Designing for Student App Engagement | Margarita Genova & Nermeen Ghoniem
Image of a tablet showing student sketches of mobile application designs

Technical University of Denmark Student Cohort

Literature Review, Qualitative Surveying, Interviewing, Design Workshops, UX Design, Digital Prototyping, Video Production

As designers and developers of mobile devices and applications, many of the decisions we make are driven by the desire to engage users. This has often proved a significant challenge, and yet also is a sphere of design with respect to which there is increasingly little doubt as to our success.

To an ever-greater extent today, we understand how to design to attract and maintain users' attention; by employing habit-forming design strategies, infinite content loops, gamified patterns of interaction, attractive interface designs, and numerous other techniques. This is perhaps nowhere more the case than within the pervasive and embedded mobile-device ecosystem — where any attempt to shape the parameters of our engagement has the potential to significantly impact our wellbeing. The impact of mobile technologies on how we live has been extensively documented among student populations in particular. And yet, we know less about the kinds of engagement students desire their devices make possible.

Margarita and Nermeen's work was motivated by knowledge of this research gap, by their personal experience of the impact of technology on the lived experience of university students, and by a desire to turn our focus from an overly-determined and prescribed view of engagement to a more conscious, mindful, intrinsically-motivated and perhaps even more ethical form. Their work took the form of a user-centred design research process comprising five stages of mixed-methods research centred within a highly-diverse university student population in Denmark and internationally. This forward-looking and design-oriented approach contributed;

  1. An understanding of students' perceptions of their engagement with their devices, as presently enacted, experienced, and desired, as well as
  2. A series of design implications for student mobile engagement; realised in the form of a proposed restructuring of mobile-device interaction according to an expanded conception of the modes of engagement made possible with and through our mobile devices.


Genova, M. & Ghoniem, N. (2020, July). Breaking the Cycle of Addiction by Design. Human-Centered Artificial Intelligence MSc Thesis submitted to the Technical University of Denmark.

Genova, M., Ghoniem, N. & Doherty, K. (2021, May). 'Hung Up': Designing for the Mobile App Engagement University Students Desire. CHI EA'21. ACM. LINK