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Department Of Design

Sandbox Provides Real-Life Experience for Design Students

BYU Graphic Design Major Viktoriia Leonenko Designed App Inspired By Her Experiences Learning English for 2024 Sandbox Program

Viktoriia Leonenko and Kyle Kohn Presenting Their App at Sandbox, Photo Courtesy of Viktoriia Leonenko

Every year, BYU design students participate in Sandbox, an entrepreneurship program where small, cross-discipline teams spend two semesters building and launching a software tech business from scratch. Sandbox is an opportunity for students to actively learn skills and gain real world experience. This year, many of the students participating in Sandbox are majoring in design, with an emphasis in new product and user design (UX), or have recently switched to the new UX design major.

Graphic design student Viktoriia Leonenko participated in Sandbox this year. She said she wanted to participate in Sandbox even before she was accepted into the graphic design program. Leonenko was inspired by her and her international student peers’ experiences learning English, and decided to create a language learning app that utilizes AI to facilitate practice conversations and offer feedback to language learners. “We researched the users and discovered that speaking was one of the hardest parts of learning a language,” she said. “It is especially challenging when tutoring is expensive or when there is no opportunity to speak with someone who knows the language. For immigrants and refugees living in English-speaking countries, the anxiety of making mistakes while talking to natives is a big barrier to learning English.”

The Mova App, Photo Courtesy of Viktoriia Leonenko

Leonenko found that even if a person could practice speaking with their friends, those friends often didn’t correct them or offer feedback. Leonenko wanted to design an app that allowed students to practice and receive honest feedback that would help them become more fluent in English. She said, “Wouldn't [an app] be a great tool for them to use and gain confidence in English so that they could have more opportunities like better jobs and higher education, or to feel more accepted in the community?”

The app, called “Mova,” is in the beta testing phase. The name “Mova” is Ukrainian for “language” and is a reference to Leonenko’s home country and her experiences learning and teaching English in Ukraine. For “Mova,” she took on the role of co-founder which entailed more than just designing the app. She said, “I was involved in every thought process, including user and competitor research, business idea validation, team leading and business model creation.”

Leonenko’s team consisted of students Eden Paupulaire and Trisha Chandramouli as software engineers and Kyle Kohn as a project manager. The team worked with design faculty mentors Doug Thomas and Seth Christensen and Sandbox mentors Chris Crittenden and Scott Evanson. The team received a Seed Validation Grant and financial support from Microsoft.

The Mova App, Photo Courtesy of Viktoriia Leonenko

The app currently has six conversation topics that the user can choose from. These topics cover common social occurrences, including being at a farmers' market, making a doctor's appointment, calling the landlord, discussing a book, networking at an event and meeting a new neighbor.

Once a topic is chosen, AI starts the conversation by asking a question. The user can answer in any way they choose. Unlike other language learning apps, there is no “one right answer” when responding. There is also an option where users can create their own scenarios.

Through her involvement in Sandbox, Leonenko landed an internship as a UX designer for Oracle. She has found that recruiters and hiring managers value the hands-on experience Sandbox provides for students. “I had the holistic experience of building a startup and it was extremely valuable,” she said. “The experience taught me how to deal with many constraints and, most importantly, how to collaborate with people in different disciplines.”