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Examined how university students with ADHD can be better supported academically and socially through an 8-week user-centered design sprint, including surveys, semi-structured interviews, contextual inquiries, diary studies, rapid prototyping, and usability studies.

Product Designer • September - December '21 • Class Project



An increasing proportion of the adult U.S. population is being diagnosed with ADHD. Being diagnosed as an adult (as opposed to as a child) brings with it different challenges –  having lived your entire life with ADHD without a diagnosis often causes long term negative self-belief. Symptoms such as procrastination or the inability to focus compound into self-deteriorating feelings such as "I'm lazy" or "I'm a failure". Over time, such feelings can become root causes for anxiety, depression, and other severe mental health problems. 

Our team wanted to design a solution that would be  grounded in proven ADHD coaching techniques of self-understanding and self-reflection to help those recently diagnosed give themselves grace and challenge negative beliefs that are all too often a consequence of ADHD.


Role & Process

This was a 4-member group project for my User-Centered Design class with Dr. Julie Kientz. Over 8-weeks, we dived deep into our research question, synthesized our research findings,  prototyped ideas that best answered our design question, and evaluated the best idea through usability studies. Production of the solution was not in scope of this class but I hope to pick it up again in the following quarters. 

Our research question was: "How can a tool support university students with ADHD?", and our design question was: "How might we support adults recently diagnosed with ADHD build self-empathy?"

Semi-Structured Interviews,
Contextual Inquiries, & Diary Study

• We conducted 10 in-depth, 45-minute interviews over Zoom to allow enough time to cover as many life areas impacted by ADHD as possible.

• About half of the interviews involved contextual inquiries into the subject's surroundings to observe and understand their planning and coping strategies.

• We followed up with one interviewee for a Day In the Life Diary Study to further explore the cause and effects of certain prominent symptoms like negative self-belief and procrastination.

Ideation, Sketching, & Mid-fi Prototyping

• We refined our research question, defined our design question, and brainstormed potential solutions. Each member sketched and pitched 6 ideas to the rest of the team.

• Through rapid prototyping we developed mid-fi prototypes so we could do a quick validation check of our design direction.

Hi-Fi Prototyping & Usability Testing

We created high-fidelity prototypes and measured the effectiveness of the solution through in-person usability testing.

Surveys & Literature Review
We created a survey to (A) quickly locate potential interviewees who met the criteria of being university students formally diagnosed with ADHD, (B) who would be willing to participate in a 45-minute interview, and (C) gauge common problem areas to help inform the discussion guide. In parallel, we kicked off the literature review where we prioritized readings at the intersection of university students and ADHD

Research Synthesis & Design Goals
• We grouped our findings into (A) Problems Areas (that participants were facing due to ADHD) and (B) Solution Areas (that participants were using to cope with (A)).

• Our research suggested that certain ADHD symptoms such as procrastination and forgetfulness weren't just problem areas that our solution needed to address, but also obstacles that we needed to design for so that it’s easier for our users to introduce our solution into their lives. This prompted additional literature review on how to effectively build and introduce new habits and thus, shaped a majority of our design goals.

Heuristic Evaluations & Cognitive Walkthroughs
In the interest of time, we gathered qualitative feedback on our mid-fi prototypes through heuristic evaluations and cognitive walkthroughs with faculty and experienced usability study professionals.

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The result of this study was Empathyz, an app that allows users to focus on improving their quality of life with ADHD by building strong self-awareness of how ADHD affects them personally while simultaneously developing strategies and structures to implement into daily life. Additionally, users can be confident that the resources and information they are learning is backed up by peer-reviewed literature and research.

For a quick overview of the solution you can view our brief presentation, app demo, or play around with the prototype here. 

Here's the hi-fi prototype. It's interactive, so feel free to click around!

If the plug-in isn't loading or taking too long, click on the hyperlink above to access it instead.


Because of conflicting final exam schedules and the holiday break, we were unable to test our prototypes with all of our participants from the interviews. That said, all 3 of the interviewees and 13 of the 15 additional people that tested our prototype not only showed strong interest in using this solution to help better understand themselves and their their ADHD but also as a self-help tool to be more self-aware regardless of their ADHD.

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