Monday, January 28, 2013

Design Feedback for Badge Systems

Last week I participated in a workshop for Digital Media and Learning grantees. Everyone at the workshop presented their progress on creating open badge systems for their organization. It was my role during the workshop to act as a design expert, to give feedback on the projects and help facilitate a conversation about the design elements of their work.  Over the course of 2 days, I listened to detailed presentations about badge system design, learning theory and communication plans and realized that some themes were emerging. For today's post, I thought that I would share my 5 most common bits of feedback that I gave out to the grantees.

1.    Get to know your end-user
Take the time to think through your user persona and user flows. Remember that you have a specific human using your product and they are receiving the badges that you create. Get really specific here and come up with a user story and test that against your designs. 
For example: My user's name is Adrian, he is 18 years old and enjoys reading Science Fiction books, riding his bike and exploring New York City. He is participating in this after school program because he has a passion for math and has felt relatively uninspired by his in-school options. He does this program on Wednesdays after school and has already earned badges for peer mentoring, leadership and problem solving. These are particularly meaningful for him because he wants his peers to know that he is not only a smart guy, but really has street cred in the math community. He posts his badges both in his school LMS and on his personal Facebook page.

From my example, we can already learn a few things that will help inform some design decisions. We know he is doing this work as an extracurricular activity, so we want to frame the work as informal and we know that he is more interested in the social capital that he gains from this experience outside of the classroom and school community, so he is invested in the badges being flexible and shareable. 
You probably will have 3 or 4 types of users for any given product. Embrace that and come up with unique user stories that are based on real life use cases.

2.    Badges and identity
Think about how your badges communicate or enhance an end-users identity. This might seem like an obvious one, but it's crucial to think about how the end-user relates to the badge on a personal level and how that might inform their identity, both within the context of your tool or badge system design and outside of that framework in the real world. On a simple level, think about how might be naming the badges and ask yourself - does this have resonance with the badge recipient? What is more appealing "CSS 101 badge" or "CSS Super Styler"? Think about how this relates to the visual design as well, are you offering something that would have more significance to your organizational brand than to your users brand or identity? If so, then I would recommend reviewing the design and iterating.

3.    Badge design 
It's important to remember that 90% of the badge system design is not visual. Take the time to go and think through all of the touchpoints for badges and ask yourself "are they meaningful experiences?" and if they are meaningful - who are they meaningful for? Once you past that test, then you can move on to visual design. I gave a webinar on this about a month ago and put the slides up on a Google Doc here

The top level things to consider are legibility, scale and typography. Open badges are relatively small graphics, so think about that when you are designing them. Reduce the amount of graphic complexity as much as humanly possible. Ask yourself if you even need to incorporate text into the badge - because this adds an additional layer of content that a user needs to digest. I pull this point out separately because I don't think that text is needed because the backpack and/or system distribution could include that information alongside the badge, giving you the opportunity to free up your design. Badges are like icons, you need to attempt to communicate as much as possible with the fewest elements as possible.

4.    User Testing 
How can you engage your community in user testing and analysis? Can you think of ways to work in a more agile way- incorporating feedback and testing so that you are putting out releases that build on your learning and findings from fieldwork and testing?  All of the questions that you have about your design will be acknowledged the second that you have someone who is unfamiliar with your project review your work.
And, as part of the DML/ MacArthur/ HASTAC / Mozilla community- you can ask us for help. Yeah you have a grant deliverable, but you have a community right here who are asking themselves the same design questions and are a perfect user tester. That said, I would take the time to mix up your user tests - have friends and family, but also include complete strangers. 

Remember, user testing can be as informal as throwing two badge designs in front of a user and asking them which one they prefer and why. Don't be intimidated by the term user testing - in reality, what is more intimidating is putting out a product that will be used by hundreds of people that has not been tested.

5.    Metrics and dashboard Data
My final bit of feedback has to do with how you are valuing success but more importantly about how your end user values success, learning and skill acquisition. Many of the dashboard type tools that I saw were actually speaking to how an institution or organization values success within a Learning Management System (or badge system, or tool etc.) but not how the end - user values success. So for example, the tool was designed for the high school teacher instead of the high school student. Remember that success and metrics is something that can be shared and communicated to users as part of their experience within the product offering and it is an opportunity to help a user challenge themselves to level up or exceed both your and their expectations. In terms of design, this might mean that you should consider surfacing some of this data. 

Design needs to constantly be iterated upon, however, if done correctly it will be a huge contributor to the success of your badge system design. So go forth, and design with courage. Use this top 5 list as tools in your arsenal to help you craft a meaningful user experience.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Make - First Interaction Design

 On the Webmaker community call and on his blog this week, Brett Gaylor presented that we are currently aiming to solve several key design questions for Webmaker. You can read about the challenges and solutions here.

In an effort to move Webmaker into a space where from the moment you come to the site - you are encouraged to make something (what Brett is calling "make - first" interaction design) , I am going to show some prototypes that I have been working on. 

You can see all of them here in larger, more legible form.

Even though the fidelity of my prototypes might seem more polished then usual, as always please note that these are mockups and prototypes designed for the purpose of iteration, so please give me feedback and ideas for things that I should consider when moving forward with the design. 


First, lets take a look at the Landing page. The idea here is that from the moment that you land on you are given the call to action to tinker and interact with content in a very real way. What you are looking at is actually a meta "Animated webpage" project that is comprised of several types of projects - so in essence the content type becomes a gallery. The page is instantly hackable and as the user, starts tinkering with an x-ray goggle like interaction- they can choose to deep dive and reveal the more advanced editing tools. While this is a mockup for the landing page - you could imagine that it is also a prototype for how a user might be able to pull and view content from the gallery - so the user gets the opportunity to digest a project first as consumable content and then engage with it as a hackable medium. This kind of interaction was deeply inspired by my reading of the work of Mimi Ito - particularly in her book Hanging Out, Messing Around and Geeking Out. Here is what it might look like with some timely content.

The next mockup is a first iteration of what a gallery could look like for us. A user does not have to be logged in to view the gallery, but if they are they will have a more personalized lens as well as the chance to engage with the content creators. 

In this mockup (which admittedly is the most nascent) you see a view of what a user might see if they are clicking on a particular users name - it's a filter of the content that the user made public. This could include their projects, badges or assets. Ideally this page will have some level of hackability - a la MySpace - so maybe the CSS of the page could eventually be modified by the individual users - since in essence this becomes a bit of a portfolio page. To be clear, I'm not saying it should look or feel like MySpace - but there was a certain level or ownership and creativity around that kind of personalization.

Finally, I'd like to share with you the prototype that I hacked up with Atul yesterday. It's a prototype, so you know don't tweet far and wide - but you can check it out to start to see what it would be like to have hackable content on a landing page and remember to click "D" for deep dive to bring that content directly into Thimble.