Zcruit

Predictive Analytics for College Football Recruiting

Project Brief

Zcruit (https://www.zcruit.co) is a web platform that is bringing predictive analytics to college football recruiting programs. The key feature of Zcruit is the Z-Score, a number representing the likelihood that a high school prospect will commit to the recruiter’s football program.

The average college football program will spend $400,000 annually scouting 2,000 prospects, extending 200 offers, and ultimately receiving 20 commitments. Though the market for Zcruit's predictive analytics is small, the potential cost savings from smartly recruiting is significant. As well, programs could improve their recruiting classes by focusing their efforts to recruit athletes most likely to commit.

Client

Zcruit

Requirements

Research, Usability, Interaction

URL
https://www.zcruit.co

Current state

The team at Zcruit was actively refining their product. They had a single user, a director of recruiting (Director of Player Personnel), who participated as their continual tester.

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Recruits tracked by a user appear on a dashboard, and all other high school prospects can be found in the discover page. They were very similar in appearance.

Their current product had a look and feel similar to a spreadsheet. Though it was pretty light on features, there were a few they had built already. Users could make lists of prospects manually or based on saved search parameters, prospects could be removed by the user if the user deemed the prospect was not a likely recruit, and a daily email would update the user of recent changes in the Z-Score of tracked prospects and suggest prospects to consider.

case-study A daily email was sent to recruiters with recent changes to prospects, but the same information was missing from the website.

Competitive Analysis

As we researched current solutions for recruiters, we found two types of products: websites that report on football recruiting for fan consumption, and applications built for football programs to organize their team’s performance and recruiting. We labelled these fan-oriented websites as information based, and the tailored applications as organization based.

Information Services
Organization Platforms
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  • A site for fans, particularly it seems for fans to access their school's dedicated page
  • 247Sports Rating for prospects, Crystal Ball prediction seems similar to Zscore.
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  • scouting, recruiting, and compliance software
  • Mobile and Web platforms
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  • 'male-focused' news site for fans
  • mulitple ranking systems, High/Med/Low interest of prospect in schools
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  • edit and share video
  • create highlight reels for recruiting purposes
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  • team-specific college sports coverage "The Ultimate Fan Experience"
  • a Rivals Rating, similar to the 247Sports Rating
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  • highly customizable, web and mobile platforms for recruiting and communication within the department

My colleague and I saw Zcruit as an intersection of these two categories. The information on fan-oriented websites was not highly valued by recruiters, but current recruiting applications are mostly organizational tools - simplifying a recruiter’s workflow without adding value.

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In many ways, recruiters would use Zcruit like the fan-oriented websites. We found across these sites the ability to set search filters appeared centered on the page above results. Zcruit’s search filters appeared on the left side of the page in a tall column.

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Zcruit's filter, left, compared with 247Sports, top right, and Scout's, bottom right.

Speaking with recruiters

We interviewed recruiters from Division I football programs to get a better sense of their needs and workflows. Our interview subjects recruited for programs in the Power 5 conferences (ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12, and SEC) and smaller programs in the FBS (Football Bowl Subdivision). We found trends emerged across this diversity.

Recruiters have a pragmatic approach to their talent pool. Small programs recruit regionally. Large programs can have a nationwide reach, but generally only the top programs have a chance at attracting the top prospects. In cases where programs are attractive to a prospect usually out of reach, an algorithm wouldn’t break the news. They would hear that through traditional channels.

Current tools store and present information, but don’t lift any weight on behalf of recruiters. Zcruit isn’t poised to replace any current products, but it can save recruiters time and guide their efforts to better results.

Each program has a different reach. They only need to review some of the 10,000 prospects each year. There is the opportunity for Zcruit to give recruiters an experience specific to their needs.

Structuring our approach to the solution

My colleague and I used our research to construct a foundation for our problem solving. We identified the opportunity as such:

College football recruiters are already able to view information on prospects through multiple portals. They need a tool to fit the needs of their unique football program so that they can move quickly on their most attainable recruits.

To help us reach a successful solution for this opportunity, we chose principles to guide us through our decision making:

Acknowledge existing services

Zcruit is one piece of the recruiting workflow. Anticipate some users will be engaging with Zcruit for only moments at a time.

Showcase the difference

Current services don’t empower the user to work with the data. Make the defining features prominent so users know what makes zcruit different and why to use it.

Let the users make it their own

Utilization will vary recruiter to recruiter and program to program. Give recruiters options to make their accounts complementary to their workflow.

Highlight the best, trash the rest

Present the user with the most relevant information and don’t distract with quantity. The football program is the user.

Consider the coaches

Coaches are slower to adopt new technology. Make benefits easily apparent to persuade skeptical users.

Foster Collaboration

Connect everyone in the program so they won’t let any prospects fall through the cracks.

Our Defined User

Due to the unique user base, we established that the primary user was the football program, and not individual recruiters. Recruiting is a team effort, with up to a dozen recruiters working with assistant coaches and the head coach to make decisions on making offers and attracting talent. Specifically we defined Zcruit’s users as less dominant Power 5 programs and smaller FBS programs. The perennial national championship contenders have vast budgets and inherently draw the top prospects already. Zcruit’s value is not as applicable to these programs.

