My passion is to help people through creative, data driven solutions in design, but I was so consumed by the day-to-day projects that I couldn’t really do my own research and reflect deeply. This is my space to give research assignments to myself on topics that interest me and may be of interest to others.
I wish to use this blog to explore the overlapping topics of education and design. While my primary focus will be on UX in theory, as I gain professional experience, I hope to include my own trials and errors of real world projects, give data-based results and contribute to the practice of UX Design for education.
Thanks for checking in and stay tuned for more articles that I have planned on: data visualization for dashboard design, cognitive overload, and journey mapping.
The importance of data is no longer just a tool for marketing and business analytics, it is becoming a key tool in education for administrators, staff, and students. It can be used to inform and inspire interactions between people and content in ways that are intentional and beautiful.
When designing a dashboard, whether for educational purposes or not, some essential understandings must be included before even jumping into the actual design.
Know Thy User
Know the demographics, purpose and technological use of the user. It’s the golden rule of UX design: “start with the users, not the data.” Especially when you are dealing with lots of data, the tendency is to give it all to users or nest it in a complicated navigation. Fight against this urge.
Know Typical Dashboard and Data Iconography and Design
When dealing with data visualization and productivity products, short hand communication in charts, colors, and keys are important for understanding information at a glance. A dashboard should not require an instruction manual for the user to understand how to use it. Be consistent with the information style. While different charts may be used for different amounts of information, use a consistent navigation for the user to jump to information and color scheme like cool colors showing positive growth, orange showing a warning, and red as urgent intervention. These conventions relay lots of information at a glance.
Use Appropriate Data Visualization to Decrease Cognitive Overload
Related to the previous rule of thumb, more specifically for data visualization, make sure that you're using the appropriate chart that gives an overview for the user to “drill into” more detailed information.
Use White Space and Navigation
As visual and graphic designers know, whitespace can be your friend. It can help draw the eye or let your eye rest on options. Whitespace is any uncluttered space that allows this. Embrace space.
While these rules of thumb are good for all dashboard designs, there are some considerations especially when designing for educational purposes as well.
Dashboards for Administrators, Teachers, Students should not look the same.
You are dealing with different users and therefore the dashboard as a teacher should not look the same as for a student. Not only will the information available be different, the need for greater organization and distillation of features will be necessary.
While it is important to have consistency in brand and navigation, so that one can help the other navigate, do not assume that one structure will work for all users. Research, test, and interview them separately. Provide consistency for navigation but administrators will have much more access to information than any other user and their information will look different than a student’s.
As for students, decreasing cognitive overload is even more important. As designers, we need to keep in mind the age-appropriate design of dashboards.
What can they process at this age? What are their motor skills? Visualizations are even more effective than language for younger kids, but where can you group them by cognitive development? Will it can be a tool for self-awareness and goal setting? Understand the children’s cognitive and physical development in context of the functionality.
Where younger kids may not be able to customize their dashboard, older kids may wish this feature. Again, not all ages process information the same, so not all student dashboards should look the same or offer the same information and features, too. Test them, knowing that there will be small changes to design based on development and purpose.
How to Get Your Team Started
Mentioned in an Invision article, start with what they call “application distilling.” Categorize your dashboard into features, metrics, and navigation. List out everything that the dashboard can do on sticky notes. Then begin to distill them, nest them, … organize them. Come up with iterations that you can test out and adapt according to user A/B testing.
Questions to Consider:
What information do they care about most?
What information do they need that would aid their use?
What are some design motivations? (For example, to improve self-awareness, to help assess students)
What can we do to reduce cognitive overload?
Are these tools appropriate for the user?
I was creating a kid’s profile on an educational platform that linked to a 3rd party application and it became blazingly clear: this was not designed for a kid to navigate.
In order to access the content from Khan Academy, I had to click through about three permission boxes (which actually wasn’t the worst element). The worst part was: My 2nd Grade “Teacher” assigned me a lesson for my timeline. I clicked on it, clicked through permissions, and then… I saw another dashboard jammed with content.
At first, when I was setting up my account as a student, Khan Academy was asking me appropriate questions: What grade are you in? What subjects are you working on? I thought that this would also filter in for how the dashboard would look as well. As an adult, I could navigate the Khan Academy dashboard all right as I was scanning for a term; however, imagine a child with 1-2nd grade reading level skimming and scanning a website that has as much content as the New York Times. OK, I might be exaggerating.
However, this relates to how we need to be designing for specific developmental stages. Educational SAAS or apps need to realize that the third party applications that help with differentiation, tools, assessment, and resources may not be well-designed, especially from the jump from one page to another.
How do we design for this? How do teachers or parents help children bridge this cognitive leap? There needs to be greater ability to modify how content is presented, so that it can reflect developmental stages. Greater research needs to be done on how whitespace can help focus students on tasks and keep cognitive overload at bay. While it seems simple, it perhaps is easier said than done when most designs want to design to a general public rather than adjust according to children’s needs.