Tell your story. Find your people.
Cultureclub is a storytelling platform for Third Culture Kids to share their stories and create a community, both digitally and in person.
Third Culture Kids (TCKs) are people who have spent their formative years in a culture that is different than that of their parents. As a use case, our project looks at American TCKs who grew up abroad - common examples are diplomat kids, military kids, missionary kids, or expat kids who move frequently due to their parents’ jobs. Research has shown that frequent transitions present challenges to TCKs, especially when they return to the U.S. for college.
Cultureclub is a mobile application that supports American TCKs returning to the U.S. for college by providing them with a platform to share their stories and connect over shared experiences.
Capstone projects are six-month explorations in design research, ideation and evaluation where the goal is to create a response to a design challenge. Projects are completed in teams of 3 to 4 and supported by an industry sponsor. Our team was very lucky to work with Dheyvi Velagapudi, the design director at Substantial. Cultureclub is the culminating project for our team, answering the following design challenge:
How might we help Third Culture Kids share their experiences so they feel less isolated when returning to the U.S. for college?
Although TCKs may seem well-adjusted to a high-mobility lifestyle, they experience difficulties when transitioning from one place to another. Repatriation back to their passport country often happens when TCKs go to college and is an especially difficult transition.
Our full research report can be viewed here.
Participants were recruited using a screener—which also served as a survey—shared in various places online. We received over 100 responses on the survey and were able to recruit 9 participants for the study. Sessions were held in person or over Skype. Since we received so many responses, this survey data also informed our insights.
With the interview, we aimed to build empathy with TCKs by hearing examples of their repatriation experience. We also gathered data on problem areas and existing forms of support, found trends in the TCK experience and determined how TCK experiences can vary.
The activity helped us understand the repatriation process in participants' own words and see how they viewed their own experiences. We asked the participant to tell us 3 stories relating to their background and the college transition: a positive experience, a negative experience, and a "wildcard" that could be any particularly resonant one.
Our research uncovered several issues in this process of transition, and our solution focuses on three insights: communication hurdles, identity struggles and the fact that stability for TCKs is often found in the form of relationships.
Due to their highly mobile upbringing and blended cultural values, TCKs feel alienated when they return and lack a perceptible community to empathize with their emotional transition.
TCKs struggle to talk about their experiences with non-TCK peers, and frequently edit their story to make social interactions easier.
For TCKs, the struggle with identity formation during college is compounded by conflicting cultural norms that surface during repatriation.
Relationships as Stability
Interpersonal relationships provide a sense of stability and emotional support, which is especially crucial in a life otherwise characterized by frequent change (culture, schools, locations).
Many participants had a sibling or other family member they communicated with frequently, especially in the beginning of the transition to college.
Participants 7 and 9 both had U.S. peers that helped them understand American culture when they returned for university.
In the initial phase, we used various techniques to come up with quick sketches of ideas, no matter how far fetched or unlikely. The goal was to generate a large variety of concepts, challenge our own assumptions and turn existing ideas on their heads. Here is a summary of the techniques we used:
Challenge Existing Assumptions
Linking Unrelated Concepts
Come Up With a Name First
Ideation Session with Our Project Sponsor
Crazy 8s sketching activity
ideation Session with Other Designers
“Exquisite Corpse”/Pass the Buck sketching activity + discussion
To make sense of the 100+ broad concepts generated from these activities, we organized them into themes—what was each concept broadly solving?—and laid the themes out across 2x2 matrices that represented opportunity spaces. This helped us craft three slightly more refined concept directions, outlined below.
The TCK Wearable
A wearable wrist band that enables TCKs to easily identify other TCKs and fist bump to easily share contact information, which is automatically sent to a connected application. The band provides TCKs with a sense of belonging through self-identification and facilitated conversation.
A TCK-specific application that matches incoming freshmen with college juniors who act as mentors. The application allows for communication between them and suggests activities and talking points. This mentorship provides TCKs with a slightly older mentor to help navigate the transition and make a connection with an individual with a similar background.
Nomadic Learning Program
A program that moves TCKs through four U.S. colleges during their first two years of university education. The program provides TCKs with a sense of belonging through a cohort of individuals with a similar background, raises awareness of TCKs to universities and embraces TCK qualities such as adaptation to high mobility lifestyles and the desire to keep moving.
Design Principles and Narrowing Further
To help us restructure our thinking and narrow further towards a concept direction, we went back to our research and outlined a new set of guiding design principles.
With these principles at the forefront, we took the most robust ideas and combined aspects from various concepts to propose two concept directions.
- Our solution should create a TCK community that is visible and accessible.
- Our solution should help TCKs even when they don’t know they need it.
- Our solution should facilitate communication between TCKs in times of social stress.
- Our solution should highlight the shared experience of repatriation.
- Our solution should provide TCKs with a foundation for self-reflective practices.
- Our solution should offer threaded support throughout the college years.
The Wearable Emotion Tracker
HOW IT WORKS
Wearable that tracks emotions throughout the day and pairs with a phone app to share and view others’ experiences.
Insight into TCKs' own emotions as they transition to college and support from others like you to build a sense of community.
Privacy, fidelity of current tracking technology to show difference between physiological changes and actual emotions
HOW IT WORKS
TCKs encounter hotspots near or on their college campuses that either prompt them to share a story or allow them to view and interact with stories other TCKs have left.
