iOS and Web
How might we design a digital tool to help high school students gain a better understanding of available career opportunities and the pathways to get there?
Riko, the pathway discovery app, helps high school student to explore a wide variety of career and education opportunities through a fun interface reminiscent of popular social applications. Riko helps students to keep an open mind and consider a wide set of pathway options. After exploring students can sort potential paths based on revealed preference and connect with relatable young working professionals. Watch the product walkthrough below:
In the fall of 2017 the Government of Ontario’s Ministry for Advanced Education and Skills Development launched the Student Pathways Challenge. The 6-week National hackathon, called upon Canadians to create new digital tools and solutions to help high school student navigate their post-high school pathways. The government released a set of thirty-seven datasets of educational and employment data and challenged the tech community to create solutions that would make information easy to find and digestible for youth.
I brought together a team of four who shared a passion for education and a deep empathy for the challenge of navigating the early steps of one’s career. We had all recently graduated from fundamentally theoretical university programs and found jobs in tech very different from our areas. I acted as the team's Head of Product, leading ideation, design and our user research strategy.
Using email and facebook groups we reached out to 400 individuals, conducted 20 in-depth user interviews, and surveyed 36 guidance counselor. From our survey we learned that:
98% of counselors strongly agreed that “Students are very anxious about post-secondary decisions”
72% of counselors disagree that “Students have access to professionals in the careers and programs that interest them”
70% of educators agree or strongly agree that “Educators should adopt digital tools to help students with post-secondary decisions”
88% of educators are currently using, or know a colleague, who uses a digital tool to guide pathway decisions.
From interviewing high school students we were surprised to hear that although their futures were top of mind, none of the students we spoke to had ever used a tool from careers outside of class and very few knew a person between the ages of 20 and 30 in the workforce.
How Might We…
From our research we re-wrote our key problems and insights as “How might we…” questions to frame them as opportunities for design solutions. This is a method from Ideo’s Design Kit.
How might we... reduce students bias towards pathways and broaden their set of considered pathways options?
How might we… give students across the country access to people who can give them human insight into pathways and answer their questions in a safe and secure way as minors.
How might we… make a digital pathway tool that displays meaningful information in an easily consumable manner, is fun to use, and will be adopted by students and engaged with outside of the classroom.
Creating a Product that Students will Use Outside the Classroom
Jakob’s Law, a UX principle, states that users spend most of their time on other peoples sites. This means we can decrease cognitive load, and shorten the learning process by providing users with design patterns they are already familiar with. To achieve this we used patterns inspired by Snapchat and Instagram, creating a UI that is mobile friendly, fun and familiar to large cohorts of students. The apps logo, a cartoon mascot squid, has an abundance of tentacles that represents the many opportunities students have to choose from. The illustration style reminiscent of the Snapchat ghost also features a bright, cheery, gradient colour scheme.
In addition to UI and branding, we also wanted to create a product UX that presents career exploration as a gamified, fun, continuous process.
The Habit Forming Canvas for Riko
Using Nir Eyal’s Habit Forming Canvas we were also able to craft an experience that psychologically encourages repeat engagement.
Trigger: Students have questions or a feeling of anxiety regarding their future
Action: Students answer questions that give them personalized recommendations and explore pathway statistics and video content.
Reward: Students create a connection to mentors, hear valuable information and feel empowered.
Investment: Students ‘follow' people they find interesting and submit their own questions. When new content is posted, or their question is answered a notification prompts them to revisit Riko.
UX that Encourages the Exploration of a Large Option Set
Many career resources have a UX flow where students first browse careers by title and then explore each career further if a title piques their interest. This means a student who loves biology and has a passion for birds won’t necessarily know they would love to learn about the pathway for an Ornithologist - a missed opportunity!
From our research, we found that young people tend to hold strong biases, usually from key people in their social circles, towards different pathways. This limits the number of paths student will consider. Many students have been told only a select few, highly competitive pathways are ‘good’ options. We repeatedly heard examples such as engineering, law, and medicine. This creates a handful of problems:
Firstly, many students are not interested or especially adept in these areas but do not investigate other options which can create feelings of anxiety.
Secondly, students generally have extremely limited exposure to the job market. Therefore, the do not recognize many job titles, meaning a zoomed out list of career options is not very valuable.
Thirdly, the job market is quickly changing and the future of work will look very different from today. As student’s parents are even les likely to work in these emerging areas, students do not have many positive associations to the pathway options in these fields that have growing employment opportunities. On top of that, very few students are considering that certain vocations are likely to be automated in the near future.
To get students to consider a wider set of career options we decided to attempt to reduce the limiting effects of current associations. Instead of a bunch of job titles, Riko begins with an onboarding flow that requires students to answer questions that connect to the RIASEC Holland Interest Codes, an empirically validated model connecting personal interests to fulfillment in the workplace.
After the introductory onboarding questions the application presents students with an overview of a career pathway that matches their revealed preference, with the career title hidden. This creates a situation where students must evaluate their interest in pathways in a more holistic way, rather than a knee-jerk reaction. The pathway information includes valuable data like associated interests, the characteristics of a person who generally enjoys this kind of work, education options, salary data and the risk of automation for the pathway.
Once a student indicates interest by saving the pathway, the title and further information are revealed.
Digitizing Human Connection and Insight
Creating a product UX that digitizes the benefits of talking to someone insightful about their pathway that:
1. Is human and relatable and also allows for two way communication, similar to a conversation
2. Is safe and considers the vulnerability of the user population (minors)
3. Is scalable and accessible to all Canadian students, independent of whether a student lives in a city or a small northern community.
To satisfy these constraints we decided upon a feed pattern of selfie style video content for each pathway. These micro videos organized by question would answer general inquiries and common student questions. Due to the video format, mentors are presented as relatable people that students can get to know giving students a window into any career they could be interested in, independent of location. Choosing video as a format, and seeding careers with content from a diverse group of Canadians, we will also be able to show students that there are people like them pursuing all kinds of pathways. This is an exciting opportunity to challenge the stereotypes of how a Nurse or Software Engineer looks.
To create two-way conversation we added a hovering, pervasive “Ask a question” callout for students to submit their own questions.
As a product-focused challenge, we dedicated the majority of our 6 weeks to research, rapid prototyping and testing. This meant I made the high fidelity UI designs and animated walkthrough for the pitch, each evening after work between 7pm and 2am in the last week of the hackathon. For this reason, I think the UI was the weakest part of our proposed solution and I would like to further refine the designs to reach a level of production quality that I know I can achieve. However, the short timeline was exciting and reminded me that I really enjoy working very hard (even 16 hours a day) when I am excited about solving a problem.
I am so grateful to everyone who helped us with this project. From the many guidance counselors who answered our surveys, to the staff at the Ontario Government that put forth the challenge. We continued to work on our prototype for another 4 months, and most recently Mike (one from the right in the above photo) has incorporated a new startup to create an inspired product in the careers / recruiting space. I am also still keen, and working towards finishing a couple of the products key features and launching it as a standalone web product.
Lastly, I really enjoyed designing for this cohort of users and the project sparked my passion for education technology and design for learning. It is an area I had not previously explored in depth, that is comprised of it’s own distinct set of psychological principles. I think designing for behaviour change and learning is an exciting place to put the design toolkit to work, where design can have a great social impact.