

The topic question and the text input boxes appear large, right in front of the user's face, because we believe that this will make them more likely to give their thoughts before viewing others' responses. This is to ensure that users give unique answers that aren't influenced by others.

After they have submitted their thoughts, they can view others' "concise responses" and vote them up or down. This voting scheme will push the best ideas to the top while still giving newer ideas a chance to gain up-votes. Tapping one of the ideas lets users see the elaborated version and comment on it. We split up concise responses and elaborations because we wanted to be able to provide users with a quick summary of as many other users' ideas as possible while still letting them learn more about ones they are interested in.

The beauty in this application is in the way it's gammified. Users who have accrued the most upvotes get to meet with administrators to discuss their ideas further. While this feature is entirely up to the university, it is necessary to continue to encourage students to give good ideas and have those ideas make a difference. Another way to reward users is by negotiating with local businesses to give discounts to students with a certain threshold of upvotes.
Pitfalls, Peril, and other Problems

This project has not come this far without obstacles, and there is no doubt that there are many more in the way. This is a highly abbreviated discussion of two very general issues that we have already encountered.

We are working on a very limited budget for both the development and maintenance of the application(s). As a result, we cannot design a lot of features to require a lot of upkeep - CampusInSight is definitely an issue in this regard. We also cannot ask our developers to implement anything excessively complicated that would require less money - this is a reason why we don't want to use augmented reality for UTour.

CampusInSight and UTour don't exist yet, so we have to find a way to teach users how to user them effectively. Some applications have directions when you open them for the first time, but a good design won't need any explanation, and that's what we're going for. Its really hard to do though, and I'm not sure if we have accomplished it just yet with the current designs - only user testing will tell.

User Variation
A huge issue in this project is dealing with the fact that different types of people will use this application. Students might be interested in it to stay up to date on campus affairs or find where their classes are while visitors might want to use it as a guide to learn more about the campus. Making the app relevant to a given group without making it irrelevant to another is pretty difficult and involves a lot of balancing of features.
On the Horizon
We are currently in communication with the UC Berkeley Office of Public Affairs - the commissioner of this work - about revising our designs to better fit their needs and the constraints of implementation. In the immediate future we plan to conduct paper-based user testing with the ultimate goal of creating a functional prototype after further revisions are made.
UC Berkeley App Overhaul

UC Berkeley App Overhaul

A redesigning of the user interface for the UC Berkeley iPhone app.

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