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Contextual Inquiry

Affinity Mapping

Contextual Design

Affinity Mapping

Aug 2022 -Dec 2022

Academic Project

5 Members

UX Researcher


The Problem

The University of Michigan lacks clear policies and practices to assist students with leaves of absence, which is critical for student retention and success. Individual schools are responsible for implementing their own policies, resulting in a lack of published information for students, and a frustrating process to navigate.


The Center for Academic Innovation at the University of Michigan wanted to gain an understanding of the existing leave practices and processes of individual academic units within the university, and  asked our team, High 5 for recommendations for a standardized process to enable students and staff at the university to navigate leaves of absence easily and effectively.

Here's a more extensive Final Report if you'd like to know more.

Methodology Overview

Background Research

User Interviews


Background Research

After getting an overview of the client’s problem from the proposal document
and initial client meeting, we started conducting background research to
better understand the history of the client organization and its mission, as well
as to examine the implementation and effects of the LoA policies in
educational institutions in the country.

We discovered the following issues with Leave of Absence (LoA) policies in the US:

Student Advisors

advise the students on managing the requirements of their degree program.


choose to take a break from their academic pursuits by applying for a Leave of Absence

School Representatives

Deans play a major role in establishing and implementing policies in the school

User Interviews

We identified three primary stakeholders involved in the process of a Leave of Absence:

Decentralized Process

Rigid Timelines

Lack of Support During Leave

Research objectives and interview protocols were developed for all three stakeholders. You can read through the Protocol Report for additional information. 

Overarching Questions


"How do students feel about their school's LOA policy and procedures, and how do
they believe it can be amended to better accommodate other students?"

"What is the academic advisor's role and experience in current LOA policy and procedures, and how do they think the policy can be amended to better
assist them in their role?"

"How do school representatives influence LOA policies and what changes do they think
should be made to better serve their students?"


School Reps

We conducted 7 user interviews as a team, out of which I participated as an interviewer and note taker in 3. 


Once all the interviews had been conducted, the team held an interpretation session where we converted raw notes into qualitative data by creating affinity notes from individual utterances and observations.

These affinity notes were then grouped according to the themes we recognized and thus, we built an affinity wall.

Affinity Wall

The affinity wall was used to generate key findings from the interviews, based on which, we provided the client with recommendations for steps to take improve the process.


Through affinity mapping, we were able to pinpoint specific challenges and
problems, which further enabled us to brainstorm potential solutions for the client.


The client's wants may not always be the same as their needs.

The client initially wanted us to provide guidelines and recommendations to develop a standardized process for the leave application. However, we realized that the scope of the project was larger than we, or even the client had expected due to the sheer number of different academic units within UofM and the fact that students who have experienced the process are not easily accessible due to privacy concerns.

And so, we informed the client of the actual problem and advised our client on how they could tackle it, such as hiring more research personnel to study the differences in the academic units. We also recommended some potential solutions along with it. 

Thanks for reading! 😊

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Summer Orientation Webinar

Students can be informed about the facilities provided to them during the orientation webinars that are held before the program beings.

Detailed Web Page on University Website

Provide the necessary information  on the university website, where it is easily accessible to students.

Pamphlets & Brochures

Pamphlets and brochures can be distributed among students to promote awareness of student's right to avail a leave.

A section on Wolverine Access

A section concerning Leaves of Absence on the universal platform of the university would allow standardization of the leave application procedure.

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