Research, UX, Android and iOS UI



Walla is the solution to social isolation on college campuses. In my design role, I brought the product from conception to market release in 3 months, and designed the company logo.

It’s like Yik Yak but actually useful.
— Juan B.
I love how easy the app is to use and how accessible all of the events are. It really helps me find ways to be a part of the community without having to look everywhere...
— Melissa B.

The problem

An estimated 25% of American college students have a diagnosable mental illness, which are exacerbated by feelings of social isolation. In addition, many undergrads found it challenging to make meaningful connections the higher in college they went. We envision college communities where people feel empowered to make new connections, more easily, with the help of Walla.


Challenge: How do we create an accessible platform to prevent social isolation on college campuses? How do we initiate sustainable connections throughout college?




  • 🎉 Walla won $50,000 and 1st place at the 2016 Duke Startup Challenge! 
  • In a current users survey, ~92% reported that they were likely or very likely to recommend Walla to a friend
  • Walla is scheduled to expand to all North Carolina colleges as a social inclusion and college organization platform in 2017





1. Research and brainstorm solutions

The only way to know was to talk to our target users, so we set out have conversations with Duke students. We asked them various questions centered around the main three below. Here's what we found: 


The solution we came up with

With the key findings and concepts in mind, we brainstormed what we felt was the best solution: an iOS + Android mobile app for user-generated spontaneous social activities. Think of it as Meetup.com meets Yik Yak

Why this solution?

  • Spontaneous and low commitment 
  • Brings people with common interests together 
  • Users who attend activities are inherently willing to meet
  • Acts as a campus-wide social pulse for anyone who wants to know what's going on underground
  • At Duke, majority students have smartphones

Our goal is to ensure that no one has to be alone, as long as Walla is around. 


2. From concept to lofi

We started by making a function inventory, which we quickly converted into rough wireframes. After a design review, the team moved on to convert the wireframes into a working prototype so we could conduct usability testing.



3. Conversational usability testing

We organized a group of 100 participants to download the app and use it over the course of a two-day conference. To gather feedback, we engaged in conversations with users to see how the app affected their conference experience, and to identify usability problems. 

Over those two days, we had conversations with our users and uncovered these insights:

  • "Post activity" input field wording not directive and descriptive enough - users were confused about what to write. This resulted in a string of unstandardized activity posts with missing crucial information (time, location), which made meeting up difficult. 

  • "Holla Out" (Post Activity) wording confused everyone because it wasn't descriptive of what the screen is supposed to do


  • Text-heavy explanatory flyers and lack of contextual clues in the copy lead some users to be unsure of the purpose of the app; unsure what actions to take after downloading and opening the app for the 1st time

Moving forward, we understood that writing clearer copy was key so that users can orient themselves in the app. We also knew that we needed to Mad-Lib our input fields to clearly spell out what information posters need to provide. 


4. Hifi

4.5 Working with engineers interlude

I immediately started incorporating our major findings from the conference. Before our first post-conference iteration however, our team held a round table meeting to discuss a pressing issue: the apathy slump amongst the engineers.

I learned three things from this conversation: 

  1. People work at early-stage startups because they care about its mission.
  2. Because we all care, everyone who wants to be involved in the product creation/design should be involved.
  3. Everyone has value add to design - doesn't matter what your job title is. 

I had been making all the design decisions with the CEO, leaving engineering in the dark!

To combat the issue, we developed a speedy, egalitarian process to gather everyone's feedback and check build feasibility with the engineers. During this time, our team ruthlessly stripped out features to arrive at the MVP.

We had 3 of these speedy iterative rounds until our remaining questions could only be answered by our August release.



Final v1 - Joining and creating an activity


6. Improve and reiterate

After release, we noticed most activities were from individuals advertising their organizations' events. Interviews revealed that individuals feel nervous about hosting an activity alone, and that ~75% of those interviewed invite friends to go with them to Walla events.

Currently, Walla is taking this information and developing new features to respond to these needs. Stay tuned for updates!