When it came time for students at University of Minnesota UX/UI Boot Camp to choose an angle for their final group project, Nicole Fabbri immediately knew that she wanted to focus on access to education in America.
Nicole teamed up with fellow boot camp classmates Brianna Fitzgerald and Mara Jones, who played a big role in the web prototyping stage, to work on a digital platform aimed at increasing access to education for Latino students. The effort they put into learning key UX/UI concepts at the boot camp helped build their platform — but their passion, sense of purpose, and dedication to the cause is what really brought it to life.
It all starts with an idea
With a background in IT, Nicole had always been interested in learning more about web development. After COVID-19 hit, she felt it was the perfect time to dive deeper into a topic she had always wanted to explore more deeply.
As the online education administrator for a nonprofit called Minnesota CLE, Brianna was also increasingly interested in discovering the ins and outs of web development.
Different backgrounds, different experiences, and different goals drove Nicole and Brianna to the boot camp, and they eventually found themselves aiming for the same target.
For Nicole, their chosen topic was personal. Nicole is Latina, and her mother works at CLUES (Comunidades Latinas Unidas En Servicio) which translates from Spanish as “Latino Communities United in Service.” This Minnesota nonprofit provides culturally and linguistically relevant services to Latino individuals and families.
Nicole’s mom was part of a group at CLUES that wanted to focus on the families of high school students that lacked the resources necessary to get their kids through school. With a significant number of Latino teens dropping out, Nicole saw this as an opportunity where she and her group could help improve outcomes with her idea for YES! (Youth Engagement Services).
“We were brainstorming a few other ideas, but we were all just really excited about this one because we could get in touch with stakeholders,” said Nicole. “I remember telling my group members that this project had a lot of heart, which is something we all wanted for our last project.”
Choosing a path
Nicole and Brianna wanted to find a way to educate the parents and guardians of Latino students about the U.S. education system. Nicole’s mom had discussed group mentoring for parents and children surrounding education, but they weren’t sure how to execute it.
Nicole and Brianna began by interviewing parents, students, and teachers, gaining insight into how to approach the problem. “Brianna met with one teacher in particular who is bilingual and had lived in Ecuador,” said Nicole. “She said the vast majority of the parents of her students are immigrants, which was enlightening. There were cultural aspects that we gleaned from that and it coincided with the challenges we were already hearing about from CLUES.”
When they were ready to put the pieces together, in other words, the team already had a solid idea of what tools they would use, how they would use them — and knew what they wanted the final product to be like.
In the beginning, the team wanted to include three user personas — one for students, one for parents, and one for teachers. To create more focus and allow the project to run more smoothly, they had to choose one — so they went for the students themselves. “We had to narrow down what the point of this app was going to be,” said Nicole. “We initially wanted to solve too many problems at once.”
Constructive feedback allowed Brianna and Nicole to create something that really suited the needs of their audience. “We did some guerilla testing to see how user friendly our product actually was. We needed that honest feedback from parents and people who really knew what they were talking about,” said Brianna.
Among other things, they had the idea of letting users have an avatar, similar to profile pictures on social media. But after doing some user tests, parents reported that they didn’t like the feature. “In our presentation, Nicole said it best that you can’t stay attached to a design — ever. If you hear feedback that you weren’t expecting, it’s better to listen and pivot what you’re doing to address that feedback.”
Getting down to the nitty gritty
From there, the team used Adobe XD to create both the website and the mobile app, which both Nicole and Brianna loved. “XD was kind of our baby,” said Brianna. “We were just grateful that we could build a nice prototype using XD and a little bit of Figma without having to code.”
Despite some course correcting and a tight time crunch of just two weeks, Brianna and Nicole were able to create a prototype for YES! that accomplished more than they could’ve imagined. With this platform, people can set up meetings with educators and volunteers to get extra tutoring help, or to learn more about their — or their child’s — education. And it’s clear that collaboration was central to their success. “It’s great to be able to blend skills so you can divide tasks based on everyone’s individual strengths,” said Brianna. “Everyone has a time to shine.”
They plan on meeting with their stakeholders in the future to really get their idea off the ground. “Through our research, we saw that in Minnesota there’s a push for money to be set aside for things like this,” said Nicole. “This is a feasible program that would need a website or some kind of UX to support it. Hopefully in a year we can see something like that happen.”
Interested in gaining skills and experience in UX/UI development? Explore University of Minnesota Boot Camps to turn your ideas into tangible interfaces.