A mobile app solution that prepares low-income students with college readiness tools. Our team worked closely with Cal Poly's Associate Chair of Ethnic Studies, Dr. José Navarro, and received funding to design Unimi.
Tools Used: Figma, FigJam, Illustrator, Coda
Duration: 12 weeks | Spring 2022

Role: Project Lead, UX/UI Designer
Skills: User interviews + research, site maps, wireframes + prototyping, concept testing, design systems
Team Members: Marissa Thai, Shandeigh Palabrica, Kristy Leung, Kathy Lou, Zara Iqbal, Lexi Berryhill, Emily Flores, Leticia Mezzetti, Analisa Viloria
Project Overview
💬 Consultation @ Cal Poly Iter8
Dr. José Navarro, reached out to Iter8, a student-run UX product design lab on campus where our team worked to create products for real-world clients, and asked us to develop an app to solve:

How can we make college more accessible and understandable for
 low-income high school and middle school students?​​​​​​​
🎓 Our Solution: Unimi
Unimi is a college readiness resource tailor-made for students from low-income backgrounds. The app is geared towards highlighting the advantages of higher education, offering clear guidance on financial aid, facilitating mentorship with college advisors and peers, and providing a personalized user experience to guide students through high school based on their career interests.
Check out the prototype!
Hit fullscreen for ✨ optimal experience
🤔 Scoping Out the Problem
The one thing our team agreed upon immediately was: getting into college is hard! The link between parental income and college attendance has increased in recent decades. Studies show students' college readiness journeys are sometimes prevented by guidance counselor implicit biases, indigestible college websites, and lack of Gen Z mobile solutions.

So we asked ourselves how can we make college readiness
accessible resource for everyone?
📑 Research
With my co-lead, we lead the team to conduct research to find root causes to the disparity between upper and lower class students going to college. Each member delved deeper by conducting online research on existing studies to find why low income students don't attend college.
Key Takeaways of user group from findings:
     • lack of financial literacy + background when it comes to paying for college
     • lack of guidance + support and other resources post high school
     • don't feel like they belong in a college environment
     • need to work straight out of high school to support family
     • found out too late about applying to college + its complex process
📊 Competitor Analysis
We then looked at existing college resources + applications that are:
     • similar to Unimi in terms of both product and target audience
     • similar to only in product and not target audience
     • similar only in audience and not product
🗣️ User Interviews
The team was split into pairs and conducted 23 user interviews — talking to our target demographic helped us find what concerns about college are at the top of their minds. We covered topics such as:
     • plans for future career + steps to get there
     • learning about higher education in middle school + resources given
     • learning about higher education in high school + resources given
     • preparedness for post-high school life
     • financial awareness + resources
     • perspectives on different higher education options (community college, private, trade)
     • whether folks around them have pursued higher education
     • resources they have access to + want to have to learn more about higher education​​​​​​​
Key Takeaways interviews:
     • Most of our users don't feel prepared for life after high school
     • Most of our users weren't given resources to explore these options
     • Most of our users considered money in making post-high school decisions
     • Most of our users are overwhelmed/confused with the college application process
     • Most of our users don't have access to mentors for guidance/support for the college application process
     • Some users were misinformed about financial aspects of college when asked about them

Of 23 user survey respondents and 18 interviewees, 78.3%
said they did not feel prepared for higher education.
🔎 Finding HMW's
After conducting our research and user interviews, I led my team during a FigJam session to consolidate all of the users' responses and categorized them into categories for finances, expectations, resources, and knowledge about post-high school options:
From these notes, we brainstormed HMW statements that could help
us think of actionable items we can create with our app:
We narrowed down our findings to two main problem spaces +
how we want Unimi to address them:
Problem spaces...
1. Misinformation
Students are misinformed + have a general lack of knowledge regarding the college application process
2. Lack of Guidance
Students lack guidance/support (socially, financially, mentally) regarding the college application process
How we can address them...
1. Education
Include teaching aspects addressing financial aid, scholarships, loans, kinds of colleges, majors, steps to get into college, etc.
2. Empowerment
Students lack guidance/support (socially, financially, mentally) regarding the college application process
We identified our problem statement: HMW help users feel like they have input and control over their life and after high school?
Considering our team's California-based location and the nationwide variation in the college application process, we opted to begin with a statewide focus, aiming for a localized solution. This approach allowed us to address specific challenges more effectively.​​​​​​​
✍🏼 Sketching Solutions
We launched our ideation phase by creating solution sketches based on our top HMW's
We compiled research notes, highlight notable insights, brainstorm ideas, and engage in Crazy 8's sessions. Following this, each team member developed solution sketches. Below are the sketches we did for this exercise. We then collectively reviewed all ideas and used dot voting on FigJam to prioritize features we believed would most benefit our users.
Site Map + the main User Flow
✅ Decision Making
After incorporating input from stakeholders, engineers, and project managers, we settled on the following four main features:
1. Onboarding
Explain why students should consider going to college + filling out profile information
3. Search
College search feature based of filters and user's preferences
2. Home
Keep track of classes, financial resources, and information about college​​​​​​​
4. Mentor/Profile
Schedule coffee chats with current college students, faculty, or recruiters for support
Lo-fi Screens
Mid-fi Screens
Branding + Design Elements
🤳🏻 User Testing
After integrating our visual components into the prototype, we conducted user tests with more than 30 participants. These tests were carried out over Zoom, enabling us to observe users navigating through our prototype via screen sharing. While behind the scenes, our team diligently took notes as we observed how users interacted with and responded to our prototype. The testing concluded with supplementary questions to further refine our understanding of user insights. Here are the key adjustments we made based on our findings from the user testing:
1. Incorporation of Storytelling
Users did not feel engaged from the start, especially younger users
2. Information Overload
Implemented collapsible interactions and stories
3. In-app Tutorial
To combat any confusion that first-time users may face with our app's features
4. Incorporation of Storytelling
Color coded each navigation screen by feature type the user was utilizing: Home, Search, Mentors, Profile
Looking back...
Leading and collaborating on Unimi for Cal Poly Iter8 has been an immensely rewarding and enriching experience. Over the course of 12 weeks, I had the privilege of joining forces with a dedicated team of passionate individuals who shared a common goal: to develop an app with the potential to positively impact the lives of low-income students.
Working on a multi-interdisciplinary team provided valuable lessons on balancing product with engineering. Since, half of our team were designers and the other were developers, the team needed two Project Leads. Which is where Shandeigh and I stepped in to the picture. With her background as a software engineering major and my graphic design major with a concentration in UX/UI, we complemented each other's strengths and worked in tandem throughout the project.
I helped designed components in our Figma library, create Unimi's branding guidelines, facilitated UX activities and sessions during weekends, review user interviews, and was point of contact between the Unimi team and Dr. Navarro. Luckily, every member of our team clicked immediately and we were clicking on all cylinders to produce Unimi.
As of now, Unimi is on hold until we receive further funding from Dr. Navarro and the Ethnic Studies department. However, after showcasing our work to him, he was very pleased with our product and is excited to what Unimi could become!

With 💜🧡💚🩵,
Team Unimi

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