All Posts in Product Development

January 15, 2020 - No Comments!

User Testing: When Technology Insights Solve UX Problems

Systematic user testing is a key part of developing any user experience strategy. Everyone on your product team wants to solve pain points as quickly as possible, and you're eager to test whether you've created something that fulfills your user's expectations.

You also hope user research and testing will give you insights that your marketing team can use to appeal to future customers. From a marketing standpoint, this testing approach seems like a win-win. But it can also leave your UX team and technologist without the technical information they need to solve real problems and offer groundbreaking solutions. 

User testing is so much more than ticking a box on the road to product launch. When you design user testing prompts that move beyond functionality, your UX team can leverage testing insights to solve complicated user problems in new, intuitive, and innovative ways.

Here's how you can ensure that your researcher, technologist, and UX team employ user research to design more effective, user-centered products:

  1. Help your UXR specialist write questions that map to an actionable goal
    Before you get to the testing phase, work directly with your research technology specialist to develop questions that align with your technology and UX needs. 
    Generate actionable goals related to product design or UX that you can map directly onto specific UXR questions. This will help you get a more accurate picture of how users will interact with your product. Actionable goals also give you a head start as you consider what to do with your research findings.

    If you're developing a script, questions should center around the goal of the product rather than design elements or desired features. For example, you could ask teachers whether a product fits into their day, or whether they could use a product with a student sitting next to them. The answers to these questions will help you understand if you've met the big-picture goal of product design.

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  3. Consider whether your UX problem is a technology problem
    We've all had an unexpected problem crop up during user testing. But what seems like a UX fix might instead be a technology fix. Is a user struggling because they don't have access to the right technology for the product? Will incorporating machine learning help a teacher quickly grade or assess large amounts of student data instead of having to do it manually? 

    For example, when Backpack designs a new onboarding process for teachers and administrators, we consider whether it's appropriate for forms or data to auto-save throughout the process. Onboarding for a new product can take educators a long time, and automatically saving forms throughout the process often improves UX. However, from a technology standpoint, auto-save is a heavy lift! Without input from a technologist during the testing phase, it would be difficult to determine whether this "UX problem" could be solved efficiently on the backend. 

    When UX teams and technologists work together, they're able to suggest solutions that address fundamental problems instead of expending their efforts re-designing a product's interface. Sometimes a UX problem really is a technology problem.

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  5. Ensure that your UX team understands the user journey from a tech standpoint 
    In order to offer the best possible solutions, UX teams need to understand how users engage with technology. Which devices will the product be used on? Which parts of the product will get used on mobile? Who will maintain the product once it's sold? What kind of workflow does this user have? How fast is the product on the user's typical internet connection? How robust is the search function? 

    Tech-related questions are easy to incorporate into user surveys at the beginning of the research process. Tech-driven user surveys will give your UX team all the relevant data they need to propose more effective solutions.

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  7. Encourage collaboration during the solution phase
    Your UX and design teams should participate in recommendations for what happens with front-end development. Increased collaboration between technologists and UX designers makes it easier to determine whether a technological solution or an interface solution will help your users accomplish their goals best. Ultimately, you want your team to have more opportunities to explore broad, creative solutions to tricky user problems.
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  9. Use accessibility as an additional tech and UX benchmark
    Designing and testing for accessibility adds expense to your bottom line, but the research and testing process contains opportunities to address accessibility without breaking the bank.For instance, a product's speed or its lightweight feel is an issue of equity. Old or poor quality hardware makes new digital products more difficult to use, but you'll still find outdated, sluggish computers in many school districts with low IT budgets. 

    If you view accessibility as a technology issue, it's possible to incorporate the right questions into your user testing to ensure compliance—and design more accessible products in the long run.

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How to Leverage User Testing to Develop an Innovative User Experience Strategy

For better or worse, you can't ask users to come up with big ideas about your product on their own.

Instead, you'll need to develop a strategic framework that takes user conversations and funnels them into user experience strategy and iteration.

Conversations that unpack user testing, overarching product goals, and technology solutions will allow your team to truly think about user experience strategy — not just generate a new wishlist of product features.

Here's how to stay on track as you prepare for user testing and delve into the results:

  1. Do your homework. Once you've conducted desk research and preliminary strategic concept discussions with the product team, you'll go into interviews ready to consider what you learn through the lens of experience and expertise. 
  2. Use deep listening techniques. When you use deep listening to get to the heart of a product, you uncover unexpected solutions that solve your user's problems in more innovative ways.
  3. Reflect as a group. Gather stakeholders, the product team, developers, and your research technology specialist to reflect on what you learned throughout the user testing process. It's important to build in time at the end of user testing to listen. Multiple perspectives on user testing conversations often lead to "ah-ha" moments of clarity for everyone on the project.

