IST student organization aids in mobile design for campus dining app

Emma Riglin
November 11, 2020

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Students across Penn State can now easily access information about on-campus dining options thanks, in part, to the work of members of the User Experience Professional Association (UXPA).

UXPA, a student organization in the College of IST that was founded last year, is a subset of the national User Experience Professionals Association that focuses on teaching skills to students interested in the field of user experience. UXPA members were asked to put those skills to the test through a project for Penn State Dining this past summer. Their objective: to help redesign the dining portion of the Penn State Go for students to be able to use this fall.

“We offer Penn State an opportunity to directly talk to a sample of their audience,” said Lauren Pearl, UXPA’s president. “We have the student’s point of view, so we have the luxury to let them know, ‘hey, this is what would make this easier or better for me.’”

Initially, UXPA was paired with Penn State Dining last spring to redesign food ordering kiosks in the West Dining Halls. However, due to the novel coronavirus pandemic and Penn State’s shift to remote learning in the spring, the kiosk project was redirected into a new initiative to help with the Penn State Go app.

Penn State Go is a mobile application introduced by the University in the spring 2020 semester to put frequently-used platforms — such as Canvas, email, LionPATH, Starfish and bus information — in one place. This fall, the University is also using it as one of the measures to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 on campus, and has incorporated the ability for students to order food from campus dining facilities to minimize occupancy in those buildings and maintain social distancing among students.

With the urgent need to get the dining app updated to enable these abilities before the fall semester started, UXPA members were tasked with testing the dining section of the app and asked to give feedback on what improvements could be made.

“(With the initial kiosk project), we were told that this entire mobile dining service was going to be integrated at some point over the next year,” UXPA’s project manager Nick Alico said. “Once we went on and we knew we were coming back to campus, they needed a solution by August, so there was a big ramp up from a modest project to top priority."

Alico, along with Pearl and Nick Hunter, the organization’s vice president, explained that they quickly put together a team of members to work on the project. Tacit Corp, the software design company that programmed the app, gave them a prototype and the three UXPA executive board members formatted a walk-through survey of the app, asking their members to simulate the process of using it. They asked members what they expected to be in the app that wasn’t, what was effective and ineffective about the app, and what could be improved.

“We diversified the data from different perspectives of UXPA members, and then synthesized that data for Penn State Dining and the Penn State IT team so that our perspective could then be shared with Tacit,” said Alico. “Synthesizing the results from our members gave us reoccurring instances that really highlighted the most prominent problems to fix before the initial launch.”

Once the app was available to Penn State students, the organization did another user feedback survey with UXPA members and sent feedback back to Tacit.

Alico, Pearl and Hunter are all pursuing degrees in human-centered design and development, a new major that was established at the College of IST in 2019 that focuses on designing and evaluating technologies to enhance people’s lives. Alico and Hunter, both juniors this year, will be in the first class to graduate with the degree in 2022, with Pearl following in 2023. Pearl said she enjoys the communication that is necessary in user experience and the back and forth that is required to get a product to where it needs to be.

“Our role isn’t really to make ideas about new technologies,” said Pearl. “We're the ones assisting with technologies that have already been made to make them better."

All three students said that they enjoyed working with the University on a project and that they were able to see the impact they made. They enjoyed seeing the suggestions their members made implemented into the app to improve it.

“I think it really shows that Penn State values student input on projects that affect students or that students interact with,” Alico said.

Last Updated November 11, 2020