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  • Role:

    UX/UI, Service Design, Prototyping, Research, Visual Design
  • Tools:

    Sketch, Illustrator, Lucidchart
  • Duration:

    4 months
  • Industry:

    Education
  • Type:

    Full-Time Design Contractor

From Paper to Progress: Revolutionizing Academic Petitions at UCLA


The University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), established in 1919, is a prestigious public research university located in Los Angeles, California, and holds the distinguished position of being the #1 Public University in the United States. For nearly a century, UCLA has embodied the spirit of a pioneer, persisting through impossibilities and transforming the futile into the attainable. It defies doubts, rejects the status quo, and perceives opportunities in dissatisfaction. The campus, faculty, and students of UCLA are fueled by optimism, contributing to the university's renowned academic excellence, diverse student body, and significant emphasis on research. Offering a broad spectrum of undergraduate, graduate, and professional degree programs spanning various disciplines, including the arts, sciences, engineering, business, and humanities, UCLA stands as a beacon of innovation. Its iconic architecture, featuring landmarks like Royce Hall and Powell Library, further adds to the university's distinctive character. In addition to academic pursuits, the UCLA Bruins, the university's athletic teams, compete in NCAA Division I sports, showcasing a robust athletic tradition.

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Academic Services Digital Overhaul

UCLA’s Graduate Studies Division launched a project with the objective of migrating all Academic Services paper processes to mobile-optimized web applications. I assumed a leadership role, spearheading the design of the second service web application, with a specific focus on the “Petition Forms” for graduate students.

In essence, the project aimed to establish a more efficient, user-friendly, and digitally optimized system tailored for managing graduate student petition forms and associated processes within UCLA’s Graduate Studies Academic Services Division.

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Academic Services for Graduate Students and Staff

The users of the Petition Forms application are Graduate Students who submit petitions and the Staff responsible for reviewing and approving these petitions. The workflow of the application follows a sequential process, where each petition can only advance to the next department once it has received approval from the preceding one. This mirrors the traditional flow of an actual paper process that requires signatures before progressing to the next department.

Upon receiving approval from the final department, Academic Services, the information is then forwarded to the registry for further processing.

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Roles and Responsibilities


Within the Graduate Studies Division, I served as a key member of the Technology Team, reporting directly to the Director of Technology and Data Analytics. In this capacity, I fostered extensive collaboration with Developers in the Information Technology (IT) department, facilitated by a dedicated Project Manager. Additionally, I maintained direct connections with the Academic Services department, responsible for processing paper applications.

To optimize project efficiency, we implemented usability testing at the prototype level. This strategic decision not only saved significant time but also conserved valuable resources, especially as this testing phase occurred prior to actual development. By evaluating user interactions and feedback early in the process, we could make informed refinements, ensuring the final web application met the needs and expectations of both Graduate Students and Academic Services.

Scopes and Constraints


The challenges encompassed joining the team during a shift to remote work, seamlessly integrating, and achieving substantial progress within tight deadlines. It necessitated a swift understanding of existing, often intricate processes, translating them into user-centric experiences. Furthermore, budget constraints for the department posed a continual limitation throughout the project.

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Unveiling the Challenges of Outdated Processes

In delving into the user experience landscape at UCLA’s Graduate Studies Division, a series of challenges emerged, highlighting the need for a transformative shift in the existing academic processes. The persistence of outdated paper-based procedures posed significant hurdles for students, from cumbersome navigation through sequential approvals to the challenge of locating often-inaccessible academic staff members. Redundant information gathering and the absence of case customization mechanisms further added layers of inefficiency. Notably, the manual review and approval process imposed a substantial burden on staff members, creating delays and requiring additional efforts. This exploration underscores the imperative for a streamlined, digital solution to revolutionize and enhance the academic petitioning experience for both students and staff within UCLA’s Graduate Studies Division.

Navigating physical paperwork is a cumbersome process for students, requiring them to locate, fill out, and physically carry petition forms through a sequential approval process involving Student Affairs Officers, department chairs, and academic services before submission to the Registrar’s Office.

Tracking down the necessary authorities on campus for approvals is a challenge, compounded by their physical unavailability and potential busy schedules, leading to delays in the overall process.

Cumbersome forms prompt students to redundantly provide information already available in the database, such as name, email, phone, and academic details, causing inefficiency and unnecessary duplication of effort.

The paper process lacks the ability to tailor petitions based on individual student eligibility criteria. This absence of filtering mechanisms results in a time-consuming process for both students and staff, as each case requires individualized consideration.

Staff members are burdened with the task of manually reviewing and approving/denying petition submissions. After evaluation, the forms must be returned to students for subsequent approvals, necessitating additional efforts in tracking down individuals for form completion.

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Transformative Solutions for Academic Efficiency

In response to the challenges posed by outdated paper processes, our innovative solutions represent a significant leap towards a more streamlined and efficient academic experience. This section outlines five key initiatives designed to seamlessly transition from traditional paperwork, enhance staff accessibility, optimize form completion, personalize eligibility filtering, and revolutionize the approval process. These solutions collectively aim to foster a user-friendly and efficient environment within UCLA’s Graduate Studies Division, aligning with the division’s commitment to academic excellence.

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A Comprehensive Exploration of the Web Flow

Strategic Entry Points

Explore the user-friendly entry points designed to cater to the diverse needs of both students and staff members, ensuring a seamless and intuitive onboarding experience.


Dynamic Pathways for Varied Users

Understand the intricacies of the split pathways within the web flow, tailored to the distinct roles and responsibilities of students and staff, accommodating different majors and ensuring a personalized journey.


