Jeffrey Skinner

College Search

Where ya headed?

Information Architecture
Visual Design
User Testing


In 2010, the web team at ACT was asked to develop a mobile app to help connect our student audience to our company’s services. Working with one of our developers, we led discovery sessions with stakeholders to determine a feature set for our first release. Wanting to keep the app as focused as possible, we decided that the best solution was to create two separate applications, College Search and ACT Student.

We set out to create the college search application first and determined that since our target audience was high school students ages 15-18, the largest platform would be iOS due to the large number of students that would have an iPod Touch if not an iPhone.


Knowing that we would be addressing the Android platform later in our roadmap, we wanted to choose a development platform that would be flexible enough to publish to both. After researching, downloading, and testing (PhoneGap, Rho, Sencha, and various others) we ultimately decided on Appcelerator’s Titanium. We found the javascript back-end language easy enough for a designer such as myself to quickly set up a wireframe for an app, and the developer to add in the necessary hooks.

With our development platform decided upon, we called in other web team members to help do preliminary design sketches. After a quick few days, we had the basic tenets of our app in place. With some rudimentary styling and our database loaded, we asked our UX manager to help set up a user study at a local high school.

Armed with a bandolier of iPod Touches, we interviewed 10 high school students and performed a few UX exercises to help us understand the importance of some of the facets in our college search. After we learned as much as we could through questions and answers, we set out to observe the students using our app as they followed a script of tasks.

Some things that we learned

  • Our app seemed easy enough to use even for students that hadn’t used iOS before
  • They could type REALLY fast
  • A feature that we thought would be important to them (How close the school was to their friend’s choices) was decidedly not.

With this testing, we headed back to finishing the project, adding in the final visual flourishes, squashing bugs and optimizing for speed.

In under 3 months, with no prior knowledge on how to build an app for iOS, we helped ACT deliver its first foray into the mobile world. A few short weeks later, the app was named an App Store Staff Favorite in Education.

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