Academic design sprint - BrainStation x EY

CoastLine is a digital platform for students to build a digital student community using peer to peer support in order to succeed together.

This was a 4-Day design sprint in collaboration with BrainStation and Ernst & Young (EY). CoastLine received a Top 3 Award with our design being the number 1 design.

Project Type:
Academic, Design Sprint

4 Days

My Contribution:
UX Research, UX/UI Design, Prototyping mid and hi-fidelity prototypes

Team Members:
Dasom Lee
Henry Mai
Navjot Ghotra
Taylor Peckham

The Challenge

Key Context
In 2020, COVID–19 related campus closures have impacted nearly every aspect of student life. A full online learning experience means that the usual student onboarding ceremonies, events, groups and clubs will need to adapt or be suspended indefinitely.

Among the student population, first year students are particularly susceptible to not feeling immersed in the campus experience or a part of a larger student community. This can result in feelings of loneliness, depression, and mental health issues.

The (fictional) client, Coastal University, has requested us to reimagine a first-year student’s education experience in this context using digital technologies.

How might we help first-year students feel welcomed and part of a community in a 100% online education experience?

The User
The user type that we chose to focus on was mature students. These are students that are over the age of 25 and may have some prior work experience. Given the short timeline of this sprint (4 days!) we chose this demographic because it was the most accessible group for user interviews.

Project Constraints
Design System
The primary set of constraints we had to work with was branding and accessibility guidelines.

In addition, our solution had to reach the widest audience possible; therefore it had to be WCAG AA Compliant.

4 days, remote
As design sprints tend to go, time and energy management is critical, On top of making sure we produced an MVP, all our communications had to be done online through voice and video calling.

The Research

In our preliminary research, we found that a majority of college students were over the age of 25. Students were also more likely to meet their goals when they had a peer to hold them accountable.

User Interviews

Keeping our user demographic and supporting research in mind, we reached out and conducted 3 user interviews with students currently enrolled in a post secondary institution that had made the transition to remote learning due to Covid-19

  • Interviewees valued a connection with their peer community while being able to maintain their independence in their remote studies

  • Students were more interested in having a network to ask questions, clarify answers, and feel supported as opposed to socializing and "making friends"

As we synthesized our research and user findings, we started to see a collective goal that our users users were looking for.

How might we offer mature students a platform to seek peer to peer support in order to foster academic success within their cohort?


In order to develop a better understanding of the users that we were developing for, we created a persona that was derived from our research and interview insights.


By this point of the sprint, we had established a good understanding of the problem space, challenges and our user demographic. Moving forward, we individually and collectively explored concepts for what we envisioned the digital product to be.

Using design exercises such as Storyboarding, Crazy 8's, and dot voting, we were able to generate a variety of ideas while also being efficient and democrat.

This was a storyboard that we created to envision how our user, Phillip, could use our product in order to find peers and have academic success.

Concept sketches that each team member created to explore


After reviewing the concept sketches and discussing the results of the voting, we came up with three ideas to develop further:

Forum: A space where students can go to connect based on their own criteria (e.g. specific interests, classes, educators, etc)

Pod: A place where students can assemble with other like minded peers they wished to connect and collaborate with

Events: A feature where students could coordinate schedules and stay up to date on school/class events

Medium Fidelity Prototype

The primary function we decided to focus on was the forum aspect of the product. It would be used by users to help locate content and information based on their interests/classes. The secondary function we developed was the pod feature which allowed students to connect with their peers in a smaller group setting

Usability Testing

In order to validate our ideas and product experience we had created up until now, we conducted usability teasing with our mid-fidelity prototype.
Based on the feedback we received, we compiled the following key points and sights.

- Clarify task flows
- Simplify UI elements
- Improve legibility
- Add branding throughout

Insights from a Test User:

"Having a way to communicate about exclusively academic things like this is really helpful. When everything is all combined in one place it can get confusing and overwhelming."

Visual Design

The final product that our team delivered was a hi-fidelity prototype using feedback we had received from usability testing. Some of the ideas that we decided for the visual design were:

Minimal & Clear

Color in this product was used purposefully and functionally. The primary green tone is used to bring forward important elements while the secondary purple color is used for accents and feedback. A slight gradient is used to create some visual interest. Drop shadows are also used to help frame and make elements distinct from the white background.


The logo for CoastLine was designed by Henry Mai with the intention of staying true to the client's existing brand image. Using the same language for colors and typefaces helped make this product come across as coherent and cohesive.

Key Takeaways

Get to know your team

Playing with everyone's strengths and areas where they wanted to improve was an important part to being productive under our time constraint. Allowing others to take more leadership in certain aspects of the project (e.g. logo design or presentation) and trusting their judgment resulted in a product that we were all happy with.

What's in it for the stakeholders?

As much as CoastLine benefits the student users, it also had to provide value to the university (client). This project challenged us to think outside the box, broaden our thinking and consider how our design decisions would impact the client as well.
We framed our product as a support to help students feel support by their peers by being a part of a virtual community. This would then result in improving academic success and therefore benefitthe university as well.

You can have an amazing idea, but if you can't sell it...

Pitching our product was just as important as coming up with a good solution to the problem presented to us, With limited time to present, our slide deck had to be concise, to the point and visually stunning in order for it to be impactful. It wasn't an easy task, especially considering we were all presenting virtually through Zoom.
Our team made sure to dedicate enough time to do practice runs of our presentation, perfecting our speaker handoffs, and demoing our prototype.

All the collaboration and effort paid off as our team was awarded one of three awards by the judging panel from EY Design Studio Toronto

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