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Augmented Reality Campus Social App

Project Specs

My Role: UX research and design

Timeline:  Fall 2018 - Spring 2019

Scope: Literature Review, User Requirement Interview, Competitive Analysis, Interactive Prototype Design, Usability Testing, Design Iterations


This is an independent master thesis project from research, design to validation. 

Observing that college students generally have a low sense of community, I wanted to create a bridge between physical space and people's thoughts and memories. My solution is an augmented reality social app on campus.


Enhancing on-campus experience through an augmented-reality social app for students to share memories, tips, and meet new friends.


Phase 1 - Research

What are college students currently lacking? 

In order to find out what students currently lack and bridge the gap for them in my design,  I conducted 2 stages of user requirement interviews with full-time undergraduate students on campus.

The first stage was to cover broad aspects of campus life from navigation, social life, to the usage of school facilities and understanding of school history, while the second stage was to gain a deeper understanding of a single aspect of the campus experience.    

Initial Stage Findings

I interviewed 16 undergraduate students with designed script that probe to understand all aspects of campus life including social, navigation, and the history of campus, and asked the students to rank the importance of these aspects.


Social is equally important as Navigation, while History is the least important

Sense of community

Low. 13 out of 16 students (81%) reported to have low to zero sense of community and expressed their desire to improve it. Those who reported low to zero sense of community had no active clubs and social engagement. The reasons included not having proper tools to find interested clubs.


Even though most of the students had no problem navigating across campus, they pointed out that it might be difficult for freshmen and transferred students. 


Participants were least concerned about school history, although 9 out of 16 students (56%) wouldn’t mind learning more about it. However, it might serve as part of the common experience for students on campus. 

Second Stage Findings

Among 6 undergraduate students, I asked each one of them to pick one specific area (social, navigation and history) that he or she wished to improve, and understood the problems in a deeper level through conversational dialogue.

5 out of 6 students (83%) pointed out that it's very hard to meet new people on campus, and they wished to have more recommended events and improving stranger interactions. 



Most students long for social activities and friendly interactions on campus, and currently feel lack of those experience. There is a need to improve sense of community on campus.


2. Literature Review

Through academic publications, I learned that:

1. The first barrier to sense of community for college students is the size of the campus (Atwater et al. 2001)

2. It is harder to achieve common experiences for students in a large campus, yet “common experiences" are necessary to give meaning to the institution and the student’s academic experience (Carnegie, 1990).


Atwater, T., Meaborn, D., Gosetti, P., &Manns, D. (2001). Maintaining student’s sense of community in a multiversity.Academic Exchange Quarterly, 5, 83-95.

Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement ofTeaching. (1990). Campus life: In search of community. Princeton, NJ: Author.


Proposed Product Solutions

Based on the research above, I decided that the solution of the product is to find common experience for students in a large campus.


What are some of the common experience?

1.  One of the obvious observation is the physical campus that all students share. I can utilize AR (augmented reality) technology to link the physical space to their personal devices.

2.  There are some human experience tied to the physical space, such as memories, emotions, and information. If I can provide a social platform that allows users to share memories or tips (information), it can evoke emotional responses that improve stranger interactions, thus improve sense of community.

3. Lastly, I would provide campus event recommendations that tailor user interests to enhance the chance to meet new friends. Not only the AI will learn user preferences overtime, in each event page, the user would have a chance to join a meetup group if they are going alone.

During product usage, I will automate the experience as much as possible. For example, when navigating to a class, the app will utilize existing data from school portal to learn about students' schedule to create a one-click experience for users.


Phase 2 - Design

Journey Mapping

According to Donna Lichaw's book The Users' Journey, all users experience stages like "exposition, inciting incident, rising actions, crisis, climax, denouement, and falling actions". By examining user journey, designer can find product opportunities that best serve the users.

Challenge of Meeting New Friends


Challenge of Navigation


Swimlane Diagrams

In order to explore the interactions between users, I created 2 swimlane diagrams. Each diagram consists of two actors who play different roles during product usage.

Agile User Stories

User stories help defining product scope, features, elements and interactions throughout the design. 

"As a student, I wish to... so that..." 