Whether you're months away from generating user research questions or getting ready to observe users interact with your product, look for opportunities to listen, reflect, and collaborate on technology problems with the input of your UX team.

Not only will you hit on more innovative, user-centered technology and design solutions, but you'll also create a stronger product that solves real problems for your users. That's the kind of product destined to make a difference—and tick all the boxes for your stakeholders.

January 14, 2020 - No Comments!

How to Incorporate SEL into any edTech Product

Over the past decade, the education world has embraced the idea that respect, social awareness, and relationship skills are integral to a student's success in school.

These qualities are fundamental to a student's social-emotional learning, or SEL. After all, data shows that when a student doesn't have to worry about bullying or knows how to manage the pressure of taking a final exam, their ability to learn and retain new information improves.

edTech has zeroed in on this trend, too. There are now a slew of digital products that offer SEL teaching strategies and improve students' SEL. But if we want to be truly inclusive edTech designers, we can incorporate SEL features into any product—not just ones that are designed specifically to teach social-emotional skills.

This forward-thinking, equitable approach to product design bolsters student engagement, creates more effective learning tools, and addresses customer pain points in a more seamless way.

SEL Design Strategies: How SEL Concepts Map onto Product Features

According to The Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning, or CASEL, social-emotional learning can be defined by how a student develops the following attributes:

  • Self-awareness
  • Self-management
  • Social awareness
  • Relationship skills
  • And responsible decision-making

Teachers incorporate classroom activities that promote student growth in these areas all the time, from peer feedback activities to group projects to reflection prompts. Crucially, curricular activities designed to bolster SEL aren't just taught in isolation. SEL strategies are often incorporated into lessons on any subject, from math to reading to life sciences.

EdTech can draw on this framework, too. By using product features that promote collaboration, community-building, and creative problem-solving, we transform an edTech tool dedicated to subject-area content into a more comprehensive learning opportunity.

SEL techniques deliver more robust outcomes from any edTech application, as well as higher engagement from students. But digital tools with SEL features do more than help students tackle and retain new concepts. These features promote growth through process skills, communication, and collaboration.

For example, if you're designing a math or physics learning tool, consider incorporating ways for students to visualize, model, or sort data. By giving students multiple ways to analyze and solve a problem, you allow them to apply lesson content in broader contexts. They might even arrive at more unexpected—and brilliant—solutions.

In addition to promoting process skills, products with SEL features have the ability to address how users feel about difficult subjects like math and reading. When we research, design, and test with SEL strategies in mind, our products become more understanding of students' needs—and more useful to the teachers and students we serve.

Uncovering the Right SEL Features Through User Testing

It's an edTech designer's job to understand the emotional mindset of their user, a process often clarified by user testing and research. When you conduct initial research on users, you learn crucial information about their pain points as they try to accomplish tasks within your software.

This stage of the design process also offers opportunities to research and test the SEL components of your digital learning product. How do your users feel about math or reading in general? What's their preferred learning style? Can you uncover the way students think about math concepts? How might they communicate those concepts to someone like an instructor or a peer?

By researching the emotional mindset of your users during product testing, you can more effectively pinpoint what motivates students to learn. You'll gain insights into a student's emotional stumbling blocks around a subject. You'll also learn more about how students communicate with one another and with their instructors.

These interactions are also valuable to capture in testing environments because they help UX teams understand the complex mechanics behind collaborative group projects. Your UX team will be better positioned to design reflective or multi-step workflows that facilitate group learning in a digital format.

The more you learn about emotional mindsets and group dynamics during the testing process, the easier it will be to incorporate meaningful SEL features into your product. No matter what subject area your product happens to be in, SEL features immediately add value to students and instructors alike.

Learning tools that provide SEL strategies for students build engagement, efficacy, and delight in learning. They also give teachers a better understanding of how their students explain complex ideas and process complicated tasks.

Wondering how to translate SEL concepts into effective product features that students and teachers will love? We've got you covered.

January 6, 2020 - No Comments!

What’s Next in edTech: 4 Trends You Need to Know

When we talk about the "future" of edTech, we sometimes risk leaving teachers and their students out of the equation entirely. No wonder edTech is beleaguered by accusations of wanting to "replace" teachers in the classroom!

