By 2042, student loan debt is projected to surpass mortgage debt. Yet, 2 in 5 Americans don't see the value in their college degree.*
What if, instead of college, youth (ages 16-24) chose to complete an apprenticeship instead? Apprenticeships cost no money (in fact, apprentices get paid while receiving an education!) and can lead to high paying careers.
The problem, however, is that in the U.S., apprenticeships are uncommon and difficult to find. Furthermore, many still believe their only path to success is to get a college degree. For my first capstone project at Springboard, I decided to design an app to make finding apprenticeships in America more accessible, enjoyable, and "prestigious".**
** This project showcases the full, ideal design process.
I was the lead Product Designer acting as the UX Researcher, UX Writer, and Visual Designer. I also created the logo, animations, and brand platform.
My goal for this project was to create a product that would make finding apprenticeships (and apprentices) in the U.S. easier and more enjoyable. I wanted to give youth (aged 16-24) a viable option besides college that didn’t cost money as well as help companies find new talent. To make the app more enjoyable, I became inspired by dating apps - allowing users to swipe right and left in a fun, engaging way.
To find the right problem, I began by reading case studies, research papers, articles, and researching competitors to learn more about apprenticeships. I then found users (age 18-24) using screener surveys and conducted a total of five user interviews to learn about their motivations and pain points when deciding what path to take after high school.
To find patterns and gain insights from my research, I used affinity mapping, empathy maps, and personas. I then created “How might we...” questions to really define my problem based on my user research.
IDEATE & DESIGN
To find the right solution, I began by using mashups to brainstorm possible solutions for my problem and then created user stories, sitemaps, and user flows. Next, I created sketches of my red routes followed by wireframes, high fidelity mockups, and animations. In addition, I created a brand platform, logo, and a full style guide.
PROTOTYPE & TEST
I conducted guerilla usability tests with my sketches using the Marvel app, and then conducted two rounds of remote usability tests with my high fidelity mockups.
Today, there are many varieties of apprenticeships. Some last 3 months while others last 3 years. I was inspired by the apprenticeships my dad and his side of the family completed in Austria. They participated in 3-year long apprenticeships that were paid, gave them hands-on experience, and provided free schooling. While it is much more common to complete an apprenticeship in Austria, I wanted to see how I could make this program work in the U.S.
“Whenever I think of an apprentice-ship...the image I get is males... who are pretty muscular, kind of like a lumberjack vibe...down to get dirty and put in the work.”
- COLLEGE STUDENT
I conducted five user interviews to discover what youth thought about apprenticeships, learn about their underlying motivations for going to college, and discover their pain points. Four of my users chose to go to college after high school and were unfamiliar with apprenticeships. One user commented that when she thinks of apprentices, she thinks of “lumberjacks.”
Apprenticeships aren’t just for lumberjacks. They are being offered more and more to help counteract the skills shortage in America. Because so many different types of apprenticeships are offered, I decided to narrow down the scope of my app and focus in on one industry. I decided on this industry by talking to my users.
Why did users choose university over completing an apprenticeship? I used affinity mapping to find patterns from my user interviews.
I discovered that many were motivated by the idea of making a lot of money and having a “prestigious” career. Because of this, I decided to focus my app on finding apprenticeships in the tech industry. I chose the tech industry because there is potential for high-paying, prestigious jobs, and you don’t necessarily need a college degree.
“Even…the most basic jobs require you have a bachelor's degree and you get more money if you have a masters, even a PhD”
- COLLEGE STUDENT
Besides being expensive, I realized there were some other downsides to going to college. From my user interviews, I discovered these main pain points.
From all of the data I gathered, I was able to distill the information into 2 distinct users: my “confident” users and my “lost” users.
I turned these two types of users into personas. My first persona is Codey the Coder. He knows exactly what he wants, and is impatient to start working. He’s my “confident” user. Codey has wanted to join the tech industry for years; he taught himself the basics of coding and is ready to start work. Codey does not want to waste time and money in college; he doesn’t want to take irrelevant classes, and he doesn’t want to take out loans to go to college. Codey knows he’s good enough and can’t wait to get hands-on experience.
My second persona, Sam the Social, however, is “lost.” She doesn’t know what she wants. She graduated from high school a couple of years ago and tried college, but school really isn’t for her. She’s now working as a waitress, but she’s sick of the hours and can barely afford to pay off her student loans. She wants to become financially independent and wants to find a job that can grow into a successful career. However, she has no clue what she wants to do.
With my personas in mind, I started my ideation process. I started with the technique called mashups, wherein you take two seemingly unrelated things and mash them together to come up with creative solutions to problems. I started by considering how I might streamline the application process and became inspired by travel. I thought about passports; you only need one passport to get into different countries. What if users were able to create one passport, or profile, and use it to apply to any apprenticeship?
I then mashed up apprenticeships with dating apps. Both are about matching up people with something they want. I became inspired by dating apps like Tinder that allowed users to swipe left and right to find their perfect match. I liked how it was a fun element that brought some levity to a potentially stressful process. I wanted my users to have fun swiping for apprenticeships. I also wanted to reduce how overwhelming the process can feel.
After gathering these insights and brainstorming some possible solutions, I set to work outlining the structure of my solution using user stories, sitemaps, and user flows.
With my personas in mind, I started creating my user stories. I went back to my initial questions of: How might we streamline the application process? How might we match apprentices with companies? And how might we support users and give them a sense of community?
Beginning by looking at the application process, I realized users want to be able to apply for apprenticeships using one profile. I needed to consider the best ways to give my users a streamlined application process.
