rachel jue


Reach is a question-oriented mobile platform designed for people in periods of transition who are seeking advice from a personal, trustworthy network. By breaking down barriers associated with asking for advice, Reach provides an easy and accessible way to ask for help from people beyond your inner circle.

I worked on Reach with Celina Liao and Stephanie Chen.

How might we help people feel in control after college?

In order to help people feel in control of their lives during periods of transition, we first focused on a very relatable, common transition period: the months and years after graduating from college.

Research Methods

We created maketools, including a timeline maketool and a matrix maketool, which we used to facilitate and enhance interviews. In our timeline maketools, we had 13 participants map out major life events and concerns in the five years after graduation. We also asked them about their personality and values and how they define independence. We created an affinity diagram to synthesize the findings from our timeline maketool. From here, we chose to focus on how the notion of perceived independence helps individuals feel in control.

To better understand how people can feel independent, we used a matrix maketool. We began by asking participants for five words they associate with independence and five words they associate with dependence. We then asked them to expand on the associated words and plotted them on a two-by-two matrix, where one axis ranged from “easy to achieve” to “hard to achieve” and the other axis was “independence” versus “dependence”.

We synthesized our findings from the matrix maketool by categorizing them into what people need to have, what people are okay with, and what people cannot have in order to feel in control. The insights gained from analysis determined that our product should be used when people are understanding the context and gathering information to make a major decision.

We created three scenarios and asked nine participants what they would do in each situation. Specifically, we wanted to know who people would ask for help, if any, and what they would do if they got faulty advice.

  • You're living away from home after college and you're paying bills for the first time and have a question.
  • You're having problems with your manager at work.
  • You just got a bunch of offers for work and you need to make a decision in the next few days.

From the scenario interviews, we found that people are selective about who they ask for advice, depending on the problem. Furthermore, even if people give advice that leads them astray, people feel accountable for making their own decision. Finally, people seek advice from others who have been in similar situations.

As a final research method, we conducted speed-dating with three potential solutions: reaching out to an inner circle, implicitly indicating that you need help, and using a data visualization to understand how many other people are in similar situations. We ended up using a combination of the first two ideas.


Foco is your personalized driving companion. It takes care of distractions and navigation for you, so that you can focus on the act of driving.

For this project, I collaborated with Linny Tan, Weikun Liang, and Rhythm Agarwal.

Problem Statement

We are becoming increasingly dependent on our devices to navigate through our social and physical environments, but in doing so we’re comporomising our safety. For the safety of us and those around us, it’s important that we direct our attention back to the road.

Research Findings

We conducted a competitive analysis, literature review, informal interviews, and speed-dated storyboard concepts to best understand what users need to stay focused while driving.

Our research revealed the following:

  • Drivers rarely feel that they are lost while driving in unfamiliar locations
  • Drivers have a high dependency on GPS
  • Most drivers do not feel anxious while driving in unfamiliar areas
  • Drivers are distracted while driving their vehicles (partly due to their reliance on GPS)
  • Drivers are distracted by the notifications on their phone, most of which are not related to navigation

a guide to design thinking

When I was first introduced to design thinking, there were a lot of great resources in the form of slide decks, handouts, and worksheets. However, it would have been helpful to have a reference I could access while I was in the middle of a group brainstorm or during a prototype session. This guide is a set of cards that should be used throughout the human-centered design process as a reminder of the key concepts in each stage of design thinking.

I chose to bind the guide with a removable loose leaf ring so the user could re-order the cards that summarize the five stages of design thinking—empathy, define, ideate, prototype, and test—to fit their iterative design process. Since design thinking is not a linear process, this reference is constructed such that the user can easily access and alter the order of cards to meet their particular needs.

An iterative design process tends to be a bit messy, and that’s okay. To encourage designers to favor low-fidelity prototypes and refine them through multiple revisions, I set the guide in a playful typeface (Avenir), used bright colors, and created my own style of layered, “sketch-like” illustrations throughout the deck. I also employed a modular grid so I could incorporate a wide variety of elements, such as case studies, exercises, and toolkits. In order to unify these components, I chose a consistent color scheme and bold headings.

redesigning the grocery shopping experience

Project Proposal

Redesign the grocery shopping experience for college students from a human factors perspective. For the project, I collaborated with Landon Paik, Maggie Li, and Annie Chen.


