I prepared my war room by organizing my writing utensils and securing a proper playlist.

I organized my digital files and transferred recordings of interviews from my iPhone to my Macbook. 

Keeping my research goals in mind, I re-listened to each interview twice, carefully extracting exact quotes, behaviors/attitudes, needs/goals, and frustrations onto Post-Its.

Since the problem I’m tackling is related to a pretty big choice that occurs during the last year of high school (typically), I was initially compelled to organize my insights based on events on a timeline. 

Top Row: Expectations (Attitudes/Behaviors), People, Resources
Bottom Row: Decision Time, Decision-to-Enrollment, Relative Inconsistencies

My affinity map clusters were ultimately best organized into the following topics— people, actions, times, places, and motivations.

Each interviewee answered my questions with details about who, what, when, where, why, and how they made their college decision. These ended up being approximately the topics subheadings for my clusters because they help me to keep tell the user’s story—  exactly what I’m trying to do as a UX designer in the first place. 

The affinity mapping process generated valuable insights related to each of my four research goals.

Empathize with students: 

Students are lost when they’re selecting a college. They’re scared and confused. They’re not sure of their choice once they’ve made it. I will need to develop a resource that’s approachable and trustworthy because students tend to be more skeptical than I previously thought. They unpredictably encounter different resources at varying stages of the selection process. Above all, students want to be at the center of their process and feel unique and appreciated. 

Understand memorable aspects of the process: 

Users need something to unify their otherwise disconnected journey from visiting one college to the next. It might be wise for an application to seek to unify disparate and seemingly unrelated aspects of the selection process. Users most clearly romanticized the time between the selection of a college and fall enrollment. Ultimately, the most valuable insight generated in this area is that prospective college students often make decisions and then worry about the details later, likely a contributing factor to the problem of regret. 

Learn about the usage of existing data: 

I will design a product that takes a radically different approach to campus data. Thus far, my design thinking project rests on the assumptionthat data about colleges impact choice. However, existing database websites seem to be relatively unimportant in the decision-making process. When used, they cause students to narrow by major or degree program much too early in the process. Further, these users are confused by the sheer amount of college data available. The students aren’t ready to choose a major at seventeen years old. Another round of user interviews aimed at this specific research goal is necessary. I need to find out if students don’t have the rightdata or if they are mostly unconcerned with data writ large. 

Identify common elements across decisions: 

Above all else, the students that I spoke with were interested in making the right decision. They are so concerned that I believe each would have avoided making the decision entirely if that were an option. Another common element was that all users demonstrated inconsistencies in their process— they would narrow to a list of schools with a particular major, then end up not choosing that major— each had a story like this. I could also hear the students yearning for a personal connection to their prospective school. The application that I develop will need to nurture the focus on the student. My competitor analysis previously exhibited successful web-based digital products that put potential institutions at the center of the choice. As I move forward with this project, I am interested in finding ways to make the student, rather than the institution, the focal point of the choice.