Assisting students with ADHD in navigating challenges in higher education

Project Overview

This project was a part of Interaction Design Association(IxDA)'22 Student Design Charette. This project is to create a more inclusive environment for students with ADHD in higher education, with the aim of mitigating their high drop-out rate and enhancing their academic and social functioning.




14 days teamwork +
2 months self-initiated


Bill Guo
Jingyuan Fang


User-centered Design
System Thinking
Speed Dating

How might we create an inclusive environment for people in need of mental support in college and universities to prevent them from dropping out?
This year the design challenge asked teams to explore how rethinking systems can change our approach toward higher education and workplaces that enable cultures of inclusion and equity. We found that many students drop out of higher education institutions due to a lack of support or feeling excluded from the campus community. So our goal is to reduce the high dropout rate by creating more inclusive environments.
Design process
My contribution
🤝 Collaborated with the other team members throughout the entire design process, from research and ideation to concept exploration and evaluation.
✍️ Completed the solution alone by creating wireframes and mockups, and iterate on the design by conducting usability tests.
The design challenge provides an opportunity to rethink the college system and envision an inclusive environment for all students. Through our focus on underrepresented groups in school, I gained insight into their unique challenges and needs. After the survey, We have chosen to focus on supporting students with ADHD in order to foster a more inclusive environment for them at school.
Survey About Inclusive Learning Environment Targeting Underrepresented Groups
What is ADHD?
ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder that affects attention, impulse control, and behavior regulation. Symptoms include distractibility, forgetfulness, and impulsivity. It can impact academic/work performance and social relationships. While the causes are not fully understood, a combination of genetic and environmental factors are believed to play a role. Proper diagnosis and treatment can help manage symptoms and improve quality of life.
1. 90.9% of hyperactive young adults diagnosed with ADHD failed to graduate from college programs
2. The reasons why students commonly drop out of college often overlap with the reasons why students with ADHD are at a higher risk of dropping out.
3. Multiple stakeholder perspectives highlight the need for a systemic approach to design solutions that address these complex challenges.
How might we create a more inclusive environment for students with ADHD to mitigate their high drop-out rate in higher education?
Secondary Research & Interviews
To kickstart my design process, I conducted a competitive analysis to gain a comprehensive understanding of the current state of design solutions in the market. I interviewed both end-users, including students diagnosed with ADHD, and stakeholders to gain insights into their needs, pain points, goals, and broader context.
Competitive analysis
Dr. Brown has developed an expanded model to describe the complex cognitive functions impaired in ADHD. This model describes executive functions, the cognitive management system of the human brain. We utilized this model to conduct a competitive analysis of existing products that may address these issues.
Competitive analysis in Miro Board
Opportunity Speculation
After analyzing the current state of design solutions for ADHD, I have identified three key findings:
33 existing design solution for ADHD
Lack of focus on
poor social fit
Lack of system redesign solution
Based on the Brown Model of Executive Functions, there are 33 existing products specifically designed to address academic disqualification, student health, and mental disorders for students with ADHD
There is a lack of focus on addressing the poor social fit, one of the most critical causes of dropout among students with ADHD
Current solutions for ADHD students assume self-regulation and adaptation to the existing environment rather than addressing the root causes through social system redesign
Generate concept through building empathy
To gain insight into the experiences of students with ADHD and the response of the education system to this population, I conducted interviews with two students with ADHD, three teaching professors, and two administrative staff members
Key Questions
1. Further understand students with ADHD’s academic life on the college campus

2. Identify common pain points that could potentially result in dropping out

3. Explore opportunities to create a more inclusive campus environment to mitigate the pain points they mentioned
1. Directed Storytelling:
Learn about a time when interviewee experienced ADHD/ Accommodated someone with ADHD on campus.

System Mapping: Collaboratively map out a system between students with ADHD and touchpoints/People of contact on campus
1. tell me about the last/difficult time you experienced ADHD in a semester?

2. As you recall what happened, please help me list out any touchpoints (person, resource, artifact you interacted with) throughout that experience.

3. Looking back at these anywhere we listed out on the board, anywhere you think might bring a sense of inclusion to you?
Interview Notes & Brainstorming
Concept prototyping
After conducting interviews and brainstorming based on the insights gained, we narrowed down our focus to two potential solution directions. The first direction involved changing people's attitudes in the school environment by creating more means to express appreciation. The second direction involved addressing the harm caused by the school system by creating an assistant for students with ADHD that helps them understand their needs and provides a quiet place to solve them.
Parallel Concept Prototyping
How we might create an inclusive environment?
To further develop our concepts, I utilized system mapping to envision what an inclusive environment should look like and how it should make students feel. This approach helped us identify key components that needed to be addressed.
How we might create an inclusive environment?
Who we might motivate to create an inclusive environment?
To create an inclusive environment, I mapped the three groups of people at school based on their motivation and ability levels. Using this information, I developed strategies for increasing the motivation and ability levels of each group to create a more inclusive environment for students with ADHD.
Who we might motivate to create an inclusive environment?
Concept generation
After answering these two questions, we were able to generate three conceptual solutions that addressed the needs of students with ADHD:
Concept #1 CUNC
Concept #2 Chairful
Concept #3 Thumbnail
Evaluate concept with real stakeholder
To further evaluate the three conceptual solutions, I created storyboards and used them to conduct interviews with three students with ADHD.
Key Questions
1. Evaluate the desirability of our proposed concept at no cost under a limited time

2. Elicit conversation on how we might iterate on the proposed solutions and surface new opportunities
1. We captured one imaginary scenario for three concepts through a 4-5 panel storyboard. Each story captures the context, problem, user’s action, and resolution

2. We conveyed our concept by presenting storyboards and asking the interviewee to “speed-date” with out proposed solution
1. What was your initial reaction to this concept solution?