As college students, our project focus was based on our own frustrations with the grocery shopping experience. After some initial interviews and need-finding exercises, we found that other students experienced similar problems. Since most students have busy schedules and must rely on public transportation to travel to the grocery stores, we began tossing around ideas about ways to reduce the amount of time spent at the grocery store, make the trip to the store less painful, and aid students who have to lug grocery bags from the bus stop to their residence. In order to gain more insight, each team member conducted a think-aloud study. We asked users to bring a shopping list, including a few items that they don’t normally buy, to the grocery store. As they shopped, we asked the participant for real-time feedback about their shopping experience.

We found that multiple participants struggled with locating items, even in stores with which they were familiar. Some problems with locating items were a result of poor signage, which creates a higher cognitive load for the user since they must recall from memory the location of the item rather than being able to rely on recognition. Furthermore, for some users, there was uncertainty if the store even carried the product they needed. Having to search for an item or ask a store employee for assistance can be very time-consuming and extremely frustrating if it is eventually determined that the store doesn’t stock a particular item.


We decided to focus our efforts on the most prevalent problem identified during our student interviews—the amount of time spent at the grocery store. To facilitate the grocery shopping process, we designed a mobile app that allows you to make a grocery list, choose the store where you want to shop, select the items from your list you intend to purchase from that store, and view a store layout map that shows the optimal path for getting everything from your list. Items not located in the store are greyed out so the shopper doesn’t waste time looking for them.

a tool for tas of an intermediate computer science course

Office hours for computer science courses can be a frustrating and unproductive experience for students. Since office hours are usually well attended, the rooms are crowded and noisy, which create a chaotic work environment. Furthermore, students are unable to get help in a timely manner, and in the worst case scenario, office hours may end before a student can even meet with a TA. To address this problem, I collaborated with Landon Paik, Jeel Jasani, Alex Wang, and Angela Liu to create TAssist, a web application that helps TAs address students’ questions in a more efficient manner.

Observing users & consolidating insights

We conducted think aloud studies with students in an intermediate computer science course to better understand how students approach their homework, specifically how they go about getting help on assignments when they can't figure out a problem on their own. After each of us made our separate observations, our team came together to construct sequence and flow models for each of our users.

We also made an affinity diagram by clustering individual observations. After the initial clustering process, we further refined the groupings to prevent over-generalizing insights. We then labelled groups to synthesize the relationships between insights.

Our team pooled together our sequence and flow models to create diagrams that captured as many insights as possible. We made a consolidated sequence model by comparing common intents across users. From this, we constructed sequences that included all intents, breakdowns, and design ideas. Our consolidated flow model was also based on the individual models we made for each user. After defining the job title and responsibilities for each agent in the process, we discussed the relationships and communications between agents. These consolidated models helped us synthesize the information we gathered in the user studies without having biased interpretations.


After constructing the affinity diagram, flow diagram, and sequence model, we worked through all triggers as a team and brainstormed possible solutions. We discussed which roles were most critical, which job titles are the most strained, and which agents might have overlapping roles. This revealed the workload placed on TAs and also pointed out that many TAs have to answer the same question multiple times, which causes long lines in office hours making the entire process very inefficient.Our solution, TAssist, is seen in the video below.


I believe the best way to learn is by doing. In order to better understand how my designs are translated into code, I challenged myself to learn iOS development in two weeks by designing a simple mobile app. Though I’ve had some experience with programming before, this was my first time working in Objective-C and using UIKit.

Planning & design

I decided to make a recipe app, Brew, that allows the user to either view a pre-loaded library of coffee drinks or create a recipe of their own. I began by sketching out wireframes for different features and screens of the app. The app includes a main screen where the user can access any recipe in the library by scrolling through the list and clicking on the desired drink card. The detailed recipe, instructions, and image of that drink will then appear on the screen. From the main screen, the user can also create their own recipe, which allows the user to input a list of ingredients, recipe quantities and step-by-step directions.

Throughout the process, I designed assets and illustrations. I wanted this app to act as a visualization of the different coffee drinks. To achieve this, each recipe includes a custom image displaying a separate layer for each ingredient.


Setting up the Xcode environment took longer than I expected, including getting the hang of storyboards and segues. Specifically, passing data between view controllers wasn’t the most fluid process and it took a while to figure out. There is more functionality I’d like to build upon, so check back for more updates in the near future. My main takeaway from this project was the realization that learning how to design for mobile in the classroom is quite different than actually implementing a design and getting it to function exactly how it was intended. This design challenge gave me a greater understanding of the mobile app development process and provided me with a fun opportunity to learn by doing.

alpha phi omega rush materials

I joined Alpha Phi Omega Kappa Chapter, Carnegie Mellon’s co-ed service fraternity, my freshman year. Through the organization, I discovered a group of students who shared my interest in community service.

