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  • [design x strategy] Let's talk about the insights of users from innovation of online

    26 November 2016
    S.Point, Member Firm (China)

    As mentioned before, the key to innovation is to have product ideation based on identifying customer needs, prior to any design work. We’ve also introduced methodology. The methodology has enabled S.LAB deliver popular physical products as well as digital goods that offer great user experience. Next, I’d like to share how our methodology helps with digital UI and UX based on the case study of innovation service delivered to an online English teaching company.

    Project Background:

    Online English teaching platform

    An online English teaching platform with desktop and mobile app interfaces, targeting kids aged below 12. The platform offers its proprietary English courses and interactions, including adapted interfaces to different users.

    - Teacher interface: content management, engagement with students, teaching management

    - Parents interface: follow-up with teaching materials and schedules, engagement with teachers

    - Student interface: Learning

    Project Requirements:

    Enhance engagement between parents and teachers

    The original application did not include an instant messaging modular for communication between teacher and parents. Before, teacher-parents communication was limited to class performance, homework results and feedback, often one-way, and without good interaction. For learning processes involving kids aged below 12, parents’ intervention is important for monitoring and encouragement. Therefore, it is important to ensure communication between teacher and parents, who are also a key part in the learning process. The parents hope to know the thoughts of the teacher, and the teacher hopes the parents may help implement learning plan.

    Initial thoughts:

    To introduce a modular for instant messaging

    In the beginning, the plan was to move messaging activities from WeChat and QQ to the learning application that would introduce an instant messaging modular. The idea was to enhance communications in the application. However, on second thought, it didn’t seem right that by introducing an instant messaging modular would automatically enhance communication. We tried to understand communications at WeChat and QQ groups, and we saw lukewarm communications activities only. Sometimes the parents were talking a lot, but the teacher cannot respond in a timely fashion. Sometimes the teacher offered something, but quickly such message was inundated by numerous messages of the parents. How to effectively enhance communication, according to S.LAB, would be the key to success.

    To understand users in an immersive environment

    The way forward is to discard assumptions. It is necessary to embrace the users’ world.

    Further study revealed that introducing an instant messaging modular cannot automatically enhance communication. In fact, teachers and parents didn’t like instant messaging with WeChat or QQ in the first place.

    Why? It was a key question to ask. We understand there is a special way of communication between teacher and parents. They start from different angles and aim differently.

    First, the teacher is busy. He or she does not check out WeChat messaging all the time. He or she is busy with the kids’ homework, preparing classes, etc. When the parents are communicating with the teacher, they hope to get response quickly. How is my kid doing? Has the kid improved academically? If the teacher is not responding, the parents are anxious. Such disparity between teacher and parents represents the difference of expected communication frequency.

    Second, the teacher looks at the overall performance of the class. Generally, if the kids are doing better and better, the teacher does not inform the parents. When they are not doing well, the teacher might bring the situation to the attention of the parents. The teacher hopes to maintain the average performance of the class. However, the parents want to know the individual performance of the kid. Even if just a tiny bit of improvement of the kid, the parents will be happy. Hence the second disparity: attention to the overall performance vs. focus on the individual.

    Lastly, the teacher and parents have different roles to play. Generally, the teacher wants to maintain a distance away from the teacher, and the parents want to be on good terms with the teacher. The parents don’t want to trouble the teacher lightly. The teacher seems to occupy an advantageous position in a top-down relationship with the parents. There is this imbalance in the relationship.

    With the above-said insights, we had to think about the solution. S.LAB concluded that there was this imbalance in teacher-parents communication, which in turn led to inconsistency in communication. Our product thus shall not be designed to remove this inherent imbalance, but to mitigate complexities born out of the imbalance.

    Deeper issues:

    How to design a good experience out of imbalanced communication?

    We cannot change the inherent positioning of communication between teacher and parents; therefore we shall set up a process to facilitate communication, making it more effective. Based on this understanding, S.LAB summarized a series of design opportunities. A key focus was to prevent rushing through communication.

    The parents always want more information than the teacher offers. When the teacher talks about doing well, just OK, the parents wants more specifics about academic results, overall performance, progress over a timeline, hobbies, interpersonal relations, mental and physical health, habits, etc. The parents are also eager to know how to help, such as supplementary teaching (by parents or external teaching classes). When the teacher talks about grades (A, B, C, etc), the parents want exact scores, including detailed mastery of knowledge and ranking that demonstrates relative performance of the kid.

    The teacher might also want more information. When the parents sign the kid’s homework, the teacher hopes to know for sure whether the kid has truly, faithfully done the homework, how much time spent (total time and time for each section). When it comes to the communication book between school and parents, some parents don’t reply and some merely respond by saying “I’ve read it.” The teacher would like to make sure the parents read the communication book carefully and truly understand the contents. What’s more, parents might need to take further action on the communication book.

    Therefore, the granularity of information needed is different between the teacher and parents. More personalized solution is required than currently available. Based on our insights, management and attention different in terms of width and depth. Therefore, it is hard for the teacher to respond to individual parents’ questions. In fact, the issue is common between the teacher and parents who require information at a certain level of granularity, even though overall there are different levels of granularity. By grouping similar granularity, we may significantly enhance convenience and effectiveness of communication. Thus we have the following ideation.

    Grouping that fits the teacher’s needs

    Through user interview, we saw teachers tended to group students by knowledge and family background (parents’ work and cultural level). Other grouping criteria included learning capability, performance change, parents’ coordination, parents’ background, etc. Therefore, we set up a grouping mechanism to allow the teacher to perform grouping using the mobile app. The teacher now can group students and parents using a familiar method while seeing the whole picture.:

    - Automatic grouping based on available data: Performance (ABCDEF) and Progress (Up/Down).

    - Detailed grouping based on the teacher’s preferences: parents’ coordination (eager to coordinate, not eager, no coordination); parents’ request for key focus (Y/N)

    To allow the teacher an overall view

    Taking into account the need by the teacher to know the overall picture, S.LAB offered an overall view to the teacher in the first interface of the communication module.

    To allow the teacher to easily locate those he/she wants to find

    Through user interface, S.LAB understood the teacher would have more detailed communications for student segments. The teacher would like to communicate with students of different knowledge levels about quiz of certain difficulty levels. In some cases, the same information should be communicated to different parents in different ways. We set up mechanisms for the teacher to filter out parents and locate the exact communication target. Thus, we helped to ensure effective communication.

    The above case proves again that the key to design is to have a very clear understanding of the case, instead of design work to generate impressive formats. Product design is different from appearance design. When it comes to appearance design or providing service, the target is often clear cut. Therefore, the work is strictly on the implementation level. Such work is best done by industrial/visual designers. However, when it comes to product/service innovation, the question is not clear cut. We are dealing with design strategy now. We need the capacity to do analysis. Therefore, the team consists mainly of design researchers and anthropologists. The Design X Theory of S.LAB combines product design and design strategy to ensure a complete success of innovative strategy.


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