When students graduate high school and go to college, they leave behind their social support systems and their families. This is both an exciting and anxiety producing time in life, where they are trying new things and meeting new people. I’m designing a mobile product that will support this lifestyle transition, and help college students explore who they are and who they would like to become.

The above is my thesis project in a nutshell. It has gone through an evolutionary process since last May, when it was merely a seed of my desire to explore identity and products. I chose college freshmen because they going through an intense period of identity formation, one of my advisors had been working with college freshmen and had a continued interest in the group, and they were easily accessible.

“Problem setting is a process in which, interactively, we name the things to which we will attend and frame the context in which we will attend to them.” —The Reflective Practitioner

Choosing a target group without really having an idea of a problem has been an interesting challenge. It’s a stark contrast to my work with diabetics over the summer with Adaptive Path where there were some obvious and critical problems. With college freshmen, I’ve found that while they do have some pain points, their problems, in general, aren’t that critical. They manage to make friends, discover activities, spend lots of time on Facebook, and occasionally go to class.

“We create problems and solutions at the same time and in parallel, in a process where they coevolve.”
Thoughtful Interaction Design

So my challenge has been trying to articulate the problem I’m trying to solve, which has led me to ask “What is a problem?” Do you need a problem to start designing a yet to be realized preferred state?