Designing educational products with emotions
“What is unique about designing for educators?“
A new team member asked this question during her recent design on-boarding session at Panorama Education. This isn’t an easy question to answer. Just as there’s no perfect architecture for a building, it is difficult to define one single design that solves every problem for teachers and principals.
About a year ago we were designing what is now one of our core offerings: a product helping thousands of educators to get feedback from their stakeholders. One of the earlier prototypes was simple, clean and minimalistic and, in retrospect, even a little boring. In one of the feedback sessions, our co-founder Xan shared his thoughts:
“Our product is being used in schools and classrooms, and every time I walk into a school building, I’m moved by the vibrant energy of the people and environment. It’s not just the students and teachers, the energy is also in the bulletin board and in the drawings on the walls as well. Can our product capture some of that energy?”
This feedback and others like it inspired us to use a visual design language that reflects the vibrancy of the classroom. For example, we expanded our color pallette, added subtle interactive and animated elements into our products, and changed our typeface.
The image below is one of the features we built recently. It’s a page that helps teachers and principals find the topics and questions that were asked in their survey. When users land on this page they see an array of colorful cubes each of which has a number labelled on one side. When compared to a page with a simple list of topic names this new page is much more colorful, vibrant, and rich in interaction. Such refinements did not only make the pages more colorful and fun, but turned out to be building blocks for an emotional connection with our users. “Surprise,” “curiosity,” and “interest” are some of the emotions we’ve tried to evoke with these design elements. We found that users were more likely to interact with the cubes to find more information about a survey topic. This led them to learn more about our research backed topics by answering questions like “What does ‘Rigorous Expectations’ mean?” or “How many questions were being asked in ‘Grit’?”
The cubes also represent the foundational structures used by kids in kindergarten classrooms. They are symbols of creative energy and, when added to tools like these, can be a manifestation of the classroom environment where educators spend their time every day. Bringing elements from the classroom into the application allows teachers and principals to view data and understand results in a framework they’re already comfortable in.
One of our driving design principles is focusing on empathy for all of our users. For example a teacher may not be as familiar with the survey as an administrator with whom we’ve been working closely on the project. Designing from these different use cases has helped us build a hierarchy of information and decide what elements should be shown at each level. Furthermore, just showing data is not enough and we strive to surround it with relevant contextual information to make the information both easier to understand and more actionable.
Making survey reports easily accessible to our users is a challenge we continue to embrace. We think that applying a visual language inspired by the classroom is a positive step forward, but we still have further to go.
Thanks to Jacob, Terrence and Radhika for reviewing drafts of this post.
Want to build great tools for educators and bring the vibrant energy of classrooms into applications? We have been looking for you! www.panoramaed.com/jobs
Sagar Jauhari is a Software Developer and Roger Zhu is a Designer at Panorama Education. Follow us on Twitter @PanoramaEd