School-Work-Life Balance for a Student in Quarantine: A UX Case Study

Words by Avery Maxine B. Chan
Words by Avery Maxine B. Chan

Helping college students find balance during quarantine

During my 3-month internship at On-Off Group — in between the client work and workshops— I also had the chance to start my own UX project. I chose a topic very relevant to me as someone who is balancing university academics, org work, and an internship. I began to treat this as my passion project! I got to go through the whole UX research and design process—from scoping the problem and interviewing users, to making a prototype and iterating on the feedback I received.  I created “Sensing Day”, an app that integrates your schedule, self-care, and personal growth, all in one.

The Problem

Universities started shifting to online learning in response to COVID-19 in March 2020. It has been a difficult time for everyone, from students, teachers, and staff, as well as the families of these stakeholders. Dealing with the ‘new normal’ and being able to reach goals—like staying productive or graduating from college—has demanded greater time and effort.

For students, there have been many difficulties in adapting to this new kind of learning due to the logistical and emotional challenges of online classes. On top of this, some students have internships and organization work while others have many pressing responsibilities at home, not to mention the difficult household conditions that may get in the way of online learning. The separation between work, school, and personal life has diminished greatly. Students lack the social interaction and support that helped them manage stress in the time of onsite classes.

As a college student myself, I have tried many different approaches to improving my school-work-life balance. Despite best efforts, it’s still a tough time for myself and for so many others. The cost of this struggle often is the deteriorating state of our mental health and lack of personal time. While I can’t directly change school policies or affect bigger systemic issues alone, I want to be able to help students cope and find time for themselves.

As such, I used the Human-Centered Design framework of ‘How Might We’ to reframe this problem:

How Might We… provide an avenue for college students to manage their responsibilities while taking care of themselves?

The Research Objectives

I wanted to look into a solution that could encourage students to manage their responsibilities while taking breaks, prioritizing their mindfulness and self-care, and avoiding toxic productivity. The expected outcome of this project is to help reduce the stress that many college students have been facing.

I summarized these into the following key objectives for this study:

The Interviews

I conducted interviews with 10 college students to learn about their experiences with online learning and other responsibilities in quarantine, and how they cope.

To screen my participants, all of them must fit the following:

My final participant pool consisted of second or third-year college students who are 19-21 years old. All of them are pursuing an undergraduate degree and have taken at least one online class this school term. Some have academics and household/family commitments, while others have extra-curricular activities like organizations or ventures outside of school such as online businesses or freelance gigs. Having this varied user base allowed me to gather  a wide range of perspectives on how college students are dealing with the current pandemic and work-/school-from-home set-up.

The Research Findings

I grouped the data together into an ‘Affinity Diagram’ through the digital whiteboard platform, Miro.

Affinity diagram for baseline interview findings using Miro
Affinity diagram for baseline interview findings using Miro

Academics are the first priority for most of the interviewees with family and organization work following after. The interviews revealed that their top problems with online classes are the pacing and workload (giving this a 6.8 satisfaction rating out of 10) as not all classes have been adapted to be taught well online after the first or summer term of online classes.

One participant said: “I'm not learning anymore. I feel like it's so rushed now. My focus wasn't on learning but on getting things done as fast as I can.” Among my ten interviewees, eight preferred in-person classes over online, partly because they miss the social aspect as well.

In relation to the problem of pacing and workload, these students often have to sacrifice their free time, family time, or emotional health just to keep up. Some mentioned the concept of ‘toxic productivity’ —that they always feel like they have to be doing something, and end up feeling guilty when they take the time to rest. The struggle comes to a head when their responsibilities overlap; they feel overwhelmed and constantly pressured to still perform well.

Overall, these college students want time for themselves and reassurance that they’re making progress, but it’s difficult to find that balance because of their responsibilities in the online learning setup.

The Personas

Given these initial interview findings, I came up with three personas to represent the types of college students coping with their various responsibilities in quarantine. ‘Persona creation’ is a UX method used to humanize the findings from the interviews by placing a name and person to the results and insights. I developed three personas:

Go-Getter Gianna, who thrives on productivity and enjoys being busy, but feels guilty when they rest. The Go-Getter wants to find new ways to cope but if they get too busy then personal time is the first activity that gets compromised.

