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At an increasing speed, Dutch elementary schools are discovering the possibilities and engaging power of digital media in education. Using computers and tablets in school helps better prepare children for the digital world they are growing up in. At the same time, e-learning software and multimedia content provide schools with a chance to reinvent their curriculum, making learning contemporary, fun and engaging.
“UXkids links theory to practice, both areas in which they are experts. UXkids creates visionary concepts and works them out in great detail, before validating their work in the field. A user interface aimed at children is really something else than just a user interface — that we’ve learned. The added value of UXkids is great.” (Coen Thönissen, Operational Director at Heutink ICT)
Heutink ICT is the Dutch market leader in ICT for primary education, and strives to serve its market with the best products and services. One of their core products is MOO (Mijn Omgeving Online) – a digital learning and working environment for primary education.
When MOO was first introduced to the market in 2010, the underlying idea was exemplary — even trendsetting. Bringing together all IT-related questions in one platform and providing access to educational software with a single sign-on was very appealing to schools.
However, even a trendsetting product needs to evolve. So, in early 2014, Heutink ICT decided on a redesign of the MOO platform. The MOO project team brings together different stakeholders – who all have different thoughts, interests, and ideas for the new MOO. Nonetheless, there was one thing everyone agreed on from the start: MOO needed to be reinvented with the learning child at its center.
The new MOO was developed together with its users.
Heutink ICT meet UXkids, UXkids, meet Heutink ICT
UXkids was invited to pitch their thoughts and ideas about a ‘New MOO’ to Heutink ICT in late May 2014. The focus of the pitch was to present a clear strategy for both the interaction and visual design of MOO. Based on their child-first and tablet-based design approach, UXkids was trusted with taking the lead in this project. At the end of June, Heutink ICT and UXkids started — what developed into — a very exciting and rewarding collaboration.
Within only four months’ time, UXkids refined the vision for MOO based on a thorough user analysis. This involved defining user groups, bringing them to life with personas, and developing a detailed and tailored interaction design concept for each user group. Together with a third party, the visual design was developed based on the user analysis and the MOO corporate design. Throughout the project, UXkids visited elementary schools across the Netherlands to validate both the concept and design with the different user groups by means of focus groups, user testing, and qualitative interviews.
In four months: from a dated vision to a child-friendly and future-proof MOO.
1. The kick-off meeting
At the kick-off meeting, all members from the MOO project team were present. This included stakeholders from all departments relevant to the project: (1) Management, (2) Development, (3) Didactics, and (4) Marketing.
Heutink ICT handed over all relevant information that was already available regarding the redesign, such as a thorough competitor and feature analysis. The goal of this meeting was to (1) comprehend and agree on the scope of the project and to (2) define the key success indicators for the MOO redesign.
A final round of user testing at the end of the conceptual phase showed that the first five goals have already been reached. The last goal can be reevaluated after MOO has been released to the public and asserted itself to the busy routine of a regular school day.
A multidisciplinary team
The MOO project team consisted of UXkids and one or more representatives from every department relevant to the MOO redesign. This team met regularly throughout the process to make sure everyone was on the same page and that everyone’s interests and expertise were heard.
Also, the team was proactively invited to provide feedback and ideas at any time during the project. Involving your team throughout the redesign process ensures that:
- Everyone is on the same page
- There is no miscommunication (internal and external)
- There is time and room to grow a strong team spirit
- Everyone feels heard and valued
- Decisions are being accepted and endorsed
- All expertise within the company is being exhausted
- Everyone feels responsible for the success of the project
By the end of the conceptual phase, every decision made was (1) technically valid, (2) didactically responsible, (3) in the best interest of the user, and (4) approved from a marketing and management perspective.
2. Understanding who you design for
After the kick-off meeting, it was time for UXkids to get up to speed. This meant learning everything there was to know about MOO. Besides a lot of reading, UXkids held one-on-one interviews with employees from Heutink ICT, got familiar with the existing version of MOO, and most importantly, conducted field research to get to know the users. Based on all this information, UXkids was able to define six key user groups for MOO:
- Children age 3 – 5
- Children age 6 – 8
- Children age 9 – 12
- ICT coordinators
Any decisions during the redesign process of MOO were made based on the expectations, needs, abilities, and goals of these six groups. In order to make these groups more tangible and to create awareness of their differences, UXkids defined a persona for each of them.
User personas are fictional characters created to represent the different user groups of a product or website. The goal of a persona is to make a broad user group tangible and accessible for the whole project team. For the MOO project, six persona’s were created, one for each user group.
For example, instead of designing for an undefined group of children between 6 and 8 years of age, UXkids invented Lena, an eight-year-old girl with clearly defined media preferences, hobbies, and goals for MOO.
Personas for the MOO project were so called ad hoc personas. They were only partially based on quantitative research data and therefore not valid representations of the entire user group. Their purpose was to put a face to the different age/user groups and illustrate that these groups differ in their expectations, needs, abilities, and, last but not least, their goals.
Once it was clear who the users were, it was time to redefine the vision for MOO. According to a child-first design approach, UXkids started with defining the minimal requirements for the youngest age group. This group turned out to be an exception on almost all levels. Children that age can’t read, have a very short attention span, and get distracted easily. This group needs a very straightforward and simplified version of MOO. As the users get older, they develop different goals, expectations, and abilities, which allow the interface to be adapted with increasing complexity.
User personas were developed to make the different user/age groups more tangible.
Challenges: During this phase of the project, both UXkids and Heutink ICT faced a couple of challenges. Redefining the vision for MOO from a new perspective — that of the user — forced UXkids to make drastic changes to the initial concept. While it was important to gather input and feedback from all stakeholders, it was even more important to keep validating features and ideas based on user requirements. UXkids’ role as an ‘outsider’ to the team proved to be key in this phase, allowing them to stay objective, maintain focus , and set priorities that were in line with the users.
3. Translating user expectations and needs to a user/child-friendly interface
The next phase of the project was focused on giving shape to the rather abstract nature of the user analysis. It was all about translating user expectations and needs to an intuitive and age-appropriate interface.
UXkids started by prioritizing and structuring functionalities per user group. This was followed by countless sketches and wireframes, putting everything into place. After multiple iterations, incorporating valuable feedback from Heutink ICT, the wireframes were finalized. The result was a detailed and in-depth documentation of the interaction design per feature and per user group.
“At UXkids we believe in the power of User/Child-Centered Design. We make sure a product idea or interface meets the expectations, needs, and abilities of the user. How? By listening to the user, observing them, and understanding the context in which they use a product or interface.” (Sabina Idler, CEO at UXkids)
Together with a third party specializing in designing digital media for children – a beautiful visual design was created, bringing MOO to life. The basis for the visual design was the user analysis and interaction design created by UXkids and the corporate design provided by Heutink ICT.
Wireframe of the new MOO
Visual design of the new MOO
Challenges: During this phase of the project, UXkids faced three big challenges: (1) staying within the scope of the project, (2) finding the right balance between functional and interaction design and (3) breaking down the complexity of the project in a way that made it easy to comprehend for all stakeholders.
4. User testing
With the visual design at hand, UXkids went back to elementary schools to evaluate the design together with the users. In one-on-one user testing sessions with 27 children and 7 teachers and ICT co-ordinators, UXkids gathered input to answer a wide range of questions regarding the usability, appeal and functionality of the new design.
MOO now and in the future
MOO has been reinvented with the learning child at its center. User research has proven that this first challenge has been mastered with flying colors. Now the challenge is to keep in touch with the users to make sure MOO stays user/child-friendly and top edge in an age where technology and user habits change in high speed.