At Backpack, we believe the best classroom technology amplifies a teacher's ability to help their students learn. Sometimes that means leveraging powerful machine learning capabilities. But, more often, it means developing an even deeper understanding of what teachers do and what kinds of tools will help them teach even more effectively.

In order to design better tools, edTech can springboard off the cutting-edge thinking that's already happening in classrooms all around the country. So forget machine learning and artificial intelligence—at least for now. They might once have felt like the future of edTech, but that future is already here.

Instead, we think edTech products that master these four pedagogically-driven trends will be ahead of the curve.

  1. Assessing social-emotional learning in any subject area
    Social-emotional learning (SEL) is a twenty-first century skill integral to how teachers approach learning today. Teachers and administrators alike are considering how to assess process skills, as well as qualities like collaboration, tolerance, and empathy. How do you encourage students to be more accepting of others and celebrate differences? How do you encourage them to recognize their own emotional states and communicate with others effectively about them? As teachers and administrators embrace process skills and SEL components across the curriculum, edTech needs to anticipate how to address SEL in any type of learning product. Even if students are using your product to improve their math or reading skills, for example, it's important that students also think about process skills and how to communicate concepts to others. How will students use your product to express a new concept? How will it help them explain their thinking to a teacher or another student? How can you encourage communication through visual design in your next edTech product? After all, this type of process communication doesn't just help build subject mastery. It requires empathy, which is at the heart of SEL.

    Products that incorporate SEL design features give teachers more powerful tools, too. When teachers evaluate SEL skills along with subject-area content, their feedback becomes even more detailed and meaningful for students. With a window into process skills, teachers are better able to understand how students think. They follow a student's process to the "right" or "wrong" answer. Verbal assessment then becomes all about soft skills, including how a student communicates, rather than evaluating test scores.

    Attentiveness to SEL also makes edTech feel more human and produces more nuanced responses from software. Even when incorporating machine learning or AI, you'll open up opportunities to create activities that feel responsive to students in a more human way.


  2. Centering learner agency through design
    The more students understand their role in the learning process, the more engaged, inquisitive, and curious they become. We want students to internalize that learning is not just something that happens with a textbook in a classroom—it happens all the time, and it depends on their personal goals. You can encourage learner agency in edTech product design through student data dashboards, feedback systems, and personal goal-setting systems. By encouraging students to set goals or choose projects that are meaningful to their development, you have the opportunity to give students even more agency over their education. Even young students have the ability to set learning goals when prompted.

    This type of learner agency makes students feel more invested in their education, more delighted by the learning process, and more engaged with the helpful tools you've designed.


  3. Embracing decentralized learning
    edTech products can be used outside of the traditional classroom as an extension of teacher instruction or as a way to reach learners in remote areas. Learning products have the potential to make decentralized learning even easier and more powerful for users who want to work at their own pace. Even project-based learning can be accomplished through shared comments as users have time to complete tasks. This can give learners an edge as they complete tasks on their own time or during their most productive times of day.

    edTech products that facilitate decentralized learning are especially powerful tools for students living in rural areas. Remote school districts are increasingly looking for solutions to reach these students, too. Students who experience challenges getting to school need new ways to connect with their teachers and classmates, and edTech tools provide one such solution.


  4. Re-imagining workforce training and adult learning
    It's easy to think of edTech as an industry that only provides solutions for K-12 learners, but edTech serves teachers and learners in higher education, corporate training, and adult education, too. Adults approach learning very differently from K-12 students, and the edTech industry is still developing a deeper understanding of what motivates adult learners. For instance, adults are more likely to be independent learners. They might not even need a traditional "teacher" to learn new information or skills. Especially in professional settings, adult learners make conscious choices to study a specific subject or skill. Unlike K-12 learners, they're already motivated to study or complete a course module. They want to be sure that the product will help them achieve their intended goal.

    From a product design standpoint, this mindset often shifts adults into more of a consumer role than K-12 learners. Depending on your product research, you might consider building value explanation into tasks or product features, so adult learners understand exactly what they'll get out of engaging with your product.


Whether your next edTech product helps students choose their own learning goals or targets young professionals in their career development, integrate these forward-thinking edTech trends to provide even more value to your customers.

December 3, 2019 - No Comments!

EdTech Product Design: How Smart UX Saves $$ on Technology & Creates Efficiencies

We know that adding a UX or UI team into the mix at your company can be scary, even if you have lots of experience facilitating communication between developers and visual designers.

There's always the risk that your company's vision won't be articulated the way you want it to be. Sometimes it's even difficult to see where you went wrong until you're at the end of the process. By that point, however, you might have already run through your budget.

