The Macromedia University Buddy program

Connecting incoming students and local students – with the aim of making the start in a new city easier for newcomers! The program has existed for several years, but has not had a clear framework and platform, making the overall process complicated and unclear. In this group project, we used a Design Thinking approach to define pain points and to create a better overall experience for all stakeholders – the students as well as the University’s relevant administration team.

Macromedia Hochschule - International Office
Avani Bohara, Celine Potsch, Evane Rodrigues, Rei Teisuke, Maximilian Krumpf, Susanne Neumair
Interdisciplinary Design Thinking Project

Current solution

The administration staff from the University’s International Office approaches the students with information about the program and receives their applications via emails. The application forms include text fields on name, course of study, location, hobbies and interests, and languages spoken.
The matchmaking process is done manually by the administration staff and the matched participants (Buddy = local student offering their guidance + Newbie = incoming student) are emailed about their partners. From then on, it is up to them on which platform to communicate, when & where to meet in person and so on.

Research based approach

Using a Double Diamond model, which was developed by the Design Council of UK, the overall Design Thinking process was defined and clustered into research- and design phases. We started by evaluating the existing program, in order to be able to develop it further. Our group’s opinion was not enough: Only if we knew what the painpoints are and how real users felt about the current version, we could suggest a new solution.

Scoping Canvas

As a starting point, we decided to use a scoping canvas to help our team align on the scope of our innovation project. Our main idea was clear: improving the existing Buddy program. We came up with several questions we asked ourselves, such as: „How might we make the buddy program useful and enjoyable for new students?“ and „How can we offer a more personalized experience?“.

Empathize phase
Status-Quo Grid

How do current participants perceive the program? What could be a benefit for buddies? What could the outcome be?
An app, a website or something tangible? How could we connect the digital to the real-world experience?


Looking at societal, technological, ecological, economical, political factors. Our questions concerning the societal aspect: How much assistance / contact do people from different cultures want? What is fun, what might be inappropriate in different cultural contexts?

5 Why questions

Constantly asking why the problem occurs helps to define the problem, developing 5 questions such as Why is there no integrated solution yet?

What, Who, Why,...

Asking what, who, why, when, where, how (not) helps getting an overview on the current status, the stakeholders and helps defining the problem’s scope

Primary Research

Primary research was conducted through quantitative research, by creating a survey for current and former participants. Qualitative research was conducted by interviewing former participants as well as administration staff from the University’s International Office, who is currently responsible for the Buddy-Newbie matchmaking process.

Research outcomes

Overall, the participants enjoy the program but think there could be an integrated solution which is easier to use. The vast majority of users said they were happy with their match, but they would be open to giving more details about themselves in order to make the process easier for the administration staff as they believe the manual process is complex and very time intensive.

The staff agreed that they would benefit from an automated matchmaking process.

I would have wished for some info on how to approach somebody.

I can imagine it being nice for all buddies and newbies doing activities together.

The matchmaking process takes some time because we want to find the correct matches.

Definition phase

As a next step we evaluated our research findings in order to create personas and create customer journey maps, with the aim of better understanding how a user is solving a problem. Analogy thinking was used to see how our competitors or other industries related to ours are doing and what features and services we could include.

Problem definition
Complex processes

Current process is very complicated and time intensive for the International Office as well as unclear for the participants. The people getting inundated with emails that no one can keep track of anymore.

Communication barrier

Often the newbies and buddies don’t know how to start a conversation and keep it going. Currently, there is very little support from in this area.

No integrated platform

Participants have to organize everything on their own (from filling out necessary information to contacting their buddies), which is done via e-mail inefficiently.

Ideation phase

After defining the problem, setting a clear scope and evaluating the research we conducted, we have reached the ideation phase. Conducting brainstorming and brainwriting sessions, we were able to generate a large number of ideas. Using dot voting, we followed the Double Diamond approach and were able to narrow our ideas down to the practicable ones. The next step was creating a mental model, anticipating what the users would expect from our solution, step by step.

Generating a large number of ideas for our solution, without limiting or judging. In a next step, we categorized the ideas into seven different categories:

  • benefits & rewards
  • profile
  • functions
  • marketing
  • platform/integration
  • evaluation
  • group activities

The brainwriting card helped us ideate collaboratively. Using the categories from the brainstorming session, we took each others ideas further:


  • easy access through the Macromedia portal which the user is familiar with already
  • signing up only possible with Macromedia email address & using real name > creating a safe space
  • platform can also be accessed by incoming students who do not take part in the program but need to get certain information or meet people occasionally
  • it was decided agains an app to make it easy to maintain, easy to access and cost-effective


Benefits & rewards

  • Visual roadmap (like in the Candy Crush app) with rewards on different levels
  • Vouchers/discounts for different activities, sponsored by a cooperation of the University with tourism offices
  • Rewards at the end (Olympic games style: different categories, such as most kilometers travelled together or most mountains climbed)



  • Using avatars and not real photos as profile image, to create a safe and open environment
  • Set of questions to choose from to give users inspiration what to write about themselves (taking inspiration from Bumble)



  • Chat: low barrier to get in touch with each other and less formal than emails
  • Forum: being able to ask all sorts of questions and find inspiration
  • FAQs for buddies and newbies, such as cultural specifics
  • Language tandem: finding a partner to learn a new language together
  • Fun tasks to complete as a team: it should be about the effort a person puts in and not about how well people actually get along with each other



  • Advertise the program on campus
  • Point out the benefits, such as getting a certificate at the end of the semester
  • Show former partners and their success stories
  • Collaborating with the student council and their social media accounts



  • Follow up on status of team by International Office, to make sure people actively participate
  • Process integrated in platform


Group activities

  • People could arrange meetings and trips in smaller groups, not only within their Buddy-Newbie constellation
  • Some activities could be organized by the students council or the International Office

A mental model is an explanation of how something works. The phrase mental model is an overarching term for any sort of concept, framework, or worldview that you carry around in your mind. Based on the previous steps, we anticipated what a possible mental model could look like. What would the user expect from the platform, how could the process be designed? What is important to the user at which step, what might confuse them?


The solution: Wireframing

A web platform, accessible only using your Macromedia account, where users (Buddies and newbies) will fill out their profile and can choose from several given questions. Feeding an artificial intelligence with this data, a match is created based on the users profile and interests. The platform is a safe space where users can connect, fix dates for activities, make new friends and access a forum – which will eventually serve as a helpful database for newcomers. There are gamification elements and benefits, motivating the users to do certain activities as a team. The International Office can be accessed via the platform in case a user needs help. The platform makes the program fun and easy to use for both, the students and the administration staff.

The solution: Design

An appealing, modern interface for our responsive web platform. The user’s journey starts with the sign-up process – through which they are guided step-by-step, in an effortless way. Using microcopy, displaying the FAQs and help section along the process, offering success messages and motivating the user by showing them the success stories of former participants.

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