Efficient Form Navigation

Delve into the streamlined architecture of the Petition Forms, mapping out each form’s unique requirements and the underlying backend databases that dynamically prepopulate fields, minimizing manual input and maximizing efficiency.


Architectural Brilliance

Gain insights into the architectural design that underpins the new web flow, fostering an environment where petition submissions are optimized for speed, accuracy, and a user-centric experience.

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Enhancing User Experience Through Iterative Sessions

During the testing phase, ten graduate students participated in user sessions where they navigated through the prototype, providing valuable insights. As the moderator, a predefined script guided the sessions, ensuring a systematic evaluation of the web application’s usability. The majority of students expressed positive opinions about the app’s functionality, citing improvements in efficiency and accessibility. However, specific comments highlighted areas for refinement:

User Feedback

Understanding Petitions

Some participants mentioned confusion about the purpose of petitions. Addressing this, we added clear, concise descriptions to guide users, ensuring a better understanding of each petition’s intent.


Clarifying Input Expectations

A couple of testers were initially perplexed by the lack of input fields. In response, we revised the language in the form to explicitly instruct users to provide minimal information when applicable or simply confirm details, streamlining the form-filling process.

“The web app is a game-changer. I did struggle a bit with understanding the petitions, but the added descriptions really made things clear. It’s much smoother now.”
Sarah Miller
Master of Fine Arts in Film Production
“Initially, I was ready to fill out a detailed form, and the lack of input threw me off. The revised language makes it clear that I only need to confirm or provide minimal information. Much better!”
David Chen
Doctor of Education in Educational Leadership
“I love how the web app addresses the issues we faced with physical forms. It's a relief not to deal with those problems anymore.”
Carlos Martinez
Master of Business Administration (MBA)

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  • 01

    A Seamless Transition from Paper to Efficiency

Web Application


Revolutionizing the outdated paper-based procedures, we introduced a mobile-friendly web application that streamlines the petition submission process. Through this digital platform, students can effortlessly upload their petitions, and the staff can seamlessly review and approve them. The online system mirrors the existing sequential approval process involving Student Affairs Officers, department chairs, and academic services, ensuring a smooth transition from the traditional paper process to a more efficient and accessible digital solution that delivers the final outcome to the Registrar's Office.

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    Effortless Staff Access

Staff administration


The web application streamlines the accessibility of academic staff by creating an admin section for petition management. Staff members can efficiently review and approve petitions through this centralized platform. Once approved, the system automatically forwards the petition to the next designated staff member for further review, eliminating the need for students to physically seek staff approval and ensuring a swift and seamless workflow without unnecessary delays.

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    Effortless Form Completion with Streamlined Login and Backend Optimization

Forms with minimum manual input


Introducing a streamlined solution, students now log in with their credentials, and the system identifies their unique ID number, enabling efficient retrieval of all relevant information from the database. Through backend pre-population, user input is minimized, slashing the need for manual typing by an impressive 99%. This enhancement simplifies the form submission process, ensuring a swift and user-friendly experience.

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    Tailoring Solutions with Personalized Eligibility Filtering

Personalized form options


Empowering a personalized approach, the system leverages students' unique ID numbers to filter and assess their eligibility for specific petitions. This tailored approach streamlines the submission process by automatically filtering out petitions that don't align with individual student requirements, ensuring a more efficient and customized experience for both students and staff.

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    Enhancing Efficiency with Real-Time Approval, Communication and Status Tracking

Submission status tracker


Revolutionizing the review and approval process, staff members now have the capability to efficiently review petitions, provide comments, and communicate directly with students through email—all within the system. The introduction of a status tracker eliminates uncertainty by transparently displaying the exact stage of each submission, enhancing communication and expediting the entire approval workflow.

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Outcomes: Metrics, Reflections, and Insights

The journey from paper to progress in UCLA’s Graduate Studies Division marked a transformative chapter in academic processes. The measurable outcomes, insightful retrospections, and invaluable lessons learned illuminate the project’s impact.

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Metrics and Achievements


Efficiency Gains

The mobile-friendly web application ushered in substantial efficiency gains. The streamlined petition submission process reduced the time required for approvals, enhancing overall workflow efficiency by 30%.

User Satisfaction

Post-implementation surveys revealed a significant uptick in user satisfaction, with 85% of surveyed graduate students expressing positive sentiments about the new digital solution.

Retrospective Reflections


Clarity Through Descriptions

The addition of clear, concise descriptions in response to user feedback proved pivotal. Understanding the purpose of petitions became more straightforward, enhancing user comprehension.

Streamlining Form-Filling

Early confusion about the lack of input fields guided a crucial refinement in form language. The revised instructions alleviated user perplexity, contributing to a more user-friendly experience.

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Lessons Learned


1. Addressing User Perceptions

The project emphasized the importance of aligning user perceptions with digital innovations. Clear communication through descriptions and form language proved instrumental in managing user expectations.

2. Iterative Testing is Key

The iterative testing approach, conducted early in the design phase, emerged as a game-changer. Identifying user preferences and challenges at this stage significantly reduced development costs and ensured a user-centric final product.

3. Balancing Efficiency and Information

Achieving a 99% reduction in manual typing underscored the significance of backend optimization. However, maintaining a delicate balance between efficiency and providing necessary information remains paramount for user satisfaction.

 

Conclusion


The UCLA Grad Studies Web App for Academic Services stands not only as a technological advancement but as a testament to adaptability and progress. It successfully addressed longstanding challenges, enhancing the academic experience for both students and staff. The project's success rests not just on technological solutions but on a commitment to understanding user needs, responding to feedback, and embracing the evolving landscape of digital transformation. As we close this chapter, the lessons learned pave the way for future endeavors, where user-centric design and efficient workflows continue to drive academic innovations.