PenPal provides a forum for all students who have an incentive to share and receive information about relevant international experiences.


  • International students who are coming to study in Canada have limited access to the latest information.
  • Canadian students who are planning to study abroad have restricted resources of the target country.


  • Our vision is to provide the latest information which can only be retrieved from local students for students who want to study abroad.
  • PenPal provides an open platform where participants can raise and answer questions, join local communities as well as prepare for the coming semester.

Duration: 1 month (2020.4)


  • Bin Liu, Leo Gong, Mengyuan Li

Project Process

01. User Research

We conducted semi-structured interviews among domestic students, international students, and stakeholders.

Semi-structured interviews key findings:

  • Study, Living costs, work, and hobbies were the most common subforums users would like to read and enjoy.
  • Mobile usage differs among ages. Students under 25 spend more time on social media and entertainment, while students above 25 pay more attention to reading and creative.
  • A rewarding system is preferred. Half of users thought they would be more motivated to share content if there exists a rewarding system.

02. Primary Persona, Secondary Persona & PainPoints

03. Problem Breakdown

  • Subforums are divided by countries. It would be convenient and efficient for users to go directly into targeted country subforums.
  • Each Post is attached to tags. Users can search for specific posts with tags.
  • Report irregular posts. All users can report a post if it is illegal or cyberbully other users.
  • Commenting and replying. Since PenPal is an open community, participants can comment on posts of other users to stay inspired.
  • Rewarding system. According to our user research, users love getting rewards from contribution to the community.

04. Designing

  • Brain-storming

  • Wireframe

Add a new Post

Search a post

Add a friend

  • Prototype


Create a new post & Read replies

Report, Friend & Group

05. Learnings

  • Usability testing could be conducted for anyone and anywhere. Our prototype was improved a lot according to various feedbacks from stakeholders.
  • A tiny change could make a significant difference. At the first iteration, we missed adding a ‘back’ button of the interaction flow. I think the reason why we missed it because all of us are iPhone users. Thus we might ignore the user behavior of Android users until someone pointed it out during user validation.