Project Quaker

How to COVID test 15,000 students a week.

view prototype
Project Quaker

The Problem

During the COVID-19 Pandemic, the University of Pennsylvania had to quickly adapt to testing 15,000 + students per week using saliva based tests.

Their existing website was clunky and outdated, & students felt that it took too long to take the saliva test.

The Solution

Our team re-designed UPenn's existing Coronavirus Resources website, reducing the average time spent searching for a COVID appointment link by 500%.

We also developed an aromatherapy solution that increased participant satisfaction by 70%.
Role: Client Lead, UX Researcher, UI Designer | Duration: 9 weeks | Digital Tools: Figma, Illustrator, Photoshop

Research & Discovery

To start our project, the team set out to conduct student-focused research. We wanted to know the causes for students to get tested, understand the difference between regular and infrequent testers, and learn about the new saliva testing experience.
Quantitative Data
71 Survey Responses
Respondents that get COVID tested weekly
Only get COVID tested when exposed
Did not understand contact tracing process
Got COVID information from university email
Had been in an indoor gathering of 10+ people
Respondents that got COVID tested weekly
Only get COVID tested when exposed
Didn't understand contact tracing process
Get COVID information from University emails
Had been in an indoor gathering of 10+ people
Qualitative Data
Nasal Swab Field Interviews
Saliva Test Field Interviews
Industry & Medical Professionals
Graduate Students
External Students
We learned:
Public health was not important enough to stop students from their behaviors
There wasn't an explicit incentive for students to get tested
Information was really hard for students to find
Students thought saliva tests were gross and took too long
Behavioral Data
Field Observation of Saliva Tests
Students held the tube far below their face
Students struggled to spit accurately into the tube
More students can take this test at once than the nasal swab test
Average time to complete the test was
4 minutes and 5 seconds
Students were confused after hearing the instructions and looked for help
Students held the tube far below their face
Students struggled to spit accurately into the tube
More students could test at once than nasal swabs
Average time to complete test:
4 min 5 sec
Students were confused and often looked for help
The Problem(s)
Information Gathering
Students have to visit multiple sites to get their COVID information.

When they reach the information, they aren't able to fully comprehend what's given.
How might we help students streamline their information gathering and improve comprehension?
Testing Experience
Students don't enjoy taking the new saliva test because it's weird drooling in a tube.

Students also think that this test takes longer than the previous Nasal PCR swab.
How might we reduce the perceived time to take the test, and make the overall testing experience more pleasant?

We did a brief ideation exercise based around three key concepts:
Incentivizing students, enhancing the test itself, and educating students. Some key ideas included a COVID-360 mobile app, QR codes around campus, and text message alerts. We also realized that Penn had an existing COVID-19 website that just needed revamping.

For the testing experience itself, our first thought was that stationing food trucks outside the testing sites would help people drool more. We then realized that the use of aromatherapy could help students drool.

From here, the project split into two parallel paths:
Redesigning Penn's COVID-19 website
Designing an aromatherapy experience for the COVID saliva test

Understanding the Existing COVID Website

Before we started a full redesign of the existing site, we needed to understand what actually needed to be on the site, and what students used it for.

Why do students visit
Schedule a COVID Test
View Test Results
View Campus COVID Data
Check Policy Requirements.
Check Hours & Locations
Schedule a COVID test
View COVID test results
View Campus COVID Data
Check school requirements
Check hours & locations
Next, we wanted to understand why the current site wasn't meeting needs.
We found that the existing site had the following issues:
1. Key links weren't visible
2. Multiple navigation menus
3. Key information not visible on home page
4. Test scheduling wasn't visible
5. Large, hard to read blocks of text
From here, we started the website re-design. Between each iteration, we got our designs in front of students to understand if the redesign was meeting their needs.
Original Website
First Iteration
Final Iteration
We needed the home page to capture the user's attention quickly.
We implemented quick link buttons,  attention banners, and added a quick view COVID dashboard.
We also revamped other key pages, shown here:

Usability Testing

Participants rated the new site easier to use
Success rate while completing tasks
Average decrease in time to complete a task
We presented these findings to the UPenn COVID Response Task Force. As of December 2020, a majority of the changes have been implemented (such as the quick lines, additional graphics on information pages) with plans to update in 2021 and beyond.

COVID-19 Testing Aromatherapy

From our initial ethnographic research, we observed students having difficulty trying to drool. We connected with the Monell Chemical Senses Research Center, working with Dr. Dani Reed, and learned that research has shown a small correlation with odors and saliva production.


We had to figure out how to bring aromatherapy to the saliva test.

1. Chose Lemon Essential Oil as our primary scent, based on research that showed sour odorants can increase saliva production

2. Defined our delivery criteria as: single-use (no contamination risks), shelf-stable, and easily transportable

3. Tested materials (watercolor paper, cotton, q-tips, etc.) to determine that poster board strips soaked in essential oil met our delivery criteria and caused an increase in saliva with our initial test subjects

We then measured a control group to understand what a baseline saliva test looked like.
Finally, we deployed our aromatherapy strips to students taking the saliva test.
Students were instructed to smell the aroma strip while generating saliva.

Overall Findings

Project Wrap-Up
This was such an exciting project to work on. Everybody has reacted to COVID differently, but it was really eye-opening to see individual perspectives on the pandemic and how behavior can or cannot be influenced.  This project has shown that design is best grounded in user research. Our extensive research process really helped lay the foundation for two successful prototypes, both of which are on their path to implementation for Spring 2021.