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 Design for America 

 Rethinking the study space experience 


Role - Project Member
September - December 2019


The Story




Synthesis and Insights


An Abrupt Pivot

The Story

The Study Spaces project was a Design for America (DFA) project that focused on bettering the overall quality of the study experience for students at the University of Texas at Austin. Through qualitative and quantitative research, immersion, interviews, and user tests, our team was able to develop a high-fidelity prototype, an upgrade to UT Library’s current website, that addressed the various needs of the study space student.


Our first step in user research was to begin collecting quantitative data based on a set of survey questions. The survey included demographic, multiple-choice, multiple answer, rating, matrix, and open-ended questions to gauge overall impressions of student needs and reactions about studying. Students of all types, freshmen, sophomores, juniors, seniors, super seniors, and graduate students were surveyed with an even spread of data collected across all six categories.

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As a surveyor, I networked through the campus's social media pages and approached students in university spaces to fill out the questionnaire. After a week, our team received 100 survey responses with some stating that they'd be willing to sit down with a project member for a 30-minute one-on-one interview. With these questions, we hoped to produce more qualitative data giving us further insight into the needs of the study space user.

A few interview questions 

Have you faced issues finding a study space on campus?

What study space qualities do you like?

What are the qualities of a study space that you don’t like?

Have you ever had a problem studying in a study space?

Where do you go for intense studying and where do you go for light studying?

In a week, what percentage of time do you spend in hardcore studying vs light studying?

Where do you generally study and why? 

What type of study space do you find it difficult to work in?

What type of study space do you find it easy to work in?

Synthesis and Insights

I interviewed the survey respondents for about two weeks. After conducting 30 user interviews, we began grouping/synthesizing the quantitative and qualitative data collected from both the surveys and interviews. Below are the key insights from our synthesization:

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Noticing that overcrowdedness was a major issue, we decided to hone in on this insight which limited our opportunities -- a misstep in hindsight. Based on this insight, we identified our opportunity statement:

How might we lessen the overcrowdedness of UT study spaces?

An Abrupt Pivot

The Student Services Building

Before continuing into ideation, we felt that it was necessary to present our information to UT administrators and get their insight on the challenge identified. My team and I met with the Senior Associate Dean of Students. In the meeting, the Assoc. Dean stated that the building he worked in, the Student Services Building (SSB), used to be a hub for student culture hosting events and org meetings. Now, however, the SSB functions as a center for student--advisor meetings and medical appointments. Immediately, some of us got excited and thought, "What if we redesigned the SSB's open spaces as a study space having UT culture return to the building?" 


This landing spot was exciting yet problematic as it did not address the opportunity that we so quickly narrowed down to -- overcrowdedness. How would the redesign of a space address overcrowdedness, especially when proximity was another identified issue and the SSB was far from the center of campus?


Getting Back on Track
Role - Project Lead
January - May 2020


Reframing the Issue


Synthesizing Once More


Understanding Dave


Ideation, Prototyping, and Testing

I was made Project Lead going into the second semester of UT's academic year. With me being the only member remaining from the previous team, my goal was to recruit more of a multidisciplinary team to produce a variety of unique ideas and insights. After an application and interview process, our team consisted of computer science, marketing, MIS, and visualization backgrounds. With this new team, I was excited to get the project back on track -- understanding the student.

Reframing the Issue

Feeling that the redesign of the SSB was a questionable landing spot to ideate off of, I asked my team if they shared the same concern after studying the data and insights from the previous semester. Noticing that we did not have enough observational research, I purchased field books for my team. We agreed that although a great amount of information had been collected, more research was necessary before entering ideation. All five of us individually traveled to various UT study spaces and observed and noted how students interacted with their study space. 

Synthesizing Once More

After conducting more research, our team felt that we had a wide range of information to evaluate. I assigned each member the task of discerning insights from specific components of our immersion phase such as surveys, interviews, and observational research.

We began synthesizing our clusters and narrowed down to 3 categories:

  • Vibe represented the student's emotional response to a study space's aesthetic

  • Resources represented the amenities available in a study space

  •  Information represented how students come to know of a study space on campus


Within these categories, we split the noted takeaways into student observations (OBS) and needs (N).

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Our team's affinity diagram

Based on our synthesis we came to 3 new insights that identified the challenges at hand:

Insight #1: Vibe affects productivity 

Insight #2: Students believe that the allocation of resources are lacking 

Insight #3: Students choose study spaces based on what they know

These insights included many of the previously identified insights such as overcrowdedness affecting the vibe of a study space and students choosing study spaces based on which libraries they know (information) are closest to them (proximity).

Understanding Dave

Based on our insights, our team created a persona that helped us understand the needs and frustrations of the study space student. This is Dave...

Persona (2).png

With Dave representing a fusion of our insights, we began writing our opportunity statements. With these statements, we focused on emotions, amped up the good,  and took it to the extreme.

We then fused these five statements and came to an exciting opportunity:

How might we accommodate the various needs of the study space user? 

"Good design involves as little design as possible"

- Dieter Rams


Feeling that the SSB would limit our imagination, I decided to conduct a more broad ideation session with the redesign of the SSB being one of the many ideas. Additionally, due to COVID-19, our project meetings switched to a virtual environment with our team taking advantage of digital workspaces such as Zoom, Mural, and Figma.


On the left, we came up with our most ambitious and practical ideas. We then began narrowing down the scope. On the right, we categorized ideas by labeling which ones were practical, interesting, and innovative. We then identified similar ideas and grouped them by whether they were an informational guide, shared social code, a redesign of a space, or a resource. Identifying a key takeaway, we noticed that many of the ideas were some form of a guide as indicated by the blue notes.


With the idea of an informational guide serving as the base for our prototype, we began individually sketching what this idea could look like:

We synthesized the most exciting features from each sketch (categorization, virtual map, suggestion box) and began prototyping. Using Figma, we prototyped a website database for UT study spaces that recommended spaces based on student needs. These needs were identified from the surveys and interviews previously conducted. The student needs include the type of work (quite or collaborative study), accessible power outlets, food nearby, proximity, and resources.

User Testing

With our high-fidelity prototype completed, we began reaching out to the students we surveyed and interviewed to test our prototype. Before entering user tests, however, the question we asked ourselves was whether a product like what we had prototyped existed. We found a seemingly outdated UT Libraries website. In our prototype tests, we asked users to maneuver through both UT's and our team's websites asking them to identify which features from each website they preferred and why.


Michael, a UT student testing the prototype


Original UT Libraries website

We conducted 15 user tests.  The majority of students stated that they liked the search option of the original UT Libraries website by inputting the type of location and their preferred noise level, but overall felt that it was outdated with many of their search options leading to "no result" and feeling that the website was too cluttered.


The prototype was "easy to maneuver through"

Liked that their needs were listed from the get-go

The website is to the point


Students study at spaces UT does not consider the "traditional study space"

They may have multiple needs at once

Liked the virtual map

Based on this feedback, we added a section for study spaces recommended by students and listed the various needs a particular study space would be good for.

Moving Forward

My team and I met with the UT Director of Organizational Effectiveness, the administrator responsible for overseeing the overall operations of UT Libraries. In the meeting, we shared our insights and prototype with the Director having a positive reaction to our presentation and gave us further insights. The project was implemented by DFA UT in January 2021 and is currently being used by UT students. The website can be found here.  The DFA Study Spaces project taught me the value of patience and what it does for a process. I am proud to have been able to work with such a diverse and amazing team.

DFA UT Expo presentation

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