Concepts

In interviews, we heard how much recruiters valued the proposed content of the daily emails from Zcruit. As we moved forward into ideation, we wanted to explore how we could bring this content onto to website.

We imagined different ways to present the email content and how could the site on a whole be more intuitive for users. In essence, we posed ourselves these questions about the concepts we wanted to explore:

If a dashboard represents the delivery of information to the user, how should recruiters control and organize information on Zcruit?

How can the most important information (daily email content) be presented to the recruiter?

From there, we created concepts with more prominent filtering options, new organization for lists, and only more relevant information.

case-study My colleague and I brainstormed ideas, features, and concepts to start looking for solutions to the problems and issues we found in recruiters workflows.
The concepts I focused on prioritized and simplified presentation of Zcruit’s data.
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When finding a prospect, the user would find filtering options in line with the webpage, a departure from the filtering column on the existing site.

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On the dashboard, users would see recent changes to the Z-Scores of prospects they are pursuing or watching.

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The player card has more options than on the existing site. It is better connected to other features on the site and gives the user more control.

My colleague created iterations of how to best bring the email content to the website.
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When finding a prospect, the user would find filtering options in line with the webpage, a departure from the filtering column on the existing site.

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On the dashboard, users would see recent changes to the Z-Scores of prospects they are pursuing or watching.

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The player card has more options than on the existing site. It is better connected to other features on the site and gives the user more control.

Concept testing

We brought our concepts to recruiters to find out what worked best for them. With some concepts overlapping and other quite distinct, their feedback on each would inform us which features and design choices are strong and valid in regard to their needs and workflow. Additionally, some of what we heard from our test participants informed us beyond specifically what they were reviewing.

Users needed wider editing tools to conform Zcruit to their uses. Zcruit should present the relevant information in each case to the user.

We needed to evaluate what is most useful on Zcruit. For example, in interviews recruiters stated how GPA can be a valuable piece of information, but since it’s stored in other products, it doesn’t need a space in Zcruit. As well, there was an opportunity to refine the sizing and placement of text and buttons.

Specifically in regard to the dashboard concept, the dashboard should be treated as a way to get a summary of information, and the 2x2 square grid layout was the best received option.

Moving into a higher fidelity

Building off our paper prototypes, we moved into a higher digital fidelity. We chose a few tasks to build our next prototype around that would cover much of the ground laid out by the concepts. Users would find a prospect to track, interact with the dashboard, and change status of a player on a list.

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When finding a prospect, the user would find filtering options in line with the webpage, a departure from the filtering column on the existing site.

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On the dashboard, users would see recent changes to the Z-Scores of prospects they are pursuing or watching.

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The player card has more options than on the existing site. It is better connected to other features on the site and gives the user more control.

We also tested some smaller designs to the site. After setting filters, breadcrumbs would appear with the search results. Unset filters would still be accessible in the Set Filters modal. The current website was lacking confirmation messages from the system. In the prototype, these appeared when a change in made by the user, such as editing prospects. The prototype we created represented a larger restructuring of the website we envisioned. The existing site had grown from data sheets with added features but without a more complete strategy. By giving our clients a structure, growth could be more easily integrated.

Testing and Revising

We collected what we learned from our usability testing into a takeaway that we could use as we made revisions and readied our findings for our clients.

Based on this feedback during testing sessions, we made a few changes to simplify and prioritize the design. We primarily addressed the manner of the presentation of information in searches and on player cards and how much information is displayed in total.

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Due to constraints of displays recruiters would be using, the prospect card needed a redesign to reduce its size. Offers, Notes, and Twitter were combined into one space, with Offers being visible at first. We also learned a lot about how recruiters wanted to be able to edit information so buttons and information were altered to fit their expectations.

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The columns on the prospect lists and search results were reordered with respect to importance and scannability for recruiters.

Future Recommendations

Due to the short time period my colleague and I worked in, there were some designs that were outside of our scope but we nevertheless recognized they could be next steps for Zcruit.

Tablet App

Users are on their smart devices when they’re on the go or when they’re meeting in different offices. It’s important for Zcruit to have mobility so that users have the same functionality wherever they go.

Recruiting Board

Though recruiting boards exist in current products, Z-Score and Z-Max would be a welcomed addition to help track the likely recruiting class.

Ability to move prospects

Users would like the ability to move a player up or down within a list. This could be a drag and drop feature or a simple “up and down” arrow feature.

“Batch untrack”

The ability to untrack multiple players at once Example: Ability to untrack all players with Z-score below 5.0; ability to untrack all players with offers from Alabama, etc.

What I learned

I worked with a colleague for three weeks to restructure the product around users and their needs. In this project, I learned to balance teamwork and individual work to accomplish the most possible in tight timeframes. Fortunately, I came to the project with some prior knowledge of college football. I covered games from the sidelines as at photographer at The Daily Illini.

This project represented the first time I rendered services for a client as a user experience designer. I thoroughly enjoyed working with my clients and stakeholders. I was appreciative of the expertise they brought, which expedited my entry and understanding of the college recruiting world. While my colleague and I still pushed boundaries looking for solutions, their guidance helped us work quickly and smartly.

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