Confer App: Design Process


Project Philosophy

That people just starting off their careers can easily engage with mentors at conferences

Project Goal

To create a low-pressure, easy-to-use, tailored application that connects mentors and mentees

Need finding

How do we make connections?

Initial Interest

Interviews & Journey Maps

Interviews & Journey Maps

Our first "How Might We" Statement

How might we increase the social validity of online connections so that people can feel more comfortable with their full self?

Interviews & Journey Maps

Interviews & Journey Maps

Interviews & Journey Maps

Pictures of people we interviewed, including their ages & occupations.

Conducted a series of interviews to understand online relationships and created journey maps for when those relationships become offline

What we learned

People value safety in any relationship.

Conventions and events centered around a common interest bring people together.

Meeting online friends is a right-place-right-time scenario; the logistics (location, timing) have to work out.

Common interests or goals are key for lasting relationship.

Starting the Design Process

How do we initiate and sustain connections?

Creating Focus

Creating Focus

Creating Focus

Our 2nd "How Might We" Statement

How might we blur the lines between online/offline and facilitate initial interactions between strangers in order to create engaging, meaningful relationships?

Initial Idea

Creating Focus

Creating Focus

Flow drawing of 'how to use' Zapp application

Zapp is an app where you express interest in a person through a “zap.”

  • Zapped user chooses whether or not to connect.
  • If yes, a chat window starts and a third-party bot initiates conversation

Concept Feedback

What would you want to know about person sending you a zap?  

“It’s unfair if they know what I look like but I don’t know what they look like.” 

“I feel like I would just get creepy guys.”

When would you use Zapp? 

“Doesn’t have to be romantic.”

“Networking events and university environment.”

“I am extroverted and would want to go up to them in person. If they chatted with me through the app I would ignore them.”

Rapid Prototyping: Round 1

Prototype 1

Prototype 1

Prototype 1

Screenshot of prototype test in progress

Figure out what activities can start or encourage forming a relationship

And determine how it important pair-choice was

4 participants (graduate students from Keio University and Stanford), we chose pairings, pairs could not see their partner


Prototype 1

Prototype 1

Testing with users. Team members acting as "bots" to guide users.

[Hello! You have been mutually “zapped.” I am here to facilitate your initial conversations] 

Group A: For the next 5 minutes please play the following game: Have one person start a word, and then the other one will finish it. For example: “SW” “EET"

Group B: You will be shown a picture. Please choose which image describes you


Prototype 1


100% of participants: Enjoyed the experience but would want a way to filter their partners

75% of participants: Would want to use/have and thought the activity helped break the ice   

However, none thought it was enough to form/sustain a relationship

“I had met her once and I had really wanted to talk with her more... through the activity I could get to see her humor. It was fun.”

Prototype 2

Prototype 2

Prototype 2

Images used for testing. Users were to chose which images represented them.

We wanted to find out how people would choose their partner

And compare different degrees of facilitation

6 participants (Stanford graduate students), they chose partner by giving us their top two choices, we then matched them based on mutual preferences 

Participants sat in the same area


Prototype 2

Prototype 2

Testing with users.

[Hello! You have been mutually “zapped.”] 

Group A: You will be shown a picture. Please choose which image describes you: (feel free to elaborate)

After a few rounds, they were given a series of thought provoking questions.

Group B: You will be shown a picture. Please choose which image describes you: (right or left but feel free to elaborate)
Please say “next” to bring up the next image

Group C: Please begin chatting


Prototype 2


Results based on each prototype grouping

There was awkwardness in starting but also uncertainty in ending a conversation.

Games/prompts where users work towards a common goal/endpoint might inspire more interaction.

Initial interactions need a clear driver(s) of the conversation.

3rd parties can be effective in driving a conversation.

Putting our findings to use

How do we initiate and sustain connections at conferences?

The Missing Link

Interviews & Journey Maps

Interviews & Journey Maps

Conference events we attended as fieldwork

  • Want to make controlled but instantaneous meetings less creepy and initial prototype/testing was somewhat successful 

  • However, we still lacked a defined scope and target user

  • We decided to target events around a common interest: Academic Conferences

Interviews & Journey Maps

Interviews & Journey Maps

Interviews & Journey Maps

Journey map of "attending a conference"

3 stages to attending conference:

Pre-Conference “Homework”

During the conference

Post-Conference follow-ups

Pain points:

How to meet people/network efficiently

How to meet people if you’re introverted/shy

“I want to be on people’s radar, but I don’t want to be in people’s faces.”

Ultimate Goal

How might we facilitate a low-pressure mentorship connection at conferences for people starting their careers?

Rapid Prototyping: Round 2

Prototype 3

Prototype 3

Prototype 3

Paper prototype of application sign up

Connecting Mentees and Mentors

  1. Fill out an initial application form
  2. Verify future conferences attendance and agree to spend 1 hour with match
  3. Based on application, algorithm selects compatible matches
  4. User selects a match and that person is notified
  5. If other person approves of match, third-party bot helps initiate conversation


Prototype 3

Prototype 3

Participants (mentors and mentees) paired up based on compatibility

We wanted to determine what made good matches

And the what long-term benefits resulted

8 participants (four masters students, 3 professors and one PhD student), we had all participants fill out our usability prototype. We then matched them and  observed/recorded their 30 minute interaction. After which, we interviewed each participant separately.


Prototype 3

Prototype 4

Low Compatibility

Awkward and difficult to provide advice by mentors 

Mentees asked content related questions or for situational advice 

Resulted in no action items 

Overall less productive

High Compatibility

Experience described as pleasant

Mentees asked questions related to processes, mentor experiences, and opinions on future directions 

Conversations resulted in action items (reach out to a specific program, following up on social media) 

Overall more productive 

“There are benefits to meeting people not in your field. It could lead to inspiration [... but] it is better to have a similar interest

Prototype 4

Competition and Future

Prototype 4

App design flow for Mentor version

Developed an app mockup in Sketch

Mentor Incentives

Competition and Future

Competition and Future

Categories for mentor incentives

Monetary: Donation in their name to a charity or discount on conference

Social: Opportunity to meet someone interesting, make a difference, and feel good helping others

Professional: increase network, find potential future assistant/employee or collaboration opportunities as well as a chance for mutual learning

Competition and Future

Competition and Future

Competition and Future

Current competition/market for an app like confer

What about peer-to-peer

How to assure compatibility, quality?

Developing more prompts, such as question or meetup space suggestions

Users wanted language selection option, or experience with non-native language speakers

Issue of Demand > Supply (Mentees > Mentors)

Team Dynamic

Stanford University

Diego García
Cindy Zhang

Keio University

Tomohisa Hirano

Elaine Czech