Gives TCKs a sense of place and belonging with others who share a similar experience to them but may not be physically close.
usefulness of hotspots in sharing stories, connecting TCKs to places and stories they care most about
With multiple feedback sessions and many more rounds of discussion, we yet again combined the strongest ideas from each concept in order to articulate a single idea into a testable prototype. Our focus was in creating a sense of belonging through storytelling as the strongest way for TCKs to ease in to the college transition, feel less alienated, and to gain a healthy sense of place that would help them adapt to their new surroundings.
The concept was for a mobile app that connects college-aged TCKs by allowing them to share stories and post responses to a daily prompt specific to TCK experiences. The app highlights users who have similar answers to the user's, and suggest matches based on shared experiences.
Sketch + InVision prototype
Evaluation Round 1: Paper Prototype
- Users sign in with Facebook.
- A user profile is pre-populated with information from Facebook (such as location, university, and current friends), and users can edit/add info.
- On the home feed, users see a daily prompt, paired with a related piece of external content below (in this case, an article from an online TCK magazine). They have the option to fill in the blank and share this completed sentence as a response…
- …or add a more in-depth story to the response before sharing.
- Then, users can see others’ responses to the prompt, and choose to interact with the posts by liking or commenting. A notification in the bottom right signifies they have pending matches.
- Users can view the shared experiences that led to a match…
- …and can then choose to connect on Facebook further by either sending a friend request or a message through Facebook messenger.
Insights from Testing
There is a current absence of TCK community, locally and virtually
Participants validated the need for a central place for TCKs to come together and share their experiences and see how other TCKs adjust to life in the U.S.
Users are interested in the application’s matching feature, but have different matching criteria
Participants expressed wanting more control over how they were matched with other users and some ways of searching for content relevant to their interests.
There is a desire for a local TCK community
All of our participants expressed a desire to know about other TCKs that were in their same university campus or city.
Evaluation Round 2: Click-Through Prototype
For our second round of prototype evaluations, we tested a click-through, low-fidelity prototype with five participants. The goal of the testing sessions was evaluative rather than generative. Sessions were focused on assessing task completion, with follow-up questions around the difficulty of the tasks and any thoughts around moments of confusion or mismatched expectations.
Insights from Testing
Current social media platforms are frustrating.
Their use is habitual, and the content is not meaningful. We should ensure we are providing meaningful content through relevant prompts and limited notifications.
Users weren’t sure what happens after you share a story.
This was true both in terms of where the story is shared and who is able to see it. Incorporate a clear visual language and take advantage of motion design to guide the user in their journey. Also, provide clear filters/options of who to share with. Another possibility: include more tutorial overlays and instructions where appropriate.
The “Matching” feature is confusing.
Rethink what “matching” criteria entails, and how current location comes into play (or not), and what happens when you “match.”
Cultureclub is a mobile app that connects college-aged TCKs by allowing them to share stories in response to daily prompts specific to TCK experiences.
How it Works
Daily prompts are fill-in-the-blanks. The user can answer with a short phrase or attach a longer story with media.
Stories in the feed are curated based on the user’s current city and cities they have lived in previously.
If the user designates an interest in meeting locally, the app will show local TCKs also interested in meeting.
Who it's For
Meet Andrea, and see how she uses Cultureclub.
How it's Different
Many existing social media platforms are cluttered with reposted and sponsored content that isn’t necessarily relevant to users. With Cultureclub, we wanted to create an app where stories are generated by community members and serve as a starting point for genuine connection and conversation.
Structured posting encourages users to share relevant stories and ask questions to the community. Content on Cultureclub is organized so that it is relevant: users can read stories from others who have lived in similar cities as them and connect over shared experiences. Fill-in-the-blank style prompts give users a place to reflect on their own experiences and makes user generated content consistent. Prompts span from lighthearted to more serious.
MEETING UP LOCALLY
Additionally, users can opt-in to meet other TCKs in their current city. Many students we spoke to felt like they were the only TCKs on their campus, but often times they are not alone. Cultureclub creates a space where a visible community can grow.
In summary, cultureclub is a mobile app that encourages Third Culture Kids to tell their stories and find their people. As the world becomes more and more globalized, we can learn from TCKs’ cross-cultural experiences, and strive to use technology to highlight what we all have in common, rather than what sets us apart.
Reflection and Looking Ahead
There are no set templates for design work.
Frameworks and methods will always be great starting points, but ultimately, part of being a designer is critically thinking about the problem at hand and coming up with the right methods to solve it. When you're stuck, look back at your research and rethink what you're trying to solve.
Externalization and documentation are critical.
Sometimes, an entire work day would go back and I'd think to myself—what did we actually do today? I knew we had worked hard, but what could I show for it? A lot of our work happened in long discussions in our office. Throughout the process, I tried to improve in externalizing our discussions and documenting important design decisions.
It's important to understand the phases of the design cycle.
Investigate, analyze, ideate, prototype, evaluate and repeat. Pretty straightforward, right? Beyond knowing the steps of this cycle, I found it critical to understand that each phase requires a different mindset. As a team, it's important to calibrate accordingly to each one in order to ask the right questions and give the right level of critique to keep the project moving forward.
When we put this concept in front of TCKs and experts, we received a very positive response. We are currently submitting a proposal to attend the Families in Global Transition Annual Conference in The Hague in March 2018 to present this work.
SOME THANK YOUs
This project was the result of months of dedicated work from my teammates, Emi MacLeod and Madison Zeller. Each of them taught me new skills, challenged my thinking and gave me thoughtful critique. The entire MHCI+D cohort, instructors and TAs were also instrumental in pushing our projects forward and helping us through, especially in times when we were in the dreaded "valley of despair." Lastly, I'd like to thank Dheyvi, our sponsor, for her time, guidance and encouragement.