This user study is driven by a design scenario: The program chair thinks a one-stop-shop should be developed to cater for every student’s needs specific to the program: acquiring information, preparing for career, and communicating with peers and faculties. But does a one-stop-shop really reflect their needs? What pertinent needs do HCI students really have?

Competitive analysis

Objective:To learn more about the behaviors of students, this study takes a deep look into existing tools that are mostly used by MS-HCI students, as well as review existing research findings on knowledge sharing among academic peers.

Procedure: A 1 to 5 scale is given to each sub-measurement to every tool we study, with 5 being the most satisfying case (The ratings are given from an objective perspective, based on the experience and observation of researchers). A sum for each basic measurement is calculated and depicted with different shades of color.

Generally, slack has great performance in all four criteria, serving as a good start point for solving the current problem. On the other hand, there are more specialized methods that has a better performance in individual criteria. Thus, we need to collect more data on HCI students’ opinions and problems with different methods, as well as to research on if an application like Slack is a good solution.

Literature Review

Based on the literature review, we think a peer-to-peer, web-based application whereby which users can easily retrieve and contribute information to a communal knowledge pool in a positive group setting will be an effective means to address HCI Masters’ students’ need to find and share information that lies within the community and can be accessed by communication with members of the group.


A semi-structured interview is conducted with 5 people in our user group, each of which takes 30 minutes. They have a diverse background and experiences in the program. We hope to understand our users’ information seeking and communication habits.

Affinity Mapping

During our interviews, interviewees’ answers were recorded in text and audio and translated to digital text for review and application to a digital affinity map.

In the first draft of affinity map, we picked out informative points from our interview notes and organize them on post-its using an online collaboration tool, MURAL. Different colors of square posts indicate different interviewees. The blue posts indicate a rough category of all the information.

The first draft of affinity map has given us much insight into how HCI students communicate, collaborate, and seek /share information. However, the three categories, communication, collaboration and info-seeking are not clearly divided, thus making the affinity map ambiguous. We want to further analyzing the current data so as to find a narrower problem scope.

Based on the problem space, all the user needs could be treated as HCI students’ need for knowledge sharing (in a specific scope). There are many interfaces available for knowledge sharing: It could be face-to-face chatting with peers or meeting with professors; it could be a search engine; it could also be an IM or collaboration tool. Thus, our focus should be on providing a solution to help students achieve the maximum efficiency of knowledge sharing through an optimized utilization of these interfaces.

With this in mind, we re-organized the affinity map with three categories under the theme of knowledge sharing: needs, tendencies (of utilizing different interfaces), and frustrations.

From this affinity map we could have a clearer understanding of user’s behavior patterns. The following chart shows some important findings through this affinity map:

Knowledge Sharing Needs Current Tendencies Frustrations


  • Class assignments
  • Masters project
  • General HCI program questions
  • Projects
  • Local Infos
  • Social & Professional events
  • Course advising
  • Career advising


Some of the needs corresponds well with certain interfaces.
While still some needs have no predetermined or unclear sources.

  • The common platform (Slack) is disorganized, making it difficult to find,  retrieve or share information
  • Questions asked (in chat groups or Slack channels) are not answered in a timely manner due to inadequate exposure to right crowd
  • It is difficult to find info about courses
  • Using different IM products poses inconvenience


To learn more about our user groups’ needs and problems, we planned a survey to:

Verify HCI students’ knowledge sharing needs

Identify what platforms users currently use and prefer to use when sharing knowledge of particular topics

Measure satisfaction levels towards current knowledge sharing processes

In the secondary survey, we wanted to see if users had problems with Slack and if so, what those problems are, in case a feasible solution to our design problem will be most effective if distributed on an already-established communication method. We randomly sampled 33 MS-HCI students from the user group.

Empathy Map


Solution idea #1- Leveraging a current communication system

Many people prefer to ask questions online in a group (HCI currently uses Slack) but are unhappy with difficulty getting information. Interviews have suggested that Slack’s message/conversation structure is disorganized and spread across channels, and the user is given the task of finding the answers their peers post.

We propose a plug-in extension for Slack that imposes a visual hierarchy on messages using indentation and/or color to allow users to group related messages in an easy-to-read format (general design guidelines demonstrate a positive correlation between increased organization and readability/ease of use). This plug-in could also determine message visibility by relevance to the user based on a particular user’s activity and keywords.

Solution idea #2 - Connecting students with the faculty knowledge base

Three proposed solutions to bridge the communication gap between students and faculty/staff and fulfill users’ need for information from the faculty/staff knowledge base. A directory of colleagues related to HCI faculty/staff to answer student questions (left); a walk-up help desk staffed by volunteer second-year HCI students (middle); remote office hours with faculty via telephone.