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Loneliness is the next pandemic.
Despite more ways than ever to meet other people, many folks still experience loneliness on a regular basis.
tl dr:
It can be difficult to find places to meet people and make friends. Lonely people face physical and/or mental health barriers that make this even harder, trapping them in a vicious cycle
Oniva is an app that aggregates and curates events from multiple sources, matches groups of people to build trust before meeting in person, and makes it simple to connect with them afterwards




Earlier this year, a few of my relatives and acquaintances confided in me that they were
. It was not for a lack of trying - their attempts to make friends just never landed. I did some research on loneliness and learned that more than 1 in 10 people in Canada over 15 are always or often lonely, with youth being the most vulnerable
. Not surprisingly, those who felt lonely tended to rate their own mental health poorly as well. Similar figures and trends were seen worldwide in 2021 with
revealing that two in five people reported being lonelier than in the preceding six months.

% of people who always or often feel lonely.svg

On a personal level, I encountered stories about loneliness across the Internet more frequently - many of them triggered by the pandemic and its repercussions
. Although I have a caring partner and good friends, I can still relate to the struggles expressed in these stories of isolation and exclusion. Could a loneliness pandemic be developing right under our noses?

What's at stake: Who / Why / When / What / $$$

When I enrolled in a UX design course in the summer of 2022, the loneliness problem was still on my mind. It was only natural that I chose to focus on it for my final project. I imagined the app being used not only by the people I met through my research, but by the general population as well. In fact, multiple times I found myself thinking: “An app like Oniva would be really useful to figure out what to do this week!”

Existing solutions

I surveyed the digital landscape for existing ways to make friends: dating apps, friend-seeking apps, pen pals, chat rooms, blogs and event listings. Meetup was the closest thing resembling what I set out to accomplish:
Meetup is a platform for finding and building local communities. People use Meetup to meet new people, learn new things, find support, get out of their comfort zones, and pursue their passions, together.
Even so, I found that the platform generated a lot of noise that I needed to filter out and the level of authenticity or trustworthiness of the events varied wildly. The people I interviewed later on were familiar with Meetup but had limited success and no real desire to return to it.
Furthermore, these social apps put most of the effort of making new friends on the user. It’s up to you to find the event, attend, meet people (often total strangers), talk to people, and then follow-up after the event has ended. For many folks this isn’t a big deal, but for those struggling with loneliness, it’s daunting.

Example screenshots from Meetup (left) and blogTO (right) when searching for things to do on the weekend

Finally, the sheer number of options out there was overwhelming. For example, ticketed events may be discovered through Eventbrite and blogs, public events through news articles or government websites, hobbyist events on Meetup, and so on. Even Google now has a feature that lists all the events happening in your area, but I found the list to be overly long and filled with things that didn’t interest me.

How might we...

Make it easier and faster to find things to do in the city?
Help people make friends at these events?


User interviews and insights

I set out to understand loneliness at a personal level through user interviews. I had already done some preliminary desk research and developed a vague idea for a solution, but I wanted to approach this stage free of assumptions.
I conducted 6 interviews with people ranging in age from 30 to 55. My goal was to explore the following overarching questions:
How do people meet?
What is enjoyable and not enjoyable about this experience?
What makes this experience easier or harder?
The interviews lasted 30 minutes on average. I took notes during each session, taking care to record people’s tone and any visible emotion while they reflected on my questions. I then processed every interview and wrote down the key points on sticky notes, which I grouped together under Pain Points, Motivations, and Behaviours. From there, I identified clusters of similar thoughts (e.g. awkward first interactions) to draw out major themes across each column.
User Interview Synthesis - Grouped sticky notes.jpg
The pain points that stood out to me and that I wanted to focus on were:
people feel like they can’t be themselves when first meeting someone, and
not knowing where to go to meet new people
I chose these two problems because they repeatedly came up in the interviews and seemed feasible within the scope of the project’s timeline.
Across every interview, people spoke fondly about how connecting with someone new and interesting was a life-enriching experience. They may be people who share similar values and beliefs but have vastly different lived experiences. Everybody also desired a sense of belonging; some had found a group that provided this connection, while others were still searching.
I would continually refer to these interview insights when I began to ideate and design the core features of Oniva. They served both to guide me when coming to a crossroads and inspire me to deliver a product that would make a meaningful impact on people’s lives.


