Inspired by my previous research about older adults and the adoption of mobile accessibility features, I found that there has been a lack of attention for older adults who are trying to learn new technology. I initiated this project as an opportunity for me to voice for them. I designed MentorUp, a mentorship mobile app that effectively matches older adults seeking technical help with students who have relevant interests and skills, providing a way for them to communicate with ease.
This is a 1-week long individual project. I owned and involved in every step of the design process, including research, ideation, creating wireframes, usability testing and designing high-fidelity UIs.
"I need social support to learn how to use the phone but I don't have anyone"
According to the previous research insights, older adults are very open to learn new technology but they are afraid of asking for help because they have been treated impatiently. Additionally, from talking with college students around me, I realized that a lot of them are willing to provide help but they have no idea how to connect with older adults seeking help.
I made a few assumptions in my thinking: older adults who want to learn new technology are people who already have basic understanding of their technical devices. They want personal assistance when they have questions exploring usage of their devices. And motivator for students (provide help as a mentor) would be to share knowledge and make positive impact on society. The major focus of this project would be less about motivating people but more about:
I generated a list of research questions as a guiding outline before conducting secondary research and user interviews. There are three major areas I focused on: existing resources, awareness, and experience.
Understanding the problem behind the problem: Why is it so hard for older adults to adopt new tech?
I started with secondary research to find out what are some existing resources for older adults to get tech help. A study from Pew Research found that 77% of older adults needed assistance when it came to learning how to use technology. Specifically, this group of people are facing unique barriers and challenges that might hinder them from using new technology.
I conducted interviews with 3 older adults who are 65+ with different level of physical activity constraints and technological literacy. The goal of theses interviews was to learn about their journey when looking for tech help and identify pain points and frustrations with their experience. Additionally, to have a comprehensive understanding of what makes matching work in general, I interviewed 2 students and 2 professional mentors and gained insights from them about what they care the most when providing help.
There were two concrete goals I established before conducting interviews :
Even though there are technology classes and workshops offered for older adults, limitations such as public device, group size, and insufficient teach assistants still make it hard for older adults to learn at their own pace.
💡 Design Opportunity:
By talking with professional mentors about their experience of matching process, and people who have been involved with mentorship program (or learning group pairing up), I discovered that the matching process is very similar across the board: answering a list of questions and wait for the match. Sounds easy, right? However, the fact is you can ask 100 questions and still don't know if that person is the right fit for your goal. Besides the logistical questions such as availability, location, and commitment, what other questions should we ask and what information would need to be shown so our senior users can be matched with the right person for help?
To better answer this question, I decided to do a competitive analysis to learn how other platforms were tackling this issue.
How does matching work in different context?
Even though there is not a software or application about younger-senior mentorship specifically, the matching pattern itself can be learned from a wide range of other areas, from dating app to professional career mentorship program. I compared and analyzed questions that user needs to answer before they are matched. The goal of doing a competitive analysis was to help me understand what are some of the matching criteria those platforms used to pair people up.
Professional mentoring matches require more information from both mentors and mentees and often tend to match manually by human, while personal matching only requires basic information and tend to let algorithm to do the matching work.
How might I optimize the matching experience so older adults can be easily matched with college students who will help them the most?
Initially, I asked people directly about what they expect the matching process to be. I soon realized that asking such question directly wouldn't extract much value. I designed an ideation activity to visualize people's thinking process. Participants were asked to structure the information on two interface: one mentor view and one mentee view, using paper components that I provided (e.g. age, gender, personality, etc). I also left blank paper for participants to write themselves. I recruited two participants, both are master students who have expressed their willingness to help older adults to learn new technology.
As a mentor, before matching process:
Both participants expressed their interest in knowing more about their mentee as a person. Specifically, they mentioned that knowing their mentee's personal story could help them to make better decision on whether they would be the best match.
Unfortunately, due to the time constraint I was not able to conduct the same activity with older adults in person. I scheduled phone calls with three older adults that I interviewed previously and asked what they expect to see during matching process, and what information they are willing to provide.
Where is the line between not asking enough and asking too much?
The matching process should be easy and effective. In other words, user should not need to fill out a long "survey" to find a mentor/mentee. By aggregating all the questions people brought up in early phases, I realized that many of the questions are valuable depending on who is the user. Therefore, I came up with a solution that helps the matching process to still be easy and effective, and at the same time ensures that user could get the information they need the most.
Based on the structure above, I decided to focus on three key user flow:
One thing to note was that I didn't include screens of asking availability, commitment and other logistical questions due to the time limit of this project. There should be more questions asked when user creating the profile and also when mentees (older adults) submit their mentor request.
Acknowledgement: some icons are from flaticon.com
Mentor will need to create a profile first before matching with a mentee. Mentor users will need to provide basic information such as name, age, school (to ensure reliability), short introduction and also their level of expertise in various technical devices. After creating the profile, the system will need time to process and verify the information. At the same time, users can browser "Discover" to see who are currently looking for help. Besides passively waiting for the system to find a mentee, mentor could also send invitation to people who they think they are a good fit.
Considering the fact that users using mentor view will be college students who are tech-savvy, the "create profile" page is slightly complicated than the mentee one.
Acknowledgement: some icons are from flaticon.com
Designing for older adults requires me to think much more in details, such as word choices, color, font size and so on. Specifically, the font size of mentee view is larger and I used more icons than plain text so senior users can easily navigate without reading a large chunk of words. Also, I added voice assistant option on the top right of the screen. Therefore, for older adults who have problem creating their profile, they can simply press the 'microphone' button to complete the whole process with their voice.
The "create profile" process will be much simple for mentee users (only 1 screen show here). Whenever they need a mentor, they will need to "request new mentor" and specify what kind of help they need during request process.
Additionally, to help reducing the "paradox of choice", the system will only show top 4 matches to mentee users and they can send request to the one based on their own preference.
I would like to take this project further by including the part after potential mentor and mentee are matched. The current solution only covers a small part of a whole mentorship process, and there are much more things needed to consider:
1. What will be the best way for them to initiate conversation?
2. What kind of support could the platform provide so users from both side can have the best experience?
3. How to handle "unmatching"?
All those questions are worth exploring and important for any possible future development.
While working on this project and talking with different people, I was impressed by how many people were interested in using this app. I was told to collaborate with university student organization and local senior centers. Additionally, PhD students specializing in senior design and accessibility are also interested in knowing more opportunities to build connections with older adults.
I didn't get enough user testing as I planned to do. One drawback of my design was that I didn't have a chance to test with older adult users. Even though doing user testing with student was valuable, it would be better if I could have a chance to observe how older adults actually interact with the prototype.
I was trying to shy away from the word "mentor" and "mentee" because I realized that those two words are adding extra burden to people. For example, not every student was comfortable calling themselves "mentor" in front of seniors, and vice versa. The core of the app would still be "mentorship" because people are sharing knowledge. I thought of other words like "helper", "partner", "pal", or "buddy", but none of them sounds very promising and I didn't want to make hasty decision. If I had more time, I would like to think more about the word choice and possibly collect feedbacks from users.