My recent work
LinkUp is a social networking app for Android that I built with the Ja++ team. It gained ~1300 users in a niche market. In my first time doing end-to-end experience design, I designed the entire user experience and interface, developed the front-end and back-end of the Android app and led the onboarding, engagement and retention efforts.
categoryAbout the project
In 2015, I teamed up with two friends to define a problem faced by college students in Jamaica that could be uniquely solved through technology. We discovered that students were dissatisfied with their social experience on campus and that this was caused by the absence of effective channels for communication. We decided to work on improving students' social experience by providing a tool for event management, open conversations and personal profiles at the University of the West Indies (UWI).
peopleTeam & role
I was the product designer and full-stack developer. I collaborated with Alex Powell and Kareem Panton for the entire end-to-end experience which included problem definition, user research, UX design, app development, marketing, onboarding, engagement and retention. We communicated via Slack and used Asana for project management. We had departmental meetings three times a week with daily stand-up meetings.
Product Discovery
We conducted about a dozen phone interviews with individuals in our personal networks that were either enrolled students or recent alumni to find pain points in the university experience. Some of the questions we asked:
  • Could you walk me through a typical day for you at UWI?
  • What's the hardest part of your day?
  • What consumes the most time of your day at UWI?
  • What causes the most frustration for you at UWI?
  • What are you currently doing to solve those problems?
  • Are you using any tools/technology to solve those problems?
  • What is UWI missing that you expected from your university experience?
  • If you had a magic wand, what would you do to improve your university experience?
The Problem
The interviewees touched on various problems such as public transporation, access to eateries and administrative inefficiencies but the problem most mentioned was that students wanted more from their social experience at UWI. They felt disconnected from their peers outside the classroom and were not able to stay updated on campus events, news, and happenings. Through needfinding techniques, we were able to identify that students lacked a sense of cultural identity within the context of the university. As a result, we defined our goal: to ship a mobile app for event management, open conversations about campus life and personal profiles.
Audience & User Segments
We defined our audience as UWI students ages 18-35 and divided them into two user segments: students and student group leaders. Students would use LinkUp to be notified of events, for open conversation with peers and personal profile management while group leaders would use LinkUp for event management and public relations. A third segment, separate from the others, was defined as off-campus businesses who could use LinkUp to market their events and products/services to students.
  • Interested in the happenings within their community
  • Curious about off-campus life
  • Looking to get more connected with their community
Student Groups
  • Students in leadership positions in an extra-curricular group
  • Aiming to increase group visibility and gain larger support for their event-programming efforts
Off-Campus Businesses
  • Interested in targeting students for sales of goods/services
  • Event promotion for parties/clubs
Competitive Analysis
We used Eventbrite and Reddit as mock competitors since major, local competitors were few and had not found product/market fit. We discovered other event management apps in the local space (Jamaica and the Caribbean) and studied their user experience design, marketing strategies and engagement patterns.
Wireframing & Paper Prototyping
I sketched paper prototypes of the main features to allow for early testing of the user experience and to provide visual direction for future mockups. We asked college students to pretend this was a real app and to think aloud as they walked us through how they would use it. Tasks included:
  • Walk me through how you would select an event to attend.
  • Walk me through how you would start a conversation with your peers.
  • Walk me through how you would find out if your classmate is attending the cricket match.
In order to prioritize the social experience, we decided to include photos of people who started conversations and event attendees. While scrolling through events, we wanted users to have all key event information on the card without having to click-through.
Medium Fidelity Mockups
Using the tested wireframes and taking inspiration from the competitive analysis, material design and design trends in similar apps in the same space, I designed medium-fidelity mockups using Sketch and Photoshop. Through testing, the mockups went through numerous iterations, improving visual design and the user experience. A few examples of decisions borne through testing include putting attendees first, including event descriptions and options for sharing.
Full-stack Development
Using Android Studio (Java), the mockups and brand guidelines, I built LinkUp from the ground up. Having a solid foundation in computer science, I was able to learn Android development using Google's documentation and troubleshooting on Stack Overflow.