In the fall of 2014 I was given the opportunity to design our recruitment materials. “Bro do you even serve?” became our rush theme to attract new members to our ever-growing chapter.

Focusing on my strengths in typography and clean design aesthetic, I decided to use a text-only design. Along with the t-shirts, I created the traditional print materials—calendar, poster, and information sheets for our activities fair. The poster design utilized negative space so it would stand out among the other fliers posted around campus. Since it was necessary to include a lot of event details on the calendar and information sheet, it was especially important to incorporate hierarchy. My designs accomplished this through text size, color, and placement so readers could quickly access the information they needed.

In addition, I designed social media materials for rush. The Facebook cover photo included information for upcoming events. And just for fun, I decided to take individualized profile pictures of each member wearing the fraternity letters.

design for america

Design thinking has powerful implications for finding creative solutions to real-world problems. I first witnessed the positive effects of rapid iteration, improv exercises, and stakeholder interviews when I coached a team of K-12 educators through a design challenge to improve the learning process in their classrooms. I love the energy generated in a design workshop—the chatter and brainstorming, prototypes made from tape and popsicle sticks, and the team’s excitement when we unearth an insight about our users. I knew going into college that I wanted to find opportunities to utilize design thinking methodology and human-centered design. In the fall of 2013, with fellow student Christopher Kwan, I decided to apply for a Design for America studio at Carnegie Mellon. Chris and I initially polled interest among students in disciplines ranging from design to mechanical engineering to computer science. We gathered over 30 students and a faculty advisor interested in starting a DFA studio. The DFA application process is several months long and requires the group to come up with a design project. Our group chose to address the problem of waste and inefficiency with the current composting and recycling programs on campus. Here’s a video that documents our process and project.

Round One: Defining the Problem

In order to better understand the challenges and frustrations encountered while recycling and composting, we interviewed students and dining hall staff members. We discovered that many students cared about being environmentally friendly, but found the process of sorting trash from recycling to be daunting. Furthermore, we learned from staff members that the waste in composting bins ultimately ended up in landfill due to high contamination rates. These are the personas we compiled from the interviews.

Round Two: Design Thinking Workshop

In February 2014, we held an introductory human-centered design workshop for all of our members. At this workshop, we practiced improvisation and warm-ups to channel our creativity and were able to begin iterating on problem statements based on the personas. We narrowed our focus on three questions:

How might we engage students better in the composting process?
How might we change people’s behavior?
How might we lessen confusion for students?

From here, we began prototyping solutions to improve composting behavior. These models built a foundation for our work and immersed DFA members in a design thinking environment.

Round Three: Our Final Product

Continuing with our group meetings, members formed smaller groups based on the problem statement they wished to address. We continued to build iterations and test both within our group and with other students on campus. Our final product, a compostable food tray meant to be used in various campus dining locations, is presented in the video above. The food tray has dividers for an entree, sides, and a drink—the typical meal served on campus. However, each divider in the tray can be folded down or removed to allow for modularity. While we believe this prototype addresses some of the major problems, such as eliminating the uncertainty about whether dining materials are compostable and providing a tray design that can be used by all eateries on campus, we were also excited to receive valuable feedback from community stakeholders. For example, one user thought the tray felt unbalanced when trying to carry it with one hand. Another explained that because the tray was broken into compartments, it made her question the campus dining food portions—another factor that contributes to food waste.

Round Four: Interview

We were one of ten schools that made it to the final interview round. Although Carnegie Mellon was not selected as one of the four studios accepted in 2014, there were many positive takeaways from this experience.

student of hci and cognitive science.

lover of typefaces.

consumer of post-it notes.

I’m an interaction designer who incorporates principles of cognitive science at every stage of design iteration. In particular, I’m interested in how our knowledge of human perception can guide the process of design in a way that maximizes usability. Through my design thinking experience at the d.school and my HCI studies at Carnegie Mellon, I’ve learned how to harness human factors to create intuitive, purposeful, user-centered designs.

I’m a San Francisco Bay Area native who graduated with a double major in Human-Computer Interaction and Cognitive Science at Carnegie Mellon University. Feel free to e-mail me at rjue@andrew.cmu.edu if you want to chat about design!