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Design for Complexity

Exploring and Designing for Newcomers' Information Challenges

Project Brief

New international students face difficulties in gathering and processing the vast amount of information they receive before and after arriving at a new university. Cultural transitions and language barriers further compound the problem.


The goal of the project was to facilitate the process of information gathering for new international students who face difficulties in processing the vast amount of information they receive before and after arriving at a new university. The project aimed to simplify and organize the flow of information to create a more pleasant experience for international graduate newcomers to Edmonton.


The project highlights the importance of human-centered design and user research in developing solutions that address the needs and preferences of the target audience.


Research process

  1. Conducted a review of the policy of the international university to facilitate settlement and the University of Alberta strategies, as well as explored international students' problems.

  2. Reviewed literature related to newcomers, settling challenges, and information visualization to gain a better understanding of the issues faced by international students.

  3. Conducted sets of interviews with first-year graduate students, an advisor, and an international center advisor at the University of Alberta to empathize with them and gather data.

  4. Conducted focus group activity with students.

  5. Ideated based on observations and data gathered from previous steps, ultimately selecting an interactive PDF as the best solution.

  6. Developed a low-fidelity prototype to evaluate the best media and tested it with the target group.

  7. Gathered feedback from the target group about the designed information sheet to identify areas of improvement.

  8. Redesigned the information sheet, engaging in an iterative process of improvement until the final design was achieved.​


A qualitative method was used to conduct generative techniques, which included:

  • sets of cards with open questions

  • an interview based on a card sorting activity with 10 grad students

  • an interview based on a card sorting activity with a grad advisor

  • a storyboard.

The sets of cards with open questions were used to guide the interview and gather data. A card sorting activity was conducted during the interview to prioritize the cards and identify the most important information for international students. A storyboard was created to visualize the process of settling in Edmonton and identify the information needs of international students.

The data collected from the interviews, card sorting activity, and storyboard were analyzed using an affinity diagram.


This approach was used to identify patterns and group similar data points together. The prioritized cards by students were placed on one side, while the cards prioritized by the advisor were placed on the other side to compare how and where they were similar and different in the priority of information.

Design Process

The design process involved analyzing research findings to generate ideas that addressed the identified needs and preferences of international students. Seven main categories were recognized as essential information: Housing, Connections, Identification Cards, Finances, Transportation, Shopping, and Weather.

The design process was iterative and collaborative, involving pilot studies and feedback gathering from the target audience and stakeholders from various departments at the University of Alberta. 


The project successfully addressed the identified needs of international students by providing a comprehensive report of research findings, a design solution, and a prototype. The design streamlined the flow of information and presented it in a clear, concise, and culturally sensitive format.

Two versions of the final design were developed: an interactive PDF with active links to relevant website pages and a printed version with links provided at the side. The visual information sheet was user-friendly, accessible, and organized for quick and efficient access to necessary information.

The printed version of the design is being used by the international center at the University of Alberta for newcomers in fall and winter, while some departments are distributing the interactive PDF version to new graduate students. Overall, the project achieved its goal of facilitating the process of information gathering for new international students.

Compliments by users: Feedback on the Outcome

"The sheet is so well designed and is very informative. That would be very helpful for all incoming students such as myself. Many thanks again!"

“ I love it! I still keep it [the printed version of the information sheet] after 6 months of joining this university.”

Set of Cards - Designed a Set of 12 Cards for the Research Process Based on Literature Review and Personal Experience.

User Study - Card Sorting Activity.

User Study - Storyboard Activity.

User Study - User Prioritization of Information: Insights from Interviews.

User Study -Focus Group and Discussion with Users.

User Study - Graduate Advisor Prioritization of Information and Interview.

The Printed Version: Final Design Outcome for International Graduate Student Information Sheet

Destibuted Design Solution- New International Graduate Students Welcoming Event Included with the Campus Check-In Materials at University of Alberta, 2018

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