2. Do you feel like this concept solution accurately captured the challenges you face as a student with ADHD?

3. How likely do you think you would be to use the proposed solutions in real life?
We evaluated the three conceptual solutions and analyzed their pros and cons based on feedback from our target users. This approach helped us identify the strengths and weaknesses of each concept.
Concept #1 CUNC
Design an app that detects nearby students with ADHD, and pushes a notification with tips to neurotypical
😄 Students with ADHD stay anonymous in the group      
“A lot of people are not comfortable revealing themselves.”

😄 Educative content is included both for neurotypical and ADHD    
“Most people don’t know how to give accommodations. They hold a lot of stereotypical thoughts about people like me.”

😄 Feel rewarded and have motivations    
“I can see it’s a good way trying to build empathy in people’s heart.”

🙁 There could be edge cases where students with ADHD would get identified    
“What if everyone receives a notification except for myself?”
Concept #2 Chairful
Design color-coding “seats” to build the anticipation that people on the special seats may need help in the collaborative experience
😄 Implicitly help students with ADHD convey their need for accommodation    
“I like sitting in a designated space in the corner or the back because of its quietness. It helps me concentrate”

🙁 ADHD is exposure to the pubic and having no privacy    
“It might make me so obviously different, and I could be alienated”
Concept #3 Thumbnail
Design thumbnail stickers on campus for people to express appreciation to others.
😄 The scenario is very relatable to the student with ADHD.    
“That’s such a relatable situation.” “This scene is so real for me.”

😐 Fun is not necessary for helping student with ADHD    
“It’s an interesting and fun idea, but it’s not necessary.”

🙁 Not effective because the appreciation is delayed and is an appreciation towards accomplishment and people might not use it in the most meaningful way    
“I’m afraid people might overuse the thumbnail, and the thumbnail would lose its symbolic meaning.”
Synthesize findings to insights
After synthesizing our findings from the interviews, I identified three key insights: 1) the importance of anonymity, 2) the need for educative content, and 3) the effectiveness of the solution in solving the problem. Based on these insights, we chose concept one as it has the potential to meet all the needs identified in our research.
Further exploration on selected concept
I revisited our insights and realized that the most effective way to help students with ADHD is when they are experiencing difficulties, not just when they have completed a task or achieved success. As a result, I decided to empower students with ADHD to define their own difficult moments in their environment
What if....
What if....
We allow students with ADHD to trigger notifications when they need assistance
We provided a solution that allows students with ADHD to receive notifications anonymously in an educational setting?
1. Sign up for the CUNC
Design decision: The app will have distinct homepages for ADHD users and neurotypical users
2. Homepages
Design decision: The neurotypical and ADHD user homepages differ in the presence of the create reminder button on the navigation bar and the types of data displayed
3. How do users with ADHD create a reminder?
Design decision: I prompt ADHD users to assess their current environment, select tips, and include personal comments to send to nearby neurotypical users
4. How do students with ADHD manage their current reminder?
Design decision: After sending the reminder, a pop-up card will display the ongoing reminder. Users can view the details by clicking on the "view" button or access it from the reminder tab. Editing the reminder will trigger a new notification with the updated information, and all users, including the sender, will receive it.
5. How do neurotypical perceive the notification after receiving it?
Design decision: Neurotypical users will receive a notification summarizing the reminder tips for easy reference when they are unable to access the app. In addition, a pop-up card on the homepage will provide more details, and they can confirm the notification by simply closing the pop-up window.
6. How would neurotypical learn knowledge about ADHD?
Design decision: I have developed two ways to help neurotypical users learn about ADHD. The first is through receiving reminders in different environments and getting feedback from ADHD users, allowing for learning in real scenarios. The second way is by providing educational articles about ADHD within the app.
Challenge One: Data Visualization
I changed the data visualization from a circle to cards and highlighted the numbers to emphasize the data because the first version confused users about the position of the circle.
Iterations On Homepage Data Visualization
Challenge Two: On-going Reminder Display
To prioritize the ongoing reminder information, I added cards at the top of the homepage, making it easy for users to access them. I also summarized the highlights of the reminder in the card and added labels to differentiate between ongoing and past reminders.
Iteration On-going Reminder Display For ADHD Users
Iteration On-going Reminder Display For Neurotypical Users
1. Focus on accessibility and inclusivity
Designers should strive to create designs that are accessible and inclusive to all users, regardless of their abilities, backgrounds, or preferences. This involves considering factors such as visual impairments, cognitive disabilities, language barriers, and cultural differences.

2. Use data visualization effectively
Data visualization is a powerful tool for presenting complex data in a clear and understandable way. Designers should aim to use data visualization that is intuitive, easy to read, and visually appealing, and that highlights the most important information.

3. Empathize with the target users
In order to create a user-centered design, it is crucial to understand the needs, goals, and challenges of the target users. Conducting user research, such as interviews and observations, can help designers gain insights into the users' perspectives and experiences.