2U Container App: One App to Rule Them All

  • UX
  • UI
  • Mobile
  • Research
2U Container App

iPhone Prototype Android Prototype

Apple's strict App Store Guidelines forced us to consolidate 2U's apps into a single app. What began as something of a convenience ultimately served our best interests, allowing us to address user and business interests.

About 2U

2U is an educational tech firm that helps top universities bring advanced education to students worldwide. The company offers a wide range of services covering the student lifecycle, including marketing, matriculation, retention, online course development, student placement, and learning management software.

My Role

As a Product Designer at 2U, I was the lead designer on the Mobile Campus team. Under my guidance as lead designer, the apps became more stable and user friendly as I adopted native design patterns for each platform, as well as more efficient as I prioritized features most aligned with students' needs, and the strengths of mobile devices.

My Team

Working closely with a Product Manager, an Engineering Director and a team of remote developers, I designed solutions to improve the mobile experience for iPhone, iPad, and Android devices. Prior to a Business Analyst joining the team, I assumed part of her responsibilities in understanding business goals. One of the company's strengths is its alignment of business goals with user goals. The company's dedication to student outcomes ensured that my work as a designer who champions users were supported by the business.

In addition to collaborating with the Mobile Campus team, I consulted my peers on the User Experience team in design critiques and with cross-platform meetings to create consensus across product teams. I also worked with dedicated User Researchers to better understand how students use Mobile Campus and its desktop counterpart at scale.

Understanding the Problem

Sometimes User Experience expertise is required for problems that don't always have immediate and obvious value for users. Container App was a project that did not come from our roadmap, but was enforced in compliance with Apple's strict App Store Review Guidelines.

In the summer of 2017, Apple began cracking down on template based apps and found 2U's apps to be in violation of its rules against spam. As a result, Apple rejected updates to the apps and the launch of new apps, preventing our team from shipping new features and programs before resolving the issue.

4.3 Spam
Don’t create multiple Bundle IDs of the same app. If your app has different versions for specific locations, sports teams, universities, etc., consider submitting a single app and provide the variations using in-app purchase. Also avoid piling on to a category that is already saturated; the App Store has enough fart, burp, flashlight, and Kama Sutra apps already. Spamming the store may lead to your removal from the Developer Program. App Store Review Guidelines

With a tight turnaround, I worked with the Mobile Campus team to fundamentally change the distribution model from an app for each program to one app to rule them all — with the least amount of disruption to students.

Defining the Problem

As a User Experience Designer, it is my mission to design experiences, not features. Features facilitate experiences, but losing sight of user goals can introduce a lot of ambiguity in the design process, and in turn, the experience. Container App started out in response to Apple's request, but after digging into Net Promoter Score (NPS) surveys, I found there was some opportunity to meet the needs of students by improving the onboarding process, while also addressing unmet business needs.

Prior to Apple's enforcement of its guidelines, 2U's app distribution model was to launch an app for each program. That meant that even if a university signed on multiple programs with 2U, each program had its own separate app. This created several issues:

  • Apps had very esoteric names that were virtually indistinguishable (e.g. 2SU vs 2NSU), resulting in errors in onboarding, support, and promotion of the apps.
  • Less technically savvy students sometimes struggled to download the correct.
  • Limited analytics were strewn across several apps, making it painstakingly difficult to assess the impact of bugs and new features across verticals and programs.
  • While an edge case, students occasionally had to collaborate with other programs, requiring them to download and install multiple 2U apps.

With these issues in mind, it became much easier to focus on key goals.

Goals

  • Improve the onboarding process.
  • Allow users to switch programs.

Exploring Solutions

User Flow

As I worked through the user flow, it became less complex.

The original user flow.

The original user flow.

The revised flow, simplified, but with program switching added.

The revised flow, simplified, but with program switching added.

Sketch

A high level sketch to demonstrate to the Product Manager the difference between search and a dynamic link users could tap to speed through several screens.

A high level sketch to demonstrate to the Product Manager the difference between search and a dynamic link users could tap to speed through several screens.

Results

Container app was shipped to iOS users on a rolling basis, with newly enrolled students receiving the Mobile Campus app by default. Overtime old iOS apps were removed from the App Store. The feature was later rolled out on Android as well.