All Posts in UX Design

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.

December 19, 2019 - No Comments!

7 Best Practices for Testing Digital Products in Schools

User testing is exciting. You finally get to see your edTech product at work as 25 little people in a classroom begin pushing all the buttons on your product at once.

Testing digital products in schools also presents a number of challenges for product designers.

For example, there might not be enough time in your schedule—or enough wiggle room in your budget—to make substantive changes.

Or the questions developed by your UX team might gently color a user's experience of your product, giving you inaccurate data about how new users engage with each feature.

Set your team up for success by thinking through user testing in schools from the very beginning of the process. Here's how we design user testing to get to the heart of your users in their every-day environment.

User Testing in Schools: Getting to the Heart of Your Users in their Environment

  1. Develop the right mindset. You've already tested your prototypes. You've iterated your product along the way. You've even road-tested it with users. By the time you're ready to test in schools, you might think there are no surprises left. But that's where your mindset can shift. The point of user testing is to discover the many unexpected ways users will interact with your product. It's important to remain open-minded to the possibility of change, even late in the game. After all, small changes in your UX can create a much better experience for your users.

  2. Build design changes into your schedule and budget. To get the most value out of testing, incorporate design changes into your schedule and budget. Be clear with your team about the differences between cosmetic changes that won't impact a product's success and changes that will make a lasting, positive impact on your user's experience. Use all the feedback you receive from testing to improve your product's UX in substantive ways.

  3. Choose a true sample of users.Testing reveals how the average user learns to engage with your product in real time. For the data to be most effective, strike a balance between testing internal and external users. Internal users will give you important insights into how the product should work in an ideal world. External users, especially those who aren't tech savvy, reveal what might be confusing or unexpected about your product.

  4. Identify specific microflows that are essential to the product. At this point, it's probably been awhile since you thought about how students and teachers log in to your product. Or how teachers create a new class. Or how students engage with their peers on your platform. Think through the microflows that are most meaningful in each user journey and focus your attention there during testing. What did students have difficulty doing? What features confused or excited them?

  5. Concentrate on functionality. Help your users focus on functionality by incorporating clickable wireframes and other prototyping into your testing process. Wireframes eliminate any potential distractions created by visual design and allow users to really think about how a product works. Screensharing and heatmapping tools also help you see where users are directing their mouse. Are they wandering around on screen? Skipping over the login button because they expect it to be located in a different corner of their monitor? Be open to changing visual designs based on what you see after testing functionality first.

  6. Design open-ended questions. If you "lead the witness" in user testing, you're not going to get a real answer about your product. Open-ended questions allow you to dig into responses and discover whether users are getting what they should out of your product.

  7. Understand — and prepare for — the school environment. It's good practice for both product owners and the UX team to be in the room when users test products. This is especially true in school environments, which might have outdated hardware or bad internet connections. These hurdles are easy to forget in the comforts of your own office. The technology available in schools will also affect your testing outcomes. Make your product as lightweight as possible and scale it for the ChromeBook, which is commonly used in schools. Observe how the school environment impacts the ways your users interact with the product. Were there any unexpected stumbling blocks that might impact your UX or UI?

Done right, user testing reveals how your product will help students learn a new concept or guide teachers to create detailed reports about their classrooms. This crucial process also reveals where you can still improve the UX and UI in meaningful ways for your users.

Time and again, we've seen how a thoughtful, data-driven user testing process affects final product design in surprising ways. With these best practices in place, you'll be ready to tackle user testing for any edTech product and give your users exactly what they need.

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.

November 13, 2019 - 1 comment.

UX Designers are the Learning Engineers of the Future

To most UX designers, the process of combining research, testing, and creative problem-solving sounds familiar. It's what they already know how to do!

After all, transformative digital products aren't made by UX designers who act on gut instinct. They're made by designers who examine a great deal of data throughout the design process.

Unlike other fields, however, a generalist approach to edTech product design simply doesn't cut it.

Learning products have very different requirements than consumer tech. They're used by teachers and students in school environments to achieve high-stakes outcomes.

That's why it's even more important for learning tools to be based on research that reflects how students learn most effectively. And that's why we think specialized UX designers are poised to become the learning engineers of the future.

What Is a Learning Engineer?

This new term from the world of learning science describes specialists with backgrounds in both pedagogy and technology. We think it has even more applications for edTech product design.

A great UX designer in edTech understands how to reflect good pedagogy and learning science through the medium of a digital product. Our products must help students learn effectively, and UX designers play a special role in choosing the features that facilitate learning.

When UX designers have the right background in learning science, pedagogy, and product design, they create transformative learning products. This level of expertise is what makes UX designers the learning engineers of the future.

If you have a strong UX team, you're already on the path to creating a team of unstoppable learning engineers. Here's what you can do to help them specialize:

How to Support the Learning Engineers on Your UX Team

Incorporating research findings from learning science into your edTech product makes your product stronger, more effective, and more appealing to educators. It also means you aren't chasing the latest trends in edTech. You're building a product based on research that works.

