Sherpa — A UX Case Study

Project Overview

Context

Joining the workforce is a major challenge for new professionals jumping into the industry. A mentor’s guidance can help ease this process, but many find networking with more experienced professionals to be quite intimidating. Thus, we were prompted with the challenge:

How might we create a platform that facilitates connections between new and experienced professionals in order to ease the experience of breaking into the workspace?

Problem Statement

Based on our user research, we developed a more targeted problem statement to focus our design process:

College students don’t know how to seek or approach mentors due to shyness and introversion, leading to barriers in finding mentorship.

Solution

A sherpa is a member of a Tibetan people from the Himalayas, known for guiding foreign climbers with their expert mountaineering skills. Likewise, our product fosters genuine relationships between budding professionals and the mentors who will help them navigate their career journeys.

Our team created a digital platform, Sherpa, where new and experienced professionals can connect on a deeper, more personal level. We set out to enhance existing mentorship platforms and focus on building mentees’ confidence and comfort, while remaining rooted in our research.

Meet the Team

Our team of designers, guided by an amazing project mentor!

Timeline

Across six weeks, we engaged in the human-centered design process, starting with research and ending with a high-fidelity prototype.

Our design process in six weeks.

User Research

Initiating our research, we sent out a survey and conducted 6 interviews to understand who our target audience is and what the focus of our platform would be. After receiving 67 survey responses, we found that a majority of the respondents who had experienced mentorship were relatively satisfied with their relationships and were able to sustain their relationships long-term.

“I felt like my mentor was very good at listening to me, understanding me, and giving me appropriate guidance. It was incredibly encouraging to feel like they had taken an emotional stake in my life.” — Mentee Respondent

We also found a group of respondents who had never experienced mentorship, and 52.9% of them were interested in it. However, 66.7% of those interested shared that introversion was a major barrier for connecting with potential mentors. This was reaffirmed in our interviews when we spoke to UC Davis professors, industry professionals, and college student mentees. There was a pattern shown that mentees faced a far greater barrier in forming these relationships compared to mentors.

Key insights we discovered from user research.

In order to build a unique platform and educate ourselves on existing competitors, we conducted a competitive analysis. After reviewing over 20 mentorship platforms, we found that the majority of them only focused on the professional connection between the mentor and mentee and not the personal connection. While most platforms provided some support for mentees, we found a lack of features suited for getting to know or guiding mentees. Through the interviews and surveys, we saw that this personal connection between the mentor and mentee was vital when creating sustainable and successful relationships in the real world.

Synthesis and Ideation

After developing context around our audience and the market landscape through research, we began to map our insights into overarching themes. We wanted to arrive at a clear understanding of what our audience was experiencing and what sort of challenges existed within this data. Six themes emerged out of our data: wants/needs, relationship landscape, incentives, mentorship style, challenges and features.

More insights from research categorized through affinity mapping.

As we went through mapping out these user insights, we saw our audience divide into two main groups: those who had experienced mentorship and those who had not. Although the first consisted of a larger sample size, we noticed those who had never had mentorship experienced greater challenges, as feelings of shyness and introversion prevented them from entering mentorship. On the other hand, the larger group, who had experience being mentored, showed us that the most successful mentor-mentee relationships were those based in open communication, trust, and mutual benefit; essentially, genuine connection.

Our team discussing user research insights during our affinity mapping workshop.

We ultimately chose to focus on designing for the more extreme user (the smaller group) to help break the barriers they were experiencing. However, we also applied our findings about successful mentorships to promote the ongoing success of those developed through our platform.

Taking our insights, we developed these How Might We statements to guide our ideation:

  1. How might we make approaching mentors feel natural and easy?
  2. How might we help mentees feel more comfortable in interacting with a mentor?

We then sketched out possible features to address these How Might We statements, such as a mentor matching quiz that would allow Sherpa to suggest the most suitable mentors and mentor profiles for mentees to know mentors on a more personal level.

Initial sketches during ideation.

Mid-fi Prototyping

As we further fleshed out our design, we solidified our key features.

  1. Mentor browsing: Allows users to explore and filter for mentors
  2. Mentor profiles: Gives potential mentees a well-rounded understanding of whether they’d be a good fit for each other
  3. Mentor matching quiz: Asks mentees about their communication style and personal preferences in order to suggest the most suitable mentors
  4. Community forum: Provides a casual and organic way for mentors and mentees to connect by asking questions and sharing advice via forum posts and threads, helping mentees feel more ready and supported to start mentorship and enter the workforce
  5. Prompt generator: Creates personalized conversation starters for mentoring sessions, helping mentees feel more confident and prepared
Mid-fi wireframes with some introduction of colors.

