Smith College Study Spaces

Strategies Used: Fly-on-the-Wall Observations, Ethnographic Research, User Interviews, Focus Groups

Project Specifics

To prepare for the closing of Smith College’s main library, the administration invested in a tool to help students during the chaos of construction. The administration brought my team in to determine the necessary functions of an application to help students find study spaces.


The Process

As a team of UX researchers, we conducted research to understand the student body’s typical studying habits and needs.

Our findings concluded the importance of research before the beginning of a project. The research we conducted was essential to the project's final outcome, but it could have been more helpful if the information had been sought out initially.

Smith College ethnographic research of staff and students

Fly-on-the-Wall-Observations and Ethnographic Research

We observed how spaces across campus were currently being used by students, professors, and other Smith College staff. These spaces included campus libraries, dining areas, dorm common areas, and campus common areas.

computer room_neilson

User Interviews

We conducted a variety of interviews with students, administrators, professors, and local community members to understand their use of Smith College campus spaces. Administration members, many of whom knew about the pre-determined development of the app, believed the library construction would leave students unaware of the variety of usable campus spaces and that students would need help finding spaces.

Focus Groups

We conducted focus groups to get first-hand feedback on the proposed functions of the app. The ability to reserve a study space from the app, which administrators believed was the most important feature, Our findings concluded the app was unneeded and unwanted by the student body.

“It would be odd to kick someone out of a space if I had reserved it. It would also suck to be kicked out of a space just because someone had reserved it – What if I was already there with all of my stuff spread out?” -Emily, Class of 2020

“Once I figure out my top study spaces, maybe through using the app, I probably wouldn’t need to use it anymore. It’s not necessary to keep using it, it’s not like the dining app” – Jill, Class of 2019

“I’m more worried about renting books, I’ll find a study space no matter what.” -Marie, Class of 2020


Our final recommendation could not stop the development of the application. We did, however, advise the development team of the features that might persuade more students to initially use the app.

This case stressed the importance of conducting user interviews earlier in a project. If user experience researchers had been brought in earlier, before the app development company had been hired, the administration could have invested that money elsewhere.

The App's final name and logo.
The App's final name and logo.