A few problems came up during development that could have been avoided if there was more research done at the design phase. For example, bottom tabs were an iOS convention, not Android and subsequently, too many hours were spent trying to get those tabs to work. The mockups we designed placed tabs at the bottom of the screen but the Android Developer documentation advised against this. Instead, developers were encouraged to use a side menu because there was more support for it.
I built the backend using the BaaS, Parse. I had little experience building backends using AWS or similar services so Parse was a great option since it hid away the complexities, allowing me to focus on higher level problems. Using data stored by Parse, we were also able to have some idea about whether or not the user experience was effective.
Problems Faced Post-Launch
After release we noticed that while we were getting numerous installs, engagement and retention needed a lot of improvement in order for us to find product/market fit. A few of the problems we observed were:
  • Users would install then look through events but not use other parts of the app.
  • Users would read conversations but not contribute to the discussion.
  • Users would install the app and open it but not sign up.
Although we had our hypotheses, we determined that there were flaws in the UX that we needed to reveal through further research and testing.
User Research
We conducted a total of over 100 interviews in person, over the phone and through online surveys. For this phase of testing we met users on their turf for interviews at a restaurant on campus. For compensation we provided entry into a raffle for lunch on us. We sat with our actual users, watched them use the app and asked them questions about their experience. Some of the questions we asked included:
  • What problems in your everyday university life does LinkUp solve for you?
  • What's the hardest part of using LinkUp?
  • Have you participated in a conversation using LinkUp? If not, why?
  • What would encourage you to use LinkUp more often?
  • If you had a magic wand that could do anything to the app, no matter how technical or complex, what would you change about LinkUp?
  • What would make you uninstall LinkUp?
What we learned
Design insights
Users would install LinkUp but then abandon the sign up process because they didn't want to share personal information; they didn't think they should be required to create a public profile just to view events on campus.
Allow access to some app features without having to sign up and block some of the more useful ones to improve incentive to convert.
Users would open the app for the first time and were not sure what to do because there were too many options.
Improve the user flow after sign up. Improve the onboarding process by making the value proposition clear before/during sign up.
Some users weren't participating in conversations because they didn't want their names tied to what they posted.
Provide a way for users to have the option of anonymity.
Lean Startup; Metrics & Analytics
At this point, our CEO, Alex, introduced us to the Lean Startup and using the methodology it outlined (hypotheses; iterating the product; learning through metrics and analytics) we took a new approach to the product. Having realized the problems above, we needed a way to keep track of whether or not the design solutions we created based on our insights were effective in solving them. We decided to use Clevertap to run analytics; we kept track of events, collected demographic data and created funnels such as "User Skipped Sign Up → Viewed Events → Opened a Conversation → Created a Post".
How We Tackled Onboarding, Engagement & Retention Problems
Here are a few of the attempts we designed to solve the issues discovered above.
Anonymity to give users freedom to add content without tying it to their real names.
Encouraging the users to choose a path after sign up and making app functions clear.
Value proposition during sign up to improve the onboarding process.
Other ideas included:
  • Creating multiple fake accounts to chat with users in their conversations (stole this idea from Reddit).

  • Sending push notifications to users when others engage with their content to nudge them into a positive feedback loop.
We ran advertising campaigns through Google, Facebook/Instagram and Twitter. We also did a lot of on-campus marketing during New Student Orientation and with our team of brand ambassadors. Campaigns were done not only for growth but also to provide opportunities to collect data to improve the user experience. Here is a selection of the content I designed with the goal of driving up installs and engagement.
LinkUp Official Release
Here you'll find a link to the play store release.
Why LinkUp Failed: Lessons Learned & Pivot
Despite our continuous efforts at improving engagement, retention and marketing we were not able to find product/market fit after a year. Users would express strong interest in the app and the problem it solved but didn't follow through with making use of it. Social media is a difficult space to break into and our solution and approach didn't have the right feedback loop to keep users coming back or spark virality in the university network. Here are a few lessons we learned from the experience.
  • I don't think we did enough user research during the product discovery phase. We didn't speak with enough university students and didn't spend enough time performing thorough needfinding at the early stages.

  • We should have started with a lean startup approach from inception.

  • I should have spent more time testing at every step of the design phase and done due diligence with researching if sections I designed could be feasibly built in Android.

  • We should have collaborated more with the startup and business communities in Jamaica to learn how to configure our business approaches to fit the culture of the local market.
With lots of passion and team synergy remaining, as well as the extensive skill sets we developed in product design, development, marketing, project management, user research and customer relationship management, the team pivoted to Ja++, a digital strategy consulting firm. Today we help Jamaican businesses improve their online presence and better serve their customers through web design, social media, SEO and analytics.
Other projects
UX Design
Product Design
Visual Design