Group projects are becoming increasingly common in schools of all kinds. Yet those group projects are often a source of frustration for students. One popular meme captures the situation well: "When I die, I want the people I did group projects with to lower me into my grave. That way they can let me down one last time."
Technology can't solve all the problems that come up in group projects. But our research found that many of the things students complain about are due to communication breakdowns and lack of experience working in teams. A well-designed app can provide some useful structure that encourages students to communicate better and gives them guidance on how to work effectively in a group. There are many such apps aimed at people in the business world. However, we couldn't find any apps that specifically targeted college students.
We use an iterative design process where we start with an ideation stage. The point at this stage is to explore many possible approaches to achieving the design goals. To be able to generate and evaluate lots of ideas quickly, we typically use hand-drawn sketches at this stage.
Once some promising ideas have been identified, it's time to get some feedback from actual users. For this purpose, we created a paper prototype of the app. Since a paper version doesn't require any programming, it's quick and cheap to create. It's a great way to help figure out the general layout and navigation of the app.
Paper prototypes are useful, but the experience of sliding pieces of paper around is very different than the experience of interacting with an app on a phone. So once we have the general design of the app figured out, we build a basic but functional version that users can interact with more naturally. In this project, that helped us learn what users expected to happen if they clicked the back button of their browser, which didn't come up when we were testing with the paper prototype.
Only at the end of the process do we worry about the look and feel of the finished app. At this stage we use surveys to get user feedback on font and color options, and also to settle on a name. This brings is to a product that we're ready to put out into the world!