I created two personas to represent the primary user archetypes of Oniva. One was a young woman who was well-meaning but misunderstood, and the other was an older man with a physical disability.
Terri Persona.png

Louis Persona.png
These personas were a reflection of the people I interviewed and the findings from Stats Canada about the demographics most prone to loneliness. In designing Oniva, I needed to ensure it would remain accessible to people of varying abilities and technical fluency while being modern and familiar-feeling to younger users. By putting myself in the shoes of my personas, I could better approach Oniva with their needs in mind.

User Journey

Next, I imagined myself (as a persona) seeking out things to do in Toronto and charted this in a user journey. This journey could be divided into a few phases: discovery, decision-making, commitment, preparation, and aftermath. At each step in the journey, I envisioned what I might be doing and how I felt as I navigated this yet-to-be-seen app. I couldn’t help but also think of existing apps with similar experiences e.g. Meetup, but I tried to approach this with a clean slate rather than piggybacking on what’s already out there.


Crucially, this exercise allowed me to identify opportunities and problems that should be addressed in the app. While I knew full well that things were bound to change down the line, this provided a decent starting point for what should be in Oniva and consequently what it could look like.

Information architecture (IA)

With the interviews, personas and user journey in hand, I thought about the features that should exist in the first version of Oniva. I grouped features that belonged together under different domains and then established connections between these features to create an information architecture diagram.
I couldn’t help but think of these in the same way I think about feature modules in a front end framework: bundling business logic, view layers, and services together to keep code organized. By putting myself in my persona’s shoes, I could focus on what makes sense to a user, not the developer. Regardless, having that developer perspective pushed me to keep the diagram concise, free of redundancy, and organized in a way to map neatly between code and design.

Information Architecture - IA.jpg

The image shown above is not the first iteration of the IA, but rather a result of going through the proceeding steps and then returning to this diagram to tweak it. As the functionality and usability of Oniva became clearer to me, so did the structure of the app and all the connections between its components. Even at the time of this writing, I suspect it will further evolve when the app goes live and more feedback comes in.

Task flows

What are the Jobs to be Done (JTBD) and how will users accomplish them in Oniva? This step of the process fits naturally with information architecture as it explores how users arrive to and navigate a feature, revealing more detail and nuance. Because the purpose of the app is to help users find events and make friends, it was only natural to create task flows for these two key JTBDs.
Task Flows - Event RSVP & pre-event icebreaker.jpg
These diagrams would be important for ensuring the prototype contained the necessary elements and connections to use the app.

Sketches and wireframes

Finally, I created some mock-ups for Oniva. I did these first by hand to get a general idea of which screens I needed and what should be on them. I then made lo-fi wireframes to get a sense of spacing and alignment (i.e. padding, margins, responsiveness, etc), and with the hi-fi wireframes I considered the importance of colour, fonts, weight, and how elements flowed on the page.

wireframes - events.PNG

wireframes - event.PNG

I found the wireframes especially useful because what is described in words does not always translate cleanly into images. For example, the cards on the index pages were intended to give users a quick overview of their events and this seemed simple before any images were added. With actual images and real language in place, my gut was telling me that something about them wasn’t right. I iterated over them several times while wrestling with questions like: should there be any visual accompaniment to the cards? In what form and where? What should be done about long lines that wrap?
If Meetup was a product that I sought to improve upon, then Airbnb was a product from which I drew design inspiration. I enjoy how Airbnb’s designers have figured out how to take large amounts of information and condense them into beautifully presented and consistent experiences. I am happy with how Oniva ended up (for now), which I believe finds a comfy medium between aesthetic presentation and simplicity of use.


The entire process so far was not without its challenges. After I conducted the user interviews, I could already see that this problem was big, hairy, and audacious. Addressing anything that has real impacts on people’s physical and mental well-being is scary. At times I doubted if I was even qualified to do such a thing. The interviewees who reported being lonely were wrestling with noticeable obstacles in their lives, whether internally (self-esteem, confidence, or addiction) or externally (poor relationships with family). They were getting in the way of them building relationships with other people. Would an app be able to fix their problems, or are they better off getting personalized care elsewhere?
I reframed the problem I was attempting to tackle. Being mindful of the underlying causes, I knew I wasn’t suited to address them directly but perhaps Oniva could relieve some of the pain caused by them. They became reminders in my head to build an app that would be non-judgmental, inclusive, and affirming. I continually referred back to the insights and exercises I did to identify problems that were appropriate and feasible to solve. The result is what I am happy to share with you in the next section!


