UX Case Study on Loneliness of Ph.D. Students

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Loneliness is a common yet serious issue today. The goal of this project was to solve the loneliness issue with Ph.D. students by understanding their day-to-day lives which may affect their loneliness levels.


According to Natural Biotechnology, from a total of 2,279 students (90% Ph.D. students) 41% of respondents showed signs of moderate to severe depression.



Build a peer-to-peer connection app for Ph.D. students; share personal and academic interests to foster deep connections and reduce loneliness.


Design Process


User Research—Discover Problems


After me and two of other teammates decided to focus our study on Ph.D. students, we sent out a screener survey (using the UCLA Loneliness Scale questionnaire) to recruit the appropriate participants for our interview and diary study.

Semi-Structured Interviews 

We recruited a total of six participants, among whom five expressed "moderate to high" loneliness, and one expressed low loneliness measured by data from the screener survey. We covered these 8 categories during the interview:


Diary Study

After the semi-structured interviews, we wanted to go deeper and learn about Ph.D. students’ day-to-day lives and how it would affect their emotions. As part of the Diary Study, we asked our participants to take pictures or notes of surroundings, artifacts, persons, or mobile-screenshots (or anything else) that affected their emotional state at least once per day.

diary study image


Analysis—Define Findings

We collected quantitative (screener survey) and qualitative data (interview and diary study) about Ph.D. students from various departments. We built and used a pivot table and an affinity diagram to organize and synthesize our findings.


User Personas

Personas (fictional users whose goals and characteristics represent the needs of our target users) were developed to communicate our findings with our project stakeholders.



Solution Ideation—Develop Ideas

“How can we improve the quality of connections Ph.D. students have?”

1. We first chose the “Connection app” idea to be our solution. We envisioned that the solution would encourage Ph.D. students to build deeper connections and share inner feelings with their close friends and family.

2. We tested our initial idea and came to the conclusion that our initial solution idea wouldn't truly solve the loneliness problem of Ph.D. students. We went back to the ideation process and decided to further refine the matching app idea to be our new solution and ran a focus group to validate our idea with users.

Screen Designs—Deliver Solution

Information Architecture

We built IA to organize the structure of the app in a more effective way and communicate the possible user flow better within the team.



Style Guide

The style guide was built to maintain a consistent design while each designer built different screens.


style guide


High Fidelity Screens



Reflection and Next Step

The biggest take away from this project was the importance of validating the idea with the user at every stage. Our next step is to test our high-fi prototype, validate conceptual assumptions and fix usability issues, and validate the need for a Ph.D. Community feature for Pair.