Few clients I’ve worked with have as much potential for societal impact as BetterLesson, a Boston-based startup on a mission to connect teachers and improve instruction. In January, they launched CC.BetterLesson.com, a DT-designed web application that facilitates deep user engagement in the form of increased page views, commenting, and return visits to the free platform. Through their Master Teacher Project, BetterLesson has created a brand new knowledge-sharing portal that’s filled with innovative lessons from effective teachers.

DT has been working with BetterLesson for almost a year. Our formula for working together looks like this: User Testing + Rapid Iteration = Better App. We were lucky enough to observe a San Diego-based Master Teacher firsthand in his classroom, interview a total of 10 educators, and conduct multiple rounds of user testing with early and late stage prototypes. User-centered design was truly at the core of this project.

User Testing: How Will You Use This?

At the outset of this engagement DT didn’t have much knowledge of the common core, what’s involved in lesson planning, or what challenges teachers were facing. After a couple of stakeholder interviews with the BetterLesson team, we determined together that DT should observe a Master Teacher’s classroom to give us a clearer perspective. We learned that it would be helpful for teachers to follow lesson plans in the same way as books are divided up — by units and lessons. That sounds so logical, right? But it was good to have those thoughts validated through interviews.

As we moved into the UX/UI design, we kept in close contact with several teachers who volunteered to provide feedback along the way. We conducted a few rounds of testing to determine layout and interaction options — and to settle internal debates about what would make “the best” solution.

User Testing

Rapid Iteration: What Works Best?

DT works best when our team plugs into the client — that is, acting as an extension of our client’s capable internal team. BetterLesson put us in an optimal situation to produce stellar results. They were committed to launching their new product in time for the 2013-14 school year, made our work together a top priority, and often provided feedback in less than 24 hours.

From earlier user testing we established a few unexpected guidelines: target desktop computers, support older browsers (even IE7!), and design an interface that’s intuitive to all teachers, ranging from their 20s to 60s. Those constraints might make some designers roll their eyes; we rolled up our sleeves and got to work.

Although responsive design didn’t make the MVP, we designed the UI on a bootstrap grid for a responsive experience to be implemented later. Since older browsers are common in many schools, we avoided fancy transitions. And because the teacher age range is so large, we made sure that clickable areas were clearly denoted — often making entire <divs> clickable instead of just title elements.

We spent three months optimizing the app interface for their teacher profiles and course curriculum.

Rapid iteration helps quickly improve your app design with live data

Better App: Are You Ready To Change The World?

The team at BetterLesson launched their private beta in August 2013. For five months they reviewed stats and obtained narrative feedback from their users. That feedback was folded into the app’s later versions, prior to public launch in January 2014, which currently boasts over 3,000 common core-aligned lessons.

We’re looking forward to watching BetterLesson’s user base grow and helping them to keep improving both their product and education across the US.

Please use the comments to tell us about a time you used user testing or rapid iteration to make a better product. We’re all ears!