But the decision to incorporate learning science into your next edTech product isn't a small one. It gets to the very heart of your UX planning process and will affect both your content and feature design decisions. For example, a designer creating a digital math product might build into its interface an overview that references outcomes from previous lessons. This reflective learning technique gives students a context for the next math concept they'll learn and helps them build connections between past lessons and new ones. If students are given opportunities to reflect on concepts they've already mastered, they learn new concepts even more quickly.

When your UX team develops the skills they need to incorporate learning science into product design, you'll find innovative solutions for encouraging learning throughout your products. Here are three key qualities you can encourage in your UX team as they become learning engineers:

  • Subject-matter expertise: Depending on the type of edTech product you're designing, your UX team will likely need to conduct research on the topic or content area. If your product's goal is to encourage reading in young students, for example, they'll need to study up on the mechanics of early reading in order to reflect this technical knowledge in UX design. Talk to reading specialists or pick up a copy of The ABCs of How We Learn by Daniel Schwartz in order to dive deep.
  • User-centered research: Ensure that your UX team understands the specific user for your edTech product. Will the product be used primarily by teachers and administrators? Or by students trying to learn a specific skill?Desk research, focus groups, and interviews can help your team uncover user needs and pain points, as well as highlight specific environmental challenges to address during the iteration process. The way a product is used can also give your team ideas about which scientific techniques might be most effective for your users. Will a teacher ask students to remember historical facts? Use a system of contextualization and staggered repetition. More on this below.
  • Creative problem-solving: In order to apply a creative new solution to a common learning challenge, your UX team needs a firm understanding of the problem. Leverage all your product research — from subject-matter expertise to testing data — and apply it throughout the iteration process. The more research you conduct, the easier it will be for your team to come up with creative solutions that will delight your users.

If you're designing an edTech product with a UX team that needs more time to research, test, and iterate, you can be an advocate for learning science in the early stages of product design.

Once you create a culture of research-driven problem-solving on your UX team, you're ready to leverage real learning science in the design features of your product.

A Practical Guide for UX Designers to Use Learning Science in edTech

As your UX team becomes more familiar with the pedagogical requirements of a learning tool, they'll be able to reimagine and package powerful lessons with even more powerful design.

For instance, they might use "just in time telling" to help students learn new math skills, rather than replicate a workbook or set of drills. Or they might give learners a chance to set their own goals and become more involved in their own learning.

Steer your product away from "interactive workbook syndrome" and toward more meaningful UX with these three common principles from learning science:

  1. Elaboration
    Elaboration is a method for helping learners retain new information. By encouraging learners to associate new information with knowledge they've stored in their longterm memory, learning engineers — and UX designers — can help learners better "encode" new information. These associations help learners create a familiar context for the new idea, allowing them to recall new information more easily.

    How to Use Elaboration in UX Design/Learning Engineering:
    Designers can create more playful interfaces for new information, including familiar contexts, characters, and interactive patterns that draw from the real world. Relevant cultural references or even familiar gameplay can help learners contextualize new information. This approach works for teachers, as well, especially if you're designing a professional development (PD) component in your software. PD components in edTech can be more than big, impersonal databases of training videos and downloadable PDFs. Consider how a carefully structured learning sequence might help your team leverage the same learning science techniques you've used successfully in student-facing products.
  2. Learner Agency and Self-Efficacy
    Empowering a learner in the process of acquiring knowledge and skills is a proven-effective teaching technique. Self-efficacy is at the heart of some of the most powerful learning skills, including growth mindset and grit. Even for software, it's much easier to teach a student who is more interested in learning than in performing. This type of student is more likely to stick with tasks even as they get more difficult.

    How to Use Learner Agency in UX Design/Learning Engineering:
    Give users control over feedback systems within your product. Maybe that looks like allowing a learner to set their own reading goals or choose their own rewards. With just a few questions and selectors, you can help young learners decide for themselves how often they want to read or what kind of reward they want for reaching the next level of a skills-based product. It seems simple, but this technique immediately shifts the user's mindset from performing for a teacher to thinking about their role in the learning process. How much time do they think they'll need to reach their reading goal? What is reaching that goal worth to them?
  3. Just-In-Time Telling
    Allow users to try out an experience and succeed—or fail—before providing them with background information and 'correct' answers. The experience of learning helps your users understand a concept in real time. With that experience behind them, your users will be able to incorporate information about a new concept or skill more effectively. They get the information about the new concept just in time to be useful and memorable as they build on what they already know.

    How to Use Just-In-Time Telling in UX Design/Learning Engineering: Incorporate demonstrations, experiments, and games into your product that give users a foundation for new concepts. This should be done without asking your users to read lots of new content or get bogged down in explainers. Through interacting with your product, users will be able to tell whether or not they understand a new idea — or if there's something that doesn't quite click.If you let users explore before explaining what's happening or introducing something new, your users will develop a broader context for learning that brand new concept. This gives your product an opportunity to explain the concept later in a more sophisticated way and helps your users learn even more effectively.

By combining the principles of learning science, user research, and good design, UX teams create more effective edTech products with a longer shelf life.

Learning tools that leverage learning science and good UX ultimately help learners master new concepts more easily. They also help teachers facilitate learning in the classroom with cutting-edge technology.

As the "learning engineers" of the future, UX designers are also poised to take learning science out of the laboratory. It's time to put more powerful edTech tools in the hands of the teachers and students who need them most.