Click the button below to view the prototype in Figma:

The individual screens for the prototype can be found by following this link:

Oniva addresses the following major pain points:
I don’t know where to go to meet people
People facing this barrier may feel overwhelmed and unmotivated, so I wanted to make it as easy and comfortable as possible to accomplish this task.
Aggregate events from multiple sources in one place
Sources include blogs, Eventbrite, and Meetup.
Reduces the number of places a user needs to look through while ensuring nothing is missed.
Show users only what they want to see
There are many things to do in a city like Toronto, but therein also lies the problem; too many options can lead to decision paralysis.
Highlight and prioritize the events most likely to be of interest to them. Less is more.

I can’t be authentic myself when I meet people for the first time
Many people are not a fan of small talk, but they don’t feel comfortable jumping into the deep end with strangers either. As a result, they feel like they can’t express themselves authentically when meeting new people.
Encourage event attendees to talk to each other via icebreakers before they even meet in person
I borrowed some ideas from the workplace for this feature. In my meetings and working sessions, it was through ice breakers that I could really learn about my peers and have a little fun while doing so. I feel that people actually have a lot to say, but often need a nudge to get the ball rolling.
Users can configure different privacy and safety settings to their liking, for instance, by choosing only to be matched with people of the same gender or age group.


My final presentation was well-received by my UX classmates and instructors. It was commended for its polish and research insights. I was encouraged to narrow down the focus of Oniva even further to better communicate who the app is for and how it might help them. I agree with this criticism because at the end of the project I felt like I was trying to hit multiple moving targets. The other presentations that I enjoyed in the class addressed very specific problems in creative ways, especially if they were for niche demographics. Meanwhile, Oniva could be viewed as an event finding app, a chat app, and a relationship app. While I still believe in the merits of making it appealing to both an older and younger demographic, it would be beneficial to choose just one to start in order to deliver the best possible user experience.

With more time and resources, I would...

Do a deeper dive into loneliness to understand its many facets and how they may (or may not) be addressed by technology. I could consult with psychologists or do another round of focused user interviews
Continue to develop Oniva with the older adult persona in mind. I feel that this population is often overlooked when it comes to app development, and it is also an “untapped” market so to speak
Conduct more research on accessibility
Reach out to and collaborate with seniors to better understand their needs and desires, as well as any special considerations to ensure their safety
Do usability tests with the target demographic using an interactive Figma prototype
Build an MVP with a framework like NextJS
Iterate, iterate, iterate!


Where do I even begin! This first foray into the world of UX has been eye-opening in several ways.
Whereas my understanding of design was superficial before, after going through the motions myself, I’ve finally grasped what “user experience” design means and this has changed my approach to features and bug fixes at work. Engineers are natural problem solvers and quick to come to solutions, but designers asks for patience as the underlying causes of the pain are explored. I enjoy this deliberate way of thinking and believe a strong relationship between development and design is necessary to deliver products and services that enhance users’ lives, not bloat them.
I’m better able to appreciate all the effort and research that goes into UX; so much happens before the first mock is even rendered, yet most stakeholders are only concerned about this last part (hence the common misconception that design is just about making pretty things).
I’ve also grown quite fond of Figma, a tool that’s favoured by designers at my company. It’s excellent at offering precision when it’s needed and flexibility when freeform is demanded, and has an extensive ecosystem of plugins to boot. Not to mention the app itself feels so smooth, fast, and intuitive to use. I noticed that Figma is veering in a direction that makes it more “dev-friendly” (e.g. auto layouts), but these features aren’t used to their full potential at my workplace. More often than not, a designer’s work is treated like a static asset and consulted on an as-needed basis.
On the topic of loneliness, I’m painfully aware that two months is not enough to give this behemoth of a problem the attention it deserves. I only looked at the tip of the iceberg and planned my project around that.

To be clear, I am talking about the emotional state of feeling disconnected from others; contrast this with alone, which refers to being physically on your own. One can be in the middle of a crowd and still feel lonely, or be alone and not feel lonely.
Canadian social survey: loneliness in Canada
Loneliness on the increase worldwide, but an increase in local community support
Baader-Meinhof effect?
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