Taking a coding or design intensive course can be exhausting—even more so for students who also juggle a part-time or full-time job. They often turn to social media to unwind from class or projects, which can arguably be just as stressful. Targeted at current and former coding and design students, Ponder aims to inspire and motivate students while providing a temporary escape disconnected from such social distractions that encourages taking breaks to increase focus.

My Role: UX researcher, lead visual designer


We began our discovery phase with 8 field interviews. I facilitated 3 interviews and took notes for the 4 my team members conducted.

We wanted to figure out a way to mitigate stress while keeping students motivated. To better understand their goals and pain points, we asked about how and where they sought comfort and inspiration, as well as their experience with stress management.

Tell me about a time when you were overwhelmed in class.
What keeps you motivated?
How do you relax/escape?

I mapped out our findings and noticed 3 trends.

1. Inspiration comes from everywhere. Many participants emphasized the importance of everyday experiences and being in the moment. Some were inspired by their surroundings and travels.

2. They need sleep. Besides caffeine, participants also relied on sleep when both low energy and stressed.

3. Distractions can help manage stress. Some participants talked about going for walks to clear their heads. A few mentioned needing me time to recharge or concentrate, but most were mindful that it was beneficial to give themselves breaks.



Based on the data extracted from our field interviews, I developed 2 personas, 25-year-old graphic designer/part-time student Nate and 29-year-old full-time student Claire.


Competitive Analysis

With a better sense of what our target audience’s goals and pain points are, we determined 6 features/patterns we wanted to explore in Ponder.
I compared 1) mobile apps that use clean, minimal interfaces with a dominant background to create an experience and 2) coloring and drawing apps.

Key Takeaways

1. Make onboard inviting and personal using positive, encouraging language.
2. Offer entire experience with a minimal look on a moving main page and sound effects.
3. Hide tool customizations without simplifying function; maximize space to create instead.

Design Process

From our research, we decided on the 4 features we thought our app must have:

1) Sounds
2) Fun interactions / games
3) Sketchbook
4) Map

To get the ball rolling, we started with a Crazy 8’s exercise and quickly sketched 8 ideas in 8 minutes. I focused on our sounds feature for this. After silent critiquing each other’s work, we sketched wireframes for the designs we preferred.

Left: Crazy 8’s [1]
Center: Post-its of MVP features
Right: Sketches [2, 3, and 4]


After hashing out some designs on paper and organizing some feature ideas, I transferred our paper sketches to wireframes on Sketch, as seen here. Since we wanted to emphasize Ponder’s nature imagery, we kept the UI minimal to better feature the background images.


Usability Testing

With a high-fidelity prototype in InVision, we recruited current and former students of tech or design bootcamps to test it out. We conducted a total of 5 usability tests. I interviewed 2 of the participants and took notes for the rest. We shaped our discussions around 3 research goals:

Is the app useful in eliminating stress?
Is it enjoyable to use?
Does it help users feel inspired and/or relaxed?

We ranked the issues we noticed in our tests by their severity. From there, we prioritized which problems we had time to tackle.

1. There was a disconnect between onboarding and the homepage. Participants were confused when they landed on a homepage they did not expect to see.

2. There was confusion about Dr. Bill’s (rubber duck) purpose. Some participants expected Dr. Bill to be someone that could help them and offer tips.

3. Redundant Explore features—participants were confused about the purpose of the filters in our map feature.


Reworking Designs

We ranked our findings by severity, and prioritized which problems we had the resources to tackle.

We removed the map features’ filter options altogether. It was not necessary to complete any task, and we ultimately decided it was unnecessary.

We also thought it’d be fun to include a rubber duck, NYCDA’s pseudo-mascot, somehow in our onboarding. However, during our usability tests, users were unanimously thrown off by the duck and his purpose in the app. It was jarring for them when they got to the app because it seemed so disconnected from the onboarding, and they expected Dr. Bill to play a role throughout the app. Now, instead of presenting the duck as a character, he takes a more low-key role. We eliminated choices in the onboarding and now leads directly to the homepage, where Dr. Bill makes a second appearance to clarify our timer feature.

The evolution of Dr. Bill Quackington.

The evolution of Dr. Bill Quackington.


Initially, when my team and I put our initial designs together, they were not consistent. I took on the role of lead visual designer and reworked some of the designs to create a cohesive look, while another team member took point on the game feature.