Grad Studio

Project 4: UX Enculturation
November 2019 - December 2019
User Research + Experience Design

Project Overview

For the last project of the Fall 2019 semester, we have been given the task of designing an experience for incoming, first-semester UX Design students at Purdue. Our goal is to create an experience that enculturates new students and helps them become more familiar with the undergrad program's social practices.

The Design Process






We needed to understand how other orientation programs welcome new students and employees. 

  • Orientation programs tend to utilize a welcome box to promote a sense of belonging

  • The My Disney Experience utilizes Magic Bands that are personalized and are the main source of interactions throughout the park

  • Purdue's orientation program, Boiler Gold Rush, focuses on enculturation through learning about school resources, campus traditions, and Purdue's culture



We needed to understand the personal experiences that UX students faced during their first semester at Purdue

  • First-semester UX students don't quite understand what UX is yet

  • The UX Slack doesn't directly concern first-semester UX students, so they tend to disregard Slack altogether

  • UX students become comfortable and develop a strong culture once they begin working in projects with their cohort

  • A strong majority of first-semester UX students have yet to explore the UX studio space


Key Insights
  • A common fear with the UX callout is that most people already know each other (upperclassmen, faculty, etc)

  • A freshman is more likely to attend a large event, such as the UX callout, if they have a friend to go with

  • "Trust the system because everything will eventually fall into place"


To gain a deeper understanding of the problems in the first semester and how things changed from the first semester until now, in a retrospective and reflective manner. We asked them that looking back, what do they think were the gaps in the enculturation process and we then ideated on how those those areas could be addressed. 

Letter to a Freshman

We prompted our participants with an activity that would require them to write a letter of advice to a  first-semester freshmen student in UX. They were given 10 min to write this letter. After writing the letters, each participant discussed what they wrote about and what thoughts or experiences inspired it. After asking if it would be ok to keep the letters for research analysis, we collected them all and moved onto the next activity.

Journey Map Annotation

The second activity began with each participant sketching out their personal journey map throughout their first semester in the undergraduate UX program. Specifically, we requested our participants to highlight any pain points that they experienced during this time. This was an individual activity that began by each participant at their own whiteboard. After sketching out their personal timeline, the participants were given time to annotate their own pain points with opportunities for potential solutions. Afterward, we turned this into a collaborative activity. We would walk through each timeline, annotate it based on what the content was, and discuss the key insights.

  • An event called “professor roundtable” where new students can learn about the backgrounds of their UX faculty

  • Host an event with fun ice-breaking projects, like the “build a rocketship using only these materials” activity

  • Activities that are more focused on design thinking and less focused on icebreakers

  • 30-day design activity (a new design or sketch every day)



We had generated plenty of ideas that were influenced by our research. We decided to start narrowing down to a select set of activities that would be used to familiarize new students to UX.

Squiggle Bird

New students are asked to sketch an image of a bird. Users are deliberately limited to sketching on their touchscreens. When they are done with their sketching, an AI beautifies the image. The caption changes to “all sketches are amazing”. The goal is to convey an idea that students don’t need to be amazing sketch artists to be UX designers.

Badly Design a Good Design

New students will be given a good design of a simple object (like a cup) and will be asked to badly design it while keeping it usable. They will then upload their design to the app. A mentor will review their design and give feedback. They will then be encouraged to continue their discussion on slack. The goal is to encourage design thinking while also incorporate feedback about their design process from their mentor.

Design Fails

Students would walk around campus to identify designs that they think are bad. They would use an app to share their examples of bad designs. The app would contain an interactive map where students can place a pin for where a bad design would be located and other students can comment on it.

Design Fails

Go to a particular location with your mentor and observe and reflect on the design there. They will also take notes with them and record their observations. The goal is to interact with their mentors and other co-mentees. This activity also encourages note taking and reflection, which is also preps them for some aspects of UX practices.


After gathering feedback from other students and our professor, we realized that we were focusing on too many activities, all of which seemed disjointed. With this in mind, we decided to rescope and focus on building the experience around one activity. Our new focus was creating an experience that would be catered to the new UX students that normally wouldn't attend the UX callout.


Our Experience

After the feedback, we decided to rethink our design. We focused on having one informal activity instead of having 3. We also did away with an idea of an app entirely and instead focused on including the use of Slack. We also wanted to strengthen the relationship between the new students, student mentors, and faculty mentors. With these goals, we all then voted on the ‘Design Fails’ activity and began creating an experience including both digital and physical space.

This is the solution we came up with, with each step focusing on a different aspect of the problem:

Step #1

First off, every faculty mentor’s group would have their own event. All the updates for the event would be given on the mentees channel in the Purdue UX workspace.

Step #3

Each group will then go around the campus to some 4-5 hotspots marked on the map. Every hotspot would have a QR code that would tell more about the bad design. Upperclassmen will then instantiate discussions on why that particular location might be a bad design, encouraging students to think creatively about the design. They’ll also be encouraged to share their thoughts on a slack thread about the point of interest.

Step #2

On the day of the event, everyone in the same mentees group would meet up at the UX Studio space. They will have quick introductions before splitting up into small groups. Each group would be led by one or more upperclassmen.

Step #4

After their small trip ends, they will meet back at the studio for pizza and drinks, and write reflections on their day to submit it on Slack. This would also be an opportunity to informally talk to their faculty advisor. It’s assumed that students will want to ask their advisors on how to write a reflection, which will be a good topic of discussion between them and among the students.


We all loved working on this project for several reasons. We have all faced similar issues when we entered the field of User Experience. We also enjoyed that this project offered us a chance to interact with the fellow UX students in the department.


In this project, some of us did the co-design for the first time. It was a unique experience for us. Though, initially, it seemed to be a simple and easy exercise. But, organizing it took a significant amount of time and effort. Deciding on the activities was a challenging task. We had finalized two activities including ‘letter to self’ and ‘annotating the journey map.’ Later, after receiving feedback from our instructor, we changed the ‘letter to self’ activity to ‘letter to freshmen’. Here, we realized how a small change in activity could impact the kind of information we could get.

Another distinctive part of this project was making the use of journey map for identifying the touchpoints. It gave us a timeline view of users’ pain points and the possible opportunity areas for us to work on.


Finally, this project offered us a great learning opportunity. From conducting interviews, organizing co-design sessions, generating ideas and discarding them ruthlessly to making concept video and testing it. Above all, it was exciting to see the fruits of a good team effort.