  • Get informed about clubs and events, so that I can make friends via similar interests
  • Engage in friendly interactions with others, so that I can fulfill my social life
  • Connect to students in a bigger scope, so that we can share from each other
  • Explore campus history, so that I know why being a member of school is special
  • Navigate through campus easily, so that I feel more at ease on campus


Mental Model

After identifying the goals and tasks. I made 3 matrixes based on:

1. The objects being manipulated on the interface

2. The actions taken to the objects

3. Attributes associated with the objects

4. The prioritization of the tasks.

These conceptual models can help me design and organize the content throughout the interface.



A low fidelity sketch exploring different layouts and arrangement of contents, including grids and placement of interactive elements. 


Key Features


Common experience based on information sharing. Housing information, tips for taking a specific class, cafe discount... it is a community space for all students.


Tied to a physical space on campus, footprints present someone's memory, capturing the moment with embedded photo and captions.

Users can add footprints and tips by pressing the "pencil" icon.

Compose a footprint


Based on user interests in profile, recommended events are shown in balloons form. When interested to an event, students can click into details. Students then can tell the system whether they like or dislike the recommendation.

After they decide to join, students have the option to meet new people. Just go to the specified meetup spot and say the party name.

4 ways to access to an event

1. AR balloons

2. Balloon shortcut on the top right corner

3. Calendar icon in the dock

4. Notifications

Instant AR Game

Students can enjoy small AR game with others. Whether to team up with friends or find new teammates, the game will promote friendly social interactions as well as exploring campus more. The players can check game progress and leaderboard.

A New Way to Navigate

Instead of google map, the navigation feature allows students to import their class schedule via school portal. The search result will reflect current time and place, providing navigation to next class on the schedule.


Phase 3 - Evaluation & Usability Testing


Recruited 8 full-time undergraduate students for in person 45 minutes usability testing.


  • 2 international students
  • 2 transferred students
  • 3 freshmen
  • 1 senior students

More than half of the participants were either transferred, freshmen, or international students, who may encounter more challenges in adapting campus life.


  • Perception of the feature
  • Usability of the interface


  • Time to complete each task
  • Behavior observations ( looked confused, hit the wrong buttons, ask for help )
  • Difficulty rating for each task
  • Likelihood to switch from current methods, or recommend to a friend
  • Evaluate sense of community on campus prior and after the test.


Goal oriented. I asked participants to imagine a scenario, providing them goals and input data, and allowed participants to conduct tasks based on their interpretations of goals.

Some example:

  • Imagine you are wandering on campus alone, having some time to spare. Join an instant AR game in the app.
  • You just found that Peer Connection Center provides free tutoring. Compose a tip to share with fellow students
  • You had a great time hanging out on the lawn. Compose a footprint to share.
  • You are 5 minutes late to psychology class, but you cannot find the classroom. 
  • Update your interests to receive the most tailored event recommendations.



The average sense of community rating increased by 188.46% compared to the initial evaluation, and all participants were willing recommend the app to a friend. The results can be found in the table below.

For each task, the researcher recorded the task completion rate and time spent, and analyzed the average across all participants. The behavioral measures, such as wrong keys hit during the process were also recorded. 


What I Learned

1.    Add other types of feedback such as haptic, sounds in addition to visual.

2.    Provide tutorial pages or bubbles for the first timers, explaining app features like footprints, balloons, and tips. In addition, tutorials can utilize sounds, haptics or animation to help users in more complex tasks such as game play.

3.    Less is more. Utilizing automation as much as possible instead of asking user input . Some example below:

  a)    The app should include class schedule automatically in search results, instead of asking students whether or not to include it.

  b)   Instead of asking detailed information regarding interest preference for the purpose of event recommendation, the app could utilize artificial intelligence to modify events recommendation students’ choice of “show me more similar events” or “don’t show me events like this anymore”.

  c)    To simplify the event recommendation process even more, the AI technology could learn to recommend more events like this by taking into consideration what events the user collects.If the technology is efficient, then step (b) above could be discarded.

4.    Avoid using similar icons. In the event detail page, there were both the “like” icon to inform system for more similar recommend, and the “star” icons to collect the events. If the system can learn what users like from tracking collected events, the actions of liking can be discarded.

5.    Icons needed to be tested. The design decision is to only keep the icon to keep the UI clean, so that the users can focus more on the environment. As a result, the icons should be easy to understand and need many testing to ensure their validity.

6.    User flows should match users’ mental model. The users should be given choice whether to go to team chat directly or close the instruction window and start finding animals right away, or incorporating “edit interests” flow in the event page, so that users can learn the relationship between interests and event recommendations, and take actions as needed.

Using Format