Change Your Approach to edTech Product Design with Persona Resonance

Sean Oakes bio picture Sean Oakes

No matter who your digital tool is for, that tool should reflect your user’s environment. This includes the people your primary user comes into contact with, but who might never even know your product exists.

We like to call these people “resonant” personas. Unlike secondary or tertiary users, a resonant persona never uses your product or any of its output. But understanding this persona is crucial to unlocking the look and feel of your product for users.

When your primary user feels like your tool reflects their actual working environment, their entire experience changes for the better. Because this exercise is so effective, we think persona resonance deserves its own place in your investigation into primary and secondary personas and their needs. And we can show you how.

How Persona Resonance Affects edTech Product Design and Product Development

Let’s consider two imaginary products. The first product is for a teacher who works with first graders. The second is designed for a high school teacher. Likely, you’re already imagining two different approaches to visual design and UX, even without knowing anything else about what these products are supposed to do.

That’s also persona resonance at work! Neither the first graders nor the high schoolers will use these products. Through UX and visual design, however, you can acknowledge that these resonant personas play a role in your users’ ecosystems and in the world of each product.

Persona resonance can also guide strategic decision-making before you ever design a single screen. Take your competitive audit, for example. If you’re designing a tool for a first grade teacher, you likely wouldn’t include a product created for high school teachers in your competitive audit. The approach to both design and functionality would likely be too different to be useful.

When you understand the world around your user, it’s easier to narrow your list of competitors and evaluate the most relevant details about their products. Persona resonance saves you time and helps you make stronger decisions—even early on in the discovery process.

By demonstrating how well you understand your primary persona, their needs, and their working environment, you and your team create a stronger product out of the gate.

Are you ready to try designing using persona resonance? Download our Persona Resonance Workshop below!

How Persona Resonance Affects Visual Design

Once you identify your resonant persona, it will impact the visual design and direction of your edTech product in subtle, powerful ways.

In 2019, Scholastic asked Backpack Interactive to design the Next Step Guided Reading Assessment. We created this complex reading assessment tool for teachers working in 2nd through 5th grades. Within the app, teachers manage a large amount of student data and must follow a robust series of notifications and recommendations in order to stay on top of their student assessments throughout the year.

As soon as teachers begin recording student data, the app provides a wealth of information about students’ capabilities and challenge areas. Teachers are prompted to group students or draw on additional classroom management data to directly influence their teaching practices. The app also produces professional, beautiful, and individualized reports for parents.

Because of the tool’s complexity, we worked hard to make its visual design soft and friendly rather than intimidating or institutional. In our first iteration, a neutral color palette, lots of white space, and a rounded typeface encouraged engagement and eased cognitive overload.

We achieved simplicity and clarity in our first design iteration, but we needed to bring in details about our resonant persona to make the NSGRA feel truly special. How could we use visual design to indicate that the product was intended for teachers of young students? Our design solution needed to bring in the rest of the user’s world, to be inspired by the second-grade software and textbooks on our users’ shelves.

Based on client feedback, we introduced a bright, punchy palette to the app’s accent colors. Each section of the app is color-coded with this tropical palette, which represents the resonant persona. The choice of rounded typeface also nods to the resonant persona. It’s not overly businesslike or formal, but the friendly typography is used in a sophisticated way.

These young students never see or use the product, which means they’re not a secondary or even tertiary user. However, if the client developed student users in the future, we could easily build off of existing design decisions for a student interface.

By taking a hard-working interface and nodding to the fact that our users work with young students all day, we pulled the resonant persona into the teacher’s world and the world of the app.

When you use persona resonance to inform the visual design of your edTech products, you help users feel more at home. Persona resonance signals to your users that you understand their day-to-day experiences in a way that encourages trust, engagement, and delight.

Are you ready to try designing using persona resonance? Download our Persona Resonance Workshop below!

Let’s build the future of digital products together.