Degree Map

Role: Lead designer in cross-functional Agile team.

Project Summary

Degree Map is part of a holistic academic planning solution that aims to increase the rate of graduation for students attending Indiana University. This particular tool provides students with an accessible and accurate list of course requirements they need to complete a specific degree.


Interviews and surveys were used to collect feedback from students to better understand their planning habit. Especially for students who have a declared major, we wanted to understand how they are tracking their progress towards graduation from a term-to-term basis.

Prior to the deployment of this tool, students were mostly planning from paper or spreadsheets. Using information obtained from departmental website, and planning template from advisors, students had to piece together the puzzle in their road towards graduation.


While there is information available for specific degrees and the course requirements, they are not easily accessible and are scattered across the IU systems where some of them are inaccurate or out-of-date. This leaves a lot of opportunities for the students to be misinformed.

Advisors are available as the fail-safe to verify some of the information. However, given the large number of advisees per advisors (e.g. some advisors are assigned with several hundreds of students), mistakes do happen. This produces two consequence, 1) students cannot graduate on time because they are being misinformed, or 2) the increasing lack of trust from the students in the system.


With the above insights, the first step is to map the needs of the students with the information that will be provided to them from the system. Utilizing data that were gathered from research conducted previously, I created a list of things that the students were looking for in a Degree planning tool. These include:

    – Explicitly indicate the courses for a specific major, and when it needed to be taken
    – Provide an accurate listing of courses related to an elective
    – The ability to easily add courses to their plan
    – The ability to track the progress of their degree based on the courses they have taken

As well as a list of information that the stakeholder and I have agreed on:

    – Display minimum grade needed for courses to be counted towards graduation
    – Include information such as financial aid, and descriptions
    – Ability to perform actions on the courses so that they may be linked with other tools in the ecosystem

Based on the mapping of these two sets of information, I started working on the process flow for user coming into this application. That was followed by ideating and coming up with concepts that would address the needs from both sides.

This started with sketching of high-level ideas, such as using placeholders to house listing of courses, and using of iconography to identify specific types of courses. And over time, through feedback loops, the layout and structure start to take form. By leveraging a mobile-first approach, the design is responsive from mobile upward.

Initial design of degree map.

Process flow for degree map.

Display search result of degree maps.

Example of individual degree map, Psychology.

A way to handle course list for degree map’s course requirements.

Some of the challenges in the process involves data that have not been updated in years, as well as navigating the different needs and expectation of stakeholders in a multi-campus university.


With twice a week feedback loop with various stakeholder and team members, we arrived at a concept that addresses the needs for both the administrators and the students.

User Testing – with Advisors and Students

Initially, the degree map is used by the administrators (e.g. advisors) to be used as a source of reference when discussing academic career with students. Through ethnography, where we sat in in advising sessions during new student orientation, we were able to observe how advisor is using this tool. This provided insights to how the tool fits in advising holistically, and understand any deficiencies that needed to be addressed.

The next iteration of the application is more interactive, which allows our user — the students, to use Degree Map in the context of the academic planning tools we have made available to them. This includes searching for courses, term-to-term planning, building of schedules, and evaluation of degree completion.

This was conducted through observing how students are using the suite of tools during orientations, as well as setting up formal usability testing sessions where we invite students to go through a set of predefined tasks that involves multiple components of the planning tools.

This process led to an interesting finding that led to a review of our component library, and to come up with a new design pattern to streamline the use of multiple devices during a planning session.

Beyond Shipping – Continuous Iterations

Beyond the delivery of the initial product, the design is continuously improved as we continue to conduct guerrilla user research as well as observing actual use. The design is now more coherent both visually and interactively.