Usability Testing

We then conducted two rounds of usability testing with our target audience of college students, gauging their opinions on our concept and the effectiveness of our design.

Tasks

After providing context using a hypothetical scenario, we asked users to complete several tasks in order to test how intuitive our website was. Summarized, the tasks were:

  • Explore all mentors to find one with your desired career path and direct mutual connections
  • Learn more about mentor Angel Garcia
  • Make an appointment with him for March 10 at 7am
  • Find your newly scheduled mentor session
  • View additional meetings on March 24
  • Get ideas for topics of discussion
  • Learn more about mentorship

Key findings

  1. Confusion about purpose and privacy of mentor matching quiz — Users didn’t understand what the mentor matching questions were for, and were also hesitant because they didn’t know who would be seeing their answers. To solve this, we needed to orient the user with better context and increase trust in our platform. We added transition screens during the mentor matching quiz to clarify its purpose and that it’s private, internal data used to match mentees with mentors who fit their personality and preferences. We also clearly separated the public profile setup from more private info.
  2. Mentor matching quiz during registration was too long — Since this could pose a problem for retaining new users, we provided the option for users to skip and start using the website but return to fill it out later if desired. We also adjusted the overall layout to reduce scrolling and thus make it feel shorter.
  3. Preference for viewing multiple mentors at once — In our first mid-fi design, we provided two different formats for how mentees could browse for mentors. Users liked both views but would feel overwhelmed if there were more than 10 mentors to click through, and they wouldn’t know when to stop clicking. They also preferred being able to apply filters, so we decided to keep only the format to view all cards rather than one-by-one.
  4. Interest in community forum — When we asked users where they would go to learn more about mentorship, they gravitated towards the Community page rather than Educational Videos as we had expected. This led us to flesh out the community forum as a feature, rather than focusing on Educational Videos, which users associated with school and academic stress.

Fortunately, we also received positive feedback that confirmed we were heading in the right direction towards our goal of helping mentees feel comfortable approaching mentors. Test users shared that the prompt generator reduced anxiety around meeting a mentor for the first time, and the mentor profile felt inviting and helped them determine whether the mentor would be a good fit.

High-Fidelity

Design System

Since our main goal was to empower mentees to be more confident in seeking mentors for their professional growth, we based our design in purple and yellow, which stand for confidence, wisdom, and positivity. We also went with Kumbh Sans for our typeface for its modernity yet playfulness due to it being a geometric sans font. To double down on creating a soft and friendly tone, we rounded the corners of all containers, cards, and buttons.

Design system elements

Final product

Sign up + Profile Setup

Signing up, setting up your profile, and then connecting your existing social media accounts to Sherpa

In the Profile Setup, we added a simple description to let users know what this information would be used for since they voiced a concern about being unsure. Additionally, we allowed users to connect their existing social media accounts so that they can find potential mentors who share mutual friends, which would help build a sense of security and trust.

Mentor matching quiz + mentor browsing

Mentor matching quiz and filtering for mentors

In order for mentees to feel more connected with potential mentors, we added a mentor matching quiz that surveys users for their cognitive, emotional, and behavioral tendencies, which the system then uses to find mentors who match up best. On the Mentors page, users can then further refine their suggested mentors by filtering based on career interests, background, and physical and social proximity.

Mentor profile

Checking out a mentor profile and booking an appointment.

A question we often asked ourselves when designing the Mentor Profile was, “How can we make mentors feel comfortable and familiarized with potential mentors?” On the mentor profile, we created several features that humanize and add familiarity to the mentors: the “Get to Know Me”, “Similarities With You”, and photo gallery sections. This provides mentees with a more personal understanding of each mentor to build trust and reduce intimidation when reaching out. Mentees can also read reviews and schedule a session once they feel confident that they are a good match.

Community forum

Viewing the community forum and adding a comment to an existing post.

On the community forum, mentors and mentees can browse and create posts, sort them by date posted or popularity, save and search for posts, and engage in discussions by commenting and liking.

Prompt generator

Creating questions for mentees to ask their mentors.

The prompt generator takes the user through multiple questions that revolve around their chosen career interests, then providing personalized prompts to use in their next mentorship session. This helps mentees feel prepared to enter a space where they might not feel totally confident in what to say.

Reflections

Takeaways

  1. Continuously referencing research insights throughout the design process ensures we effectively address user pain points.
  2. The way usability tests are written influences responses — it’s important not to create leading questions!
  3. Designing for extreme users is equally as valuable as for the majority of users, as it improves the experience for everyone.

Next Steps

  1. Research and build out the mentor’s side of Sherpa
  2. Explore how we can make our color palette feel less professional and more inviting
  3. Develop onboarding to help orient new users

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