Thursday, March 6, 2014

Designing BadgeKit

After several months of hard work by the Open Badges team, we are announcing that BadgeKit is  available for access to Private Beta. This means that BadgeKit is now available in two forms:  a hosted version of Mozilla BadgeKit available in private beta for select partner organizations that meet specific technical requirements, and anyone can download the code from GitHub and implement it on their own servers. 

BadgeKit is a set of open, foundational tools to make the badging process easy. It includes tools to support the entire process, including badge design, creation, assessment and issuing, remixable badge templates, milestone badges to support leveling up, and much more. The tools are open source and have common interfaces to make  it easy to build additional tools or customizations on top of the  standard core, or to plug in other tools or systems.

From a design perspective, this milestone represents refinements in user research and testing, user experience, user interface and branding. 

We did user testing with members of the Hive in Brooklyn.
In preparation for this release, we conducted extensive user research to define the needs and goals for badge issuers. This work, led by Emily Goligoski, helped to define requirements for the BadgeKit offering as well as inform the user experience. The research was done using a variety of methodologies, however, it is worth noting that all of this work was done in the open. Emily organized distributed user testing in key markets such as New York, Chicago and Toronto to do everything from needs analysis to accessibility and functionality testing. The Open Badges weekly community calls were leveraged to pull in input from the highly motivated research and practitioner cohorts. Much of the work is documented both on her blog and in github. We paired every implementation milestone with some form of user testing and iteration. While this may sound obvious, it was a new way of working for our team, and I can unequivocally say that the product is better because of this practice. User research and testing did not happen in a bubble, but rather it became completed integrated with our design and implementation cycle. As a result, developers and designers became comfortable making informed iterations on the offering, as developers, designers and team researchers all participated in some form of user testing over the past three months. 

As a direct result of the extensive research and testing, the user experience for the entire BadgeKit offering was deeply refined. This work, led by Matthew Willse introduced some new features, such as badge “templates” which give the ability for any badge issuer to clone a badge template and remix it. This gives us the unique ability to offer template packages based on common badge requests from the community, as well as eventually to empower the large Open Badges ecosystem to develop badge templates of their own (and perhaps explicitly state how they are comfortable with their content being shared and remixed). One component of this work that evolved as a direct result of testing, was the increased attention to copy. Sue Smith led this work, which entailed everything from tool tip development and a glossary to API documentation. Considering that BadgeKit takes an issuer from badge definition

and  visual design

 to assessment and issuing,

designing the user experience was no small effort and the attention to detail combined with designing in the open - proved to be a solid approach for the team. 

Perhaps the most obvious design component of this release is the user interface design and brand definition. Adil Kim kicked off this work with an exploration of the brand identity. BadgeKit is under the parent brand of OpenBadges, which sits under the even larger parent brand of Mozilla - which gave us the constraints of designing within the brand guidelines. After exploring options to represent the visual metaphor for this modular system, here is the new logo:

The logo is meant to evoke the imagery of both a badge as well as a tool in one glance. For the untrained craftsperson (ahem) - while gazing into the mark - you will see a bolt . This connotes that BadgeKit is a tool, something that allows you to dive into the details and construct a badge, and a system for your community. The logo incorporates the palette from Mozilla Open Badges, in a playful mobius - at once implying that while this is a handcrafted experience, it is also a seamless one. This logo nicely fits into the larger brand family while reading on it’s own, as if to say, “hey, BadgeKit is the offering for badge MAKERS, dive in and get your hands dirty!” 

The brand is in turn extended to user interface design. The overall art direction here was that this needs to be clean, yet approachable. We know that many organizations will not be using all of the components in the interface directly on, however, the design needs to take into account that everything needs to be accessible and read as remixable. Some details to note here are the simplified navigation, the palette and subtle details like the ability to zoom on hover over thumbnails. 

It’s worth noting that while Emily, Matthew, Sue and Adil , as well as Carla, Meg, Erin, Jade, Sabrina Ng, Chloe and Sunny were invested in much of this design work, there was an intentional yet organic partnership with the developers (Zahra, Erik, Andrew, Chris, Mavis Ou, Mike and Brian + many, many community contributors) who were doing the implementation. We had weekly critiques of the work and often engaged in conversation about design as well as implementation on github. 

Another component of this work is looking ahead towards future features. Chloe Varelidi lead work here thinking through the potential for badge and skill discovery. Under a grant from The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Chloe and her team are thinking through ways to represent earner pathways. This eventually will be leveled up into the core BadgeKit offering, but you can start to dip your toes into those features by checking out the work here.

And the good news is that design never ends! Design isn’t just a destination, it’s an invitation to a conversation. Check it out, let us know what’s working and importantly, what’s not.