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There are over 200,000 international students living in Victoria, with 35,000 in the City of Melbourne alone. International education is Victoria’s largest services export, but more importantly, international students have become part of the fabric of life and culture in Melbourne.

  • Interaction Design
  • Product Development
  • User Experience

Students can have an incredibly varied experience in Melbourne. While many have life-changing experiences and go on to be avid advocates for our city overseas, their lack of a local network, life experience and cultural knowledge can make them vulnerable to isolation and even exploitation.

Today developed concepts, designed and built a mobile app to support international students to help them have a successful and happy experience in our city.


Our first question was simple: how can a digital tool help international students in a way that has the most impact on their wellbeing? Building on previous ethnographic research we’d conducted with Study Melbourne, we developed a co-design approach that involved international students at every step.

3. App Concept Research

Through interviews, surveying and a co-design forum with Study Melbourne staff, social workers and international students, we learned a critical insight: what students do in the first few weeks of arrival in Victoria has an enormous effect on the rest of their time here. Their ability to orient themselves and connect with the right services early-on reduced their vulnerability and helped them be ready for the inevitable challenges of life in a new city.

3.5 App Concept

We refined what we learned into divergent app concepts, which we then prototyped in low fidelity as simple paper sketches, and tested these with international students. We learned what was most compelling, what people needed the most help with, and how to make our concepts both accessible and engaging.

The solution? ‘Unlock Melbourne’, an app that guides international students through the most important tasks to complete in their first days in Melbourne—from learning how to say ‘hello’ to finding out how to seek help. Key to the design was making these ‘tasks’ feel approachable and easy through natural language, satisfying interactions, and using the international language of emojis as a key experience feature.


The app was engineered entirely using universal web technologies, with React Native used to compile native apps for iOS and Android, and a Node.js powered Content Management System. The Study Melbourne team are able to publish new content in the app in real time, with the need to push new versions to the app store. It also has robust offline support and push notifications that prompt users to ‘unlock’ the next step in their experience.


The Unlock Melbourne app was launched for both Android and iOS in March 2018, to coincide with the kick off of university for 2018. While in its early days, as users come on board we hope to see not just an uplift in their use of the app, but in the feeling of confidence they have in their new city.