A Social App for College Students

Connecting students around what is happening on campus

Project Brief
As a college student, I was constantly frustrated by having to navigate crowded dining halls, search for a study spot in the library or find a fun party. Each of these problems stem from a lack of information about what is happening around campus. With the help of two other students, I created a mobile app to address these frustrations. Our goal was to create a social app designed to help students coordinate and make decisions based on what is happening around campus. We wanted to create a solution specific to the Dartmouth community, but one that could be scaled to address similar problems at other universities.

Tether is a mobile app that provides crowd-sourced information about what is happening around campus, and creates a platform for students to quickly make plans with groups of friends. Tether is different from other social networks because it is focused on coordinating plans rather than online interaction. Since it is limited to the immediete community, Tether creates a personalized and intimate experience.
Date: 2012 - 2014
Role: Creator, Lead Designer
Course: Personal Project
Collaborators: Mike Urbach and Bryan Crampton
Initial Sketches
My initial sketches explored what information would be relevant to students, and how it might be gathered from users in real time. The initial design focused on how students would create plans with eachother around specific locations on campus such as dining halls or social houses. The second sketch features an interaction that I am particularly proud of: A user presses and holds a location's icon as a progress bar wraps around the icon to input how long until they leave for a location (a dining hall for example). I felt this interaction was unique, intuitive, and engaging.
I designed wireframes and began to organize the flow of the interface by creating a system architecture. This helped us to track how a user would navigate through the interface and establish a logical hierarchy of information.
The following are screenshots from the final version of Tether, which we released into app store in 2014.
View Places
Students can view a list of locations (dining halls, social houses, gyms, libraries) and quickly get important information about who is there, who is planning on going, and how busy it is.
Design:This view is meant to present the most critical information in the most simple and digestible format possible. I created a custom icon for each location both for easy visual recognition and to instill a sense of personalized user experience.
Submit Ratings
Users can view what others have said, or submit their own location rating by assigning it a badge, writing a comment, or even taking a picture to capture the scene.
Design: In order to generate as much user dialogue as possible, it was important to make submitting a rating extremely simple. I designed badges to reflect varying types of social scenes, so users can easily select and rate. For example, party badges:
Create Plan: Step 1
To create a plan, users select where and when they want to go.
Design:We also noticed that students often schedule meal plans around classes, so we included buttons to create plans after a given class period.
Create Plan: Step 2
Users can select both individual friends and groups of friends to tether to their plan. Once the plan is created, tethered friends receieve a push notification and can choose to join or decline the plan.
Design: Instead of having to select each individual friend, Tether users are organized by their affiliations on campus (greek life, athletics, clubs, etc.), so tethering entire groups of friends is extremely easy. Users are also able to create custom groups of friends they often make social plans with.
View Plan
Once a plan is created, users can see the plan details (who is going, who has been invited, time, etc.), as well as send messages to the group.
Design: Since the plan creater sets the initial place and time, the plan page enables tethered friends to coordinate further or tweak the plan details.
Designing and creating Tether was an incredibly valuable experience for several reasons. So many great ideas never move past the initial doodle. To me, nothing is more exciting than bringing an idea to life. As my first time executing on a solution out of my sketchbook, the process of creating Tether exposed me to the realities of implementing a fully functional interface from nothing. As a group, we learned as we went and progress was extremely slow at first. Identifying a shared vision, distinguishing specific roles and developing a more efficient workflow were all key steps to building momentum.Admittedly, Tether was not a wild success. While we were able to submit a strong build to the app store by the end of my senior year, we were never able to build up a significant critical mass of users.
For us, the experience of working as a group to build something we believed in, and learning along the way was the main objective - creating a killer social app and building a massive user base would just have been a bonus. Reflecting on our process, there are some things I would do differently, though. For example, I think creating a more specific and distinct problem would have helped us early on to focus in on a design. Our initial designs were based more on interesting but vague ideas rather than specific pain points. Developing a clear focus later on had a signficant impact on the effectiveness of our ultimate design.

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