Next, I considered how I could match users with apprenticeships. Users want to be matched up with apprenticeships based on their interests, but this will be done in different ways for Sam and Codey. Sam is “lost,” so she needs a little more support than Codey. She will want to be given more options and led in the right direction. Codey, however, will want to be able to search for more exact apprenticeships. He may even want to search by company.
Finally, I wondered how I might help users feel supported and have a better sense of community. I decided my app needed a chat feature. For my MVP (minimum viable product), I decided to only have a chat feature between apprentices and companies. However, in later releases, I would like the chat feature to allow users to chat with the app itself (so they feel more supported while looking for apprenticeships) and to be able to chat with former or current apprentices so they can feel a sense of community. Something I found during my research was that most of my users loved the social aspect of college. I didn’t want users to lose this connection with peers just because they chose to complete an apprenticeship as opposed to going to college.
I created a sitemap for my users, but then I realized I was missing half of my app. Uplift works to match not only future apprentices with companies, but also to help companies find apprentices.
I realized there was a third persona: Helga the Hiring Manager.
Sam and Codey represent the apprentice users while Helga represents the company users. Although I did my initial research and user interviews for the apprentice side, I realized I needed to be considering the company side. With Helga in mind, I created a second sitemap, this one for the company side.
I then started looking at my user flows. I created red routes (common paths users take in an app) for both sides. On the apprentice side of the app, I focused on apprentices finding and applying for apprenticeships. On the company side, I decided on flows for how employers would post apprenticeships, recruit candidates, and schedule interviews with applicants.
I was then able to begin sketching out my red routes. I created 2 prototypes (1 for apprentices and 1 for companies) using the Marvel App and conducted 5 guerilla usability tests to see what users thought and discover problems with the usability of my app.
Based on the results from my guerilla usability tests, I realized I needed to change the filter funnel icon to a preferences icon (see below) and rethink the bottom navigation for the company side of my app.
With this in mind, I created my wireframes. If you look at the images below, you can see I changed the company’s bottom navigation to “Home,” “Apprenticeships,” “Recruit,” “Applications,” and “Chat.” I hoped users would be more clear on the difference between “Recruit” and “Applications.”
When my wireframes were complete, I realized I needed a name and brand for my company. I decided to call my app Uplift because its focus is on “lifting people up.” I want to inspire students and give them hope for their futures. One of the most important elements of my brand’s identity is that it’s inclusive.
Uplift is inclusive. It’s an app for anyone, no matter their race, gender, education levels, or incomes.
It doesn’t matter if they were a star student, or struggled to get good grades in high school. I wanted to empower users and help them see what makes them great. Because of this, I realized I didn’t want apprentice users’ profiles to be only about numbers such as GPA, test scores, AP tests, etc. Instead, I wanted users to be able to design their own profiles and fill them with their own strengths and accomplishments. I also wanted Uplift to be a little rebellious.
It rebels against the notion that someone’s only path to success is to go to college.
I found inspiration while walking around my home city of Denver in the form of graffiti (something that can be rebellious, empowering, and beautiful). Because this app is geared towards youth finding apprenticeships, I wanted the app to be colorful and youthful (while still professional). I decided to use a light turquoise as my main color because it is calming yet inspiring. I then needed a positive and negative color for when users swipe right or left. I chose green as my positive color and red as my negative color.
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With my style guide in place, I started on my high fidelity mockups. It can be challenging as a recent high school graduate to apply for jobs because they don’t have a lot of experience. Colleges tend to rely on things like test scores and GPA to decide if someone is worthy. However, everyone is unique. Just because someone isn’t “book smart” doesn’t mean they’re not intelligent. I needed to find a way for apprentice users to create a streamlined profile that would get them hired despite their lack of experience.
During my initial desk research, I stumbled across a company called Good&Co. They offer culture-fit assessments and a wide range of personality tests to help people learn what their work personality is. I decided this would be a great addition to my app so companies could see what type of employee these users would be. I then allowed apprentice users to personalize their profile by adding in unique accomplishments. They can choose from anything, be it club-related, job-related, or school-related. Finally, I gave users the ability to ask themselves their own questions. They get to choose 2-3 questions to answer to further tailor their profiles.
The result? A profile users can be proud of that gives companies a sense of who they are. Employers can learn more about students’ work personalities by clicking on their archetypes (from the Good&Co quiz) and see what accomplishments, relevant courses, and skills apprentices were proud of.
As shown in the image above, you will also notice that instead of photos, users choose an icon for their profile picture. I didn’t want any biases, whether about gender, race, looks, or age, to influence hiring managers. Therefore, I took out these demographics and didn’t include photos of users.
I was now ready to conduct my first round of usability tests. I conducted four moderated remote usability tests and one unmoderated remote usability test for both the apprentice side and the company side of the app. For the apprentice side, the major issue I found was that users were confused why “Invites” and “Messages” were separate on the bottom navigation, so I combined the two in my next prototype.
The company side of the app was another matter. I realized it needed an entire structural overhaul. Users were consistently confused by the bottom tabs “Apprenticeships,” “Recruit” and “Applications” with each other. I realized the app wasn’t intuitive, so I needed to change the structure.
My solution was to combine the three tabs into one “Apprenticeship” tab. Company users can now go to one tab to post new apprenticeships, recruit candidates, and schedule interviews.
My second round of usability tests were a success. All of my users said the tasks were “easy” and the entire process felt more intuitive. There are always ways to make Uplift better, but I was able to make a successful MVP for this project. The design addresses my user’s needs to apply for apprenticeships with a streamlined application process and find (and apply for) the right apprenticeships for them. My next step is to work on the chat feature to create a sense of community for apprentices to learn and grow together.
Designed by Erika Neuhold, 2021