02 Persona 1.png

Chill Cara, who enjoys having their own time and doesn’t enjoy the pressure. They’re still learning how to manage their time and they don’t know how to handle stress productively.


And lastly, Worrier Joaquin, whose stressors are more external—from their learning environment at home and COVID-related anxiety, to the state of the Philippine government. On top of his academics, his stress mainly revolves around what he cannot control, which isn’t helping him get into a better headspace.


I began to ideate on solution features with these personas in mind. Although I did not specifically pick one out of the three personas to focus on, I had initially felt that the majority of the app’s features  would be most applicable to Go-Getter Gianna rather than Chill Cara or Worrier Joaquin. The Go-Getter persona is  more likely to use an organized, scheduling/planning approach to coping with their responsibilities.

I believed that the Chill persona would take things as only they come and the Worrier persona’s stress is caused more by external factors; I assumed that both would have less of a need for an app, although having a mindfulness feature could be helpful in managing their anxiety.

The Solution

Based on the findings from my research, I began the ideation of different features. My biggest insight from the interviews was that:

College students sacrifice their personal time and self-care in order to keep up with responsibilities. They feel guilty when they take time to rest even if it’s a necessary part of maintaining school-work-life balance.

I sought out to build a feature in line with that problem and came up with the app’s main feature: Helping users schedule their day to include both work tasks and self-care —  such as mindfulness activities and personal habits. This schedule would be managed through a “Personal Calendar.” With this feature, taking care of oneself is no longer an afterthought but integrated into the user’s day.

I also discovered that:

Students have heard of mindfulness and meditation but they don’t know where to start or how they can practice these activities.

The feature that I came up with is a “Mindfulness Activities Catalog” where the users can search for different ways to practice  and arrive at recommendations. This activity catalog is also linked to their schedule and they are able to add these activities to their day.

The third insight I arrived at was that:

College students want to see their progress when they start new habits or activities.

They want reminders of their progress when it comes to developing and taking care of themselves. Thus, the feature I came up with was a “Habit Tracker.” Similar to existing habit trackers, this allows the user to start new habits and get details on their progress. However, in this solution, the Habit Tracker is integrated into both the mindfulness catalog and the user’s day.

I came up with a few other features as well based on the suggestions from interviewees. The user-generated ideas included a catalog of inspirational materials, a journal space, support groups, and social spaces.

I made use of ‘MoSCoW Prioritization’, a method that allows researchers to classify the importance of requirements or features to delivery by segmenting these into Must-haves, Should-haves, Could-haves, and Will-not-haves. This method helped me determine which features are mandatory for me to include in a minimum viable product. It also helped me decide which ones I  did not need to prioritize in the meantime, given the scope and timeline of my project.

MoSCoW Prioritization for my solution’s features
MoSCoW Prioritization for my solution’s features

Additionally, I expounded on the main features and ranked their importance using Red Routes. ‘Red Routes Analysis’ is used to describe the solution’s most critical features, with the most important shown at the top right corner of the table below.

Red Routes Analysis for my solution’s features
Red Routes Analysis for my solution’s features

Both of these UX methods allowed me to realize what was necessary in the minimum viable product of this prototype. Although I would have wanted to implement all of these features, I had limited time and wanted to test the initial idea first then iterate after with the succeeding features.

The Prototype

After creating my personas, ideating on the features, and deciding which features I wanted to initially test, I began to create my prototype. I used Figma to design the application prototype. It’s not my first time using Figma, but I’m far from an expert. I’d say that this was my first real attempt at creating a full prototype on my own.

To learn more about UX design principles, I watched several UX conferences and online meetups throughout my internship. I also got to listen to a quick UX/UI fundamentals crash course by On-Off Group’s very own Experience Designer, Patrick.

The Usability Testing

To get feedback on my prototype so far, I conducted remote usability tests with five participants. I conducted these usability tests using Figma,, and Google Meet.

Figma prototype for usability tests
Figma prototype for usability tests

The ‘Usability Tests (UTs)’ consisted of simple tasks for the participants to accomplish and a general exploration of the prototype pages. With the UTs, I wanted to get feedback on the prototype by observing how my participants accomplished their tasks and whether they understood the instructions or found anything confusing. I also needed to gauge what their expectations were for each page they visited and whether these expectations were met.

