Tech at the service of education

Before we get into the juicy bits, I think it’s important that I tell you a little bit about myself. I have a bachelors and masters in History and taught the subject for about six years. As time went by, however, I grew more and more disenchanted with teaching and began to explore other work fields that might bring me more gratification. Luckily, my brother is an excellent iOS developer and realised that my profile fit that of one of his workmates: the members of the UI/UX design team. For a few months the idea bounced around my mind and I explored that worlds without much commitment. About a year ago I decided that this would be the ideal path for me to find professional happiness and began to dedicate myself to the study of UX design and my career transition.

I chose the course of the Escola Britânica de Artes Criativas (EBAC) to guide me on this enterprise. As a part of the course, the students must develop a project. Today, I come here to share with you the results of my studies!

Images showing the UI design for the study app Timely

Throughout the course with EBAC, the students must go through all the steps of a UX project, developing an app based on an idea they have themselves. At the end of the course, we have a second project based on a briefing proposed by Banco Original, a partner of the educational institution.

For my first project, I decided to focus on an issue quite close to my previous career: the struggles faced by students with Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) in order to organize their study time. Fortunately we now have much more understanding regarding this learning disability than we did a few decades ago. This also means we now have more and better tools to help the people facing this challenge on their everyday lives. Even so, young people and adults who deal with ADHD still struggle a lot to structure a study routine and keep up with it. Achieving better academic results is a consequence of a more efficient organization routine that greatly improves a person’s self confidence.

With the general idea of finding a way to help people with ADHD improve the quality of their studies, I began a desk research to better understand this disorder and which approaches might be helpful for people dealing with it when it comes to studying topics they are not particularly interested in. With this first surface level understanding, I organized a form to do some research with real people, getting individual data to guide me.

With this initial research, I reached the conclusion that, however significant, the group of people with ADHD represents a very reduced target audience for the development of an application and that to make it viable I would have to increase the number of people who might be benefited by it. With this in mind, I considered the current context created by the covid-19 pandemic. Online studying invaded the everyday lives of many people who would not otherwise choose this course style for themselves. I decided that my quantitative questionnaire would also need to understand what were the struggles common to those with ADHD and the broader population facing the long distance learning challenge.

I gathered 91 responses, out of which only four people were diagnosed with ADHD, however I find it interesting that trhee times as many people believe they have an undiagnosed learning disability. This suggests that in Brazil, we still have a high level of sub notification of learning disabilities and that a larger number of people might be benefited with the tools created specifically for people with a diagnosis.

A donut chart showing that over 80% of people do not believe they have a learning disability
Over 80% of people have no learning disability, be it diagnosed of not

Even though most people have no learning disabilities that could make it more difficult for them to follow along a study path, I could notice that only around 40% of them finished every long distance course they began, while around 16% have finished none. This suggests that this style of learning might pose some sort of challenge to conclusion.

Donut chart showing that around 40% of people finished all long distance courses
As the chart shows, most people do not finish all the courses they start on a long distance style

Most of the responses point that some sort of tool external to the course itself could be beneficial at keeping the person motivated to study and as such finishing the course. With this in mind, we can assume that there is currently a market interested in this solution being developed.

Both people who have never taken an online course as well as those who have taken at least one believe that an external tool can be helpful to finish an online course

In order to consider which functionalities should be included in such a tool, the respondents could choose from a series of options given by me or suggest an idea of their own. The most selected ones, by both people who have and those who have not taken online courses before, are the following:

  • Monthly and weekly calendar
  • Awards for performance
  • Daily tasks organization
  • Push notification to keep up with deadlines

Since the main target audience for this solution is still made up of people with ADHD, I validated those suggestions with two women in their 30s and diagnosed with ADHD. They both agree that organizing your day to day activities are essential aspects of having a productive life, suggesting that having an automatization system of organizing study activities would be of great help.

With this research concluded, I came up with an user persona and got to know her better:

Getting to know Marina, our user persona

The ideation process was a huge challenge for me, but not for the reasons I expected it would be. Before I started playing around with design, I never thought of myself as a creative person. Getting into this process, I was very scared that I would be unable to come up with good ideas to solve the proposed problem (a problem I came up with myself!). Fortunately I had the opposite problem! Through my dialog with potential users and online research, I thought of several functionalities that could help a student on their learning journey. To define which would make it into the Minimum Viable Product (MVP), I organized a prioritization grid.

A list of possible functionalities and its prioritization according to the relationship between tech capabilities and high impact for the user

Researching other study apps, I noticed that many of them focus on one study technique only. Considering the ideas developed on the previous step, I decided to work with the spaced repetition method.

The spaced repetition method is very often used on language learning apps. Do you remember when the little owl from Duolingo pops around asking you if you’ve reviewed a topic already? That ‘s it! That ‘s an example of applied spaced repetition. An algorithm determines when the student is about to forget a topic they already learned and suggests it ‘s time for some reinforcement. Since the review period is determined by the algorithm, this automates the structuring of study blocks, following the direction given by the interviewees.

With this path determined, it was time to get my hands dirty to bring to life what lived in my mind.

To start visualizing the solution, I developed a simple wireframe structure and designed an usability test to evaluate the architecture and make sure that the user flow made sense to other people.

Here you can see a few of the screens used on the usability test

This was the first time I showed my work to someone outside my close circle of friends or my course evaluator. Do I even need to say I was very nervous? Once more I had a very positive surprise and the experience was excellent. The users helped me see how I needed to improve the navigation within the app and that the icons I was using made it very difficult to truly understand the point of a certain screen. If you want to check out this first version, it is still available on this link.

Also through the suggestions gathered on the usability test, I realised that it would be very important to come up with some short guidance texts. If you want to check those out, just access this link (texts are all in Portuguese).

For the app’s interface, my main goal was to keep it very simple, focusing on minimalism. Since the app aims to help people focus on their studies, we really can’t make it into a source of distraction! To make it so, I chose a reduced color palette.

When it comes to the typography, I chose one font to be used only on the logo: Aclonica. This font resembles the traces of modern calligraphy, with thick downstrokes. The use of this different font helps to bring attention to the app’s name as well as making the first few screens more interesting. Throughout the app, the only font used was Open Sans, playing on font weight and size to organize the hierarchy. Open Sans is a broadly used sans serif font, very commonly seen on the digital world, which increases the user’s comfort levels on the first contact, since it’s very familiar.

The UI was very simple, which I believe will make it easier to browse. See bellow the results.

Some of the screens for the final version

Access the final prototype here.

Since this was my very first project, I can see that I made a few mistakes along the way. The benchmarking phase, for instance, should have been better organized in a visual manner, specially to make it easier to present my conclusions. I chose not to create this representation for the article because I wanted to showcase how I worked this time around and make it possible for me to visualize my growth on the next projects. I had some difficulties with the creation of the persona, so I know I have to practice this skill more. On the development of the UI, I need to improve my documentation for the style guide — something I’m already implementing on my current project!

Thank you very much for your attention!



UX Designer em constante crescimento

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