This client is a leading manufacturer of educational courseware, assessment tools, and learning technology. The company assembled a team of freelance UX designers to redesign their tablet-based application that would provide online lessons and testing for public school students from grades K-12.
As a consultant on this project, my role was to perform UX/UI tasks to redesign the front-end app for both iOS and Windows devices. What I did:
- Met with the client’s subject matter experts (SMEs) to understand the requirements for the app
- Participated in sketching sessions with the UX team
- Created high-fidelity final mockups that were sent to development
- Created graphic assets and design guidelines for developers
- Ran accessibility tests across the app and compiled a list of corrections for developers
This project was my first experience with building an app for tablets. I was extremely eager to get my hands dirty and gain understanding of how apps differ between iOS and Windows devices.
During our second day on the job we found that the client had entered into a contract to design and deploy a learning application throughout the public schools in one of the nation’s largest school districts. The product’s first release had failed. The user interface was not intuitive, contained numerous bugs, and the system security was faulty. There was a great deal of pressure to correct the problems and re-launch the product in a few months time.
We got started by reviewing the app in its existing state with the UX team and SMEs. We then compiled a list of enhancements and project deadlines which were logged in JIRA and handled in agile sprints.
The team was divided into separate groups to handle K-6th Grade or 7-12th Grade. I was assigned to the higher grades because my design style tends to be more streamlined and better suited for an older group of children.
Sample project mockups.
The look and feel of the application had already been established. Our mission was to retool areas of the app to make them more user-friendly and to build new content areas that were missing from the earlier release.
I was assigned an additional task of assessing the app to make sure it met accessibility guidelines, and found numerous errors. I created an exhaustive spreadsheet of edits and proposed solutions that were implemented by the development team.
Samples from style guide.
We were unable to gain access to actual users (children and teachers) for testing purposes and had to rely on the knowledge of SMEs to develop the app. Unfortunately the SMEs were unfamiliar with using apps, and they rejected most of our recommendations.
There was a lot of negative press surrounding the initial failure of the app and the FBI launched an investigation on the project. This made for a stressful working environment.
The UX team delivered the second version of the product on-time despite the challenges we faced. I was thrilled to be part of such a talented and committed design team.
Unfortunately, the app’s second deployment was also rejected by school district and a lawsuit was filed to recoup funds spent on the project. The disconnect between what the users needed, and what the SMEs *thought* they needed was too difficult to overcome, and the time required to deliver an exceptional product was simply not available.
What I Learned
I learned a tremendous amount about app design and accessibility guidelines.
Group sketching sessions with team members is an excellent way to collaborate and find a number of solutions on the fly.
Testing with actual users is critical. SMEs are also helpful, but they are no replacement for users.