I invited five out of my original ten participants to test the prototype. These five participants were of different personas—two were go-getters, one was similar to Chill Cara, one was a worrier, and one participant fell in between the go-getter and chill personas. I wanted to see whether the app would provide value to the non-Go-Getter personas by getting insights from a variety of users.

The Usability Testing Results

From the Usability Tests, I found that:

Participants liked the concept of the application and how it integrated their calendar, task tracking, and habit-building. Four participants said that the app would help them cope with stress and their responsibilities in quarantine better because of the journal and habit tracker.

These features encourage time for self-care amidst one’s busy schedule. It also allows the individual to pursue new habits for personal growth. One participant even said: “I’d actually pay for this app!”

Participants gave the prototype an average rating of 8.5 out of 10. However, some were confused with a few features and expressed several pain points.

For example, the catalog of inspirational materials felt very detached from the other features and seemed pointless if the user could not bookmark/save the materials. They felt lost without a walkthrough or instructions for some features

Some of the screens used in the usability test (L-R: Sign up page, Inspirational materials catalog, Journal entry, Adding a new activity)
Some of the screens used in the usability test (L-R: Sign up page, Inspirational materials catalog, Journal entry, Adding a new activity)

Users also felt like they were missing an archive to view and look back on their past entries in the journal and mindfulness activities. Additionally, they believed that users should have the option to check out details of a new activity before automatically saving it to their weekly schedules.

One participant expressed:

“It’s a very personal experience, but I felt isolated while using the app.” They wanted the social aspect of going through one’s day and responsibilities, like how onsite university classes encourage such.

This comment stood out to me the most because some participants actually suggested support groups in the initial interviews, which I had initially classified as a low-priority feature.

After the usability tests, I realized that in crafting my prototype I had overlooked a prominent emotional problem experienced by students in quarantine, which is ‘social isolation’. Especially in this time, social features in the app may help address the isolation and mental strain that students feel, thus helping them take care of themselves better. This is something I’ll definitely look into in future iterations!

Overall, from the usability tests I was able to see how this solution could bring value to my personas and address their problems. I initially assumed that it would be of most use to the Go-Getters, but I was surprised to find out that the app was valuable to the Chill and Worrier participants as well. I received a lot of feedback from the UTs, so in prioritizing the different recommendations, I decided on what I would implement for initial revisions and which suggestions to save for a future iteration of this project.

The Final Product

With the user feedback, I decided to implement the following initial changes to the prototype:

While my usability tests were ongoing (which mainly focused on the functionality of the app), I also asked for feedback on the design from members of the UX Design team at User Experience Society Ateneo since I’m not well-versed in UI design principles.

The new version of the prototype is shown below. This iteration takes into account the recommendations from the usability tests and the UI design tips.

Introducing “Sensing Day”, an app that integrates your schedule, self-care, and personal growth, all in one!

Screens from the revised prototype. Illustrations from Stories by Freepik and stock photos from Unsplash.
Screens from the revised prototype. Illustrations from Stories by Freepik and stock photos from Unsplash.

Moving Forward

For future iterations, I would like to look into the recommendations of adding support groups to improve the social aspect of the application. I would also like to provide a walkthrough feature, integration with other productivity apps, and mockups for notifications. I’d also ideate on other features that would better benefit my users especially the Chill and the Worrier personas. Now that we’ve settled a few months into quarantine and online learning, another round of interviews and usability tests with other college students can allow me to get new feedback and assess changing contexts.

I feel very fulfilled looking back at the whole process of my internship project—I went through the whole design process and led this project myself! Over the course of just  two months, I’ve been able to work on this project, apply different UX tools and theories, and even dabble in UI/UX design. I learned a lot about proper communication by handling interviews and usability tests, and I gained new insights on how to conduct research and analyze qualitative data.

Most important of all, I’ve come to see how UX concepts can be applied in real life and that the design process can be so fulfilling and insightful from being able to actually talk to users. Through this process, I got to deeply understand the problem I’m trying to solve and whom I am solving it for.

Avery Chan