As costs add up, don't make the mistake of short-changing your UX team. It's tempting to save your budget for expensive elements like visual design and development. After all, the most common output tools of UX, like sitemaps and wireframes, are cheap and fast to build. But they also represent a culmination of your team's thinking, and that's a process worth investing in.

Below, we break down why failing to invest in UX can cost you in the long run — and which product planning tools can help you save on your bottom line.

The Case for Investing in a Strategy-Oriented UX Team

The more time and effort you put into developing UX, the more money your team will save in the long run. The strategy process includes developing detailed wireframes, prototype design, and user testing. These powerful tools help you build a better product and refine your goals.

But we know it's not always easy to convince your boss's boss that this process takes considerable time and investment. Here's how you can make a concrete case for investing in a strategy-oriented UX team:

  • Underinvestment never pays. Failing to invest in the product planning phase often results in bringing a less sophisticated product to market. Especially in edTech, learners expect slick, engaging products that take time and money to develop. An underdeveloped product leaves you at risk of getting clobbered by the competition.

  • Product planning results in fewer reworks. When you invest in UX strategy during the planning process, you're less likely to redesign product features in the future. Everyone on your team should understand what your product's key features are and how they support your product's overarching goals.

  • Projects with forward momentum keep your own team invested. Multiple reworks can demoralize your team and make them feel less invested in a product. Keep your team invested in the product's success by generating buy-in on your product's goals and features early in the planning process.

  • Detailed wireframes and interactive flows educate stakeholders. With the right tools, stakeholders can become even more sophisticated consumers of product strategy. Wireframes illustrate UX strategy in a tangible way, and interactive flows provide a top-level view of how personas move through your product. This key part of the planning process helps everyone in the room make better, stronger, more informed decisions.

4 edTech Product Planning Tools That Will Save You Money on UX

In addition to saving money on technology costs in the long run, product planning results in more powerful, engaging, and pedagogically sound edTech tools. Here are four product planning tools you can use to build a better edTech product from the get-go:

  1. Detailed user journeys

    Traditional UX research results in user journeys that detail a specific persona and how they think about completing tasks within your product. These user journeys map out a persona's mindset, their goals, and why their goals might differ from those of another persona.

    Spending the time on UX research and user journeys pays off — especially in an industry like edTech. edTech products require a specialist's insight into how students and teachers navigate software, as well as how they will use your learning tool in a school environment.

    For example, students often use Chromebooks to complete school projects, which will affect your product design. Or teachers might use your tools to complete real-time assessments, which means they'll need an interface that's fast and easy to use.

    The more user research you build into your product planning phase, the more detailed your user journeys — and your team's understanding of their varied environments — will be.


  2. Annotated wireframes

    Developers are great at thinking through what a design decision might mean for a user two clicks away in your product. Or they might see an opportunity to accomplish a task in a way that's more delightful for your user.

    Incorporate developer feedback into the design process by using tools like annotated wireframes. Annotated wireframes deliver developer questions on every screen or user flow, facilitating more interaction between UX and development teams early in the process.

    Use internal communication tools in an app like Marvel, which helps teams share product designs, prototypes, and product overlays, to encourage more conversation. In Zeplin App, your team can even move sketch files onto a shared workspace so developers have the ability to make notes.

    By facilitating collaboration early in the process, your team will figure out where the holes in your design are — and how to address them without expensive reworks.


  3. Interactive wireframes before the prototype phase

    Interactive wireframes create proof of concept and generate internal buy-in with your stakeholders. They're cheaper than trying to build a prototype from scratch, and they're more effective visual demonstrations of product design than a verbal or 2D presentation.

    If you're excited about your visual design and UX, consider using interactive wireframes to get your stakeholders on the same page as early as possible. This will make it even easier for you to move to the prototyping and testing phases without encountering unexpected pushback on design or product features.


  4. Robust project management software

    Billable hours rack up when design teams have to hunt for project details, scope, or company design assets. Eliminate confusing back-and-forths with robust project management software like Asana or Trello. Use these tools to give your design team easy access to all the pieces of the project they need, like logos and brand palettes, without eating into your work day.

The best way to protect your bottom line is to use robust tools that reflect the most recent iterations of your UX strategy. This helps your UX team communicate more directly and effectively with developers and keeps all of your stakeholders on the same page. By investing in the planning process, you'll also have more time to uncover unexpected, well-designed solutions that will delight your users every time they log in. And you can't put a price tag on that.