We’ve all been there: spending far too long staring at a screen, trying to figure out where to go next. Or maybe you’ve clicked away somewhere, and inadvertently lost all your work. Or you find yourself spending two long minutes just to get to a page that you return to twenty times a day.
Software shouldn’t make you want to tear your hair out.
Fortunately, UX, or user experience, design principles have gained a firm foothold and drastically improved the way in which software is developed in the past few years. Stepwell is designed to support the important work of users while providing a simple and enjoyable software experience.
For us, understanding user experience begins with discovery. Before the first wireframe was drawn or the first line of code was typed, our team made learning a priority. We went out into the “field” — schools, classrooms, and offices — to meet our users, from teachers to state directors, face to face in order to understand exactly what they needed. Using well-tested techniques such as card sorting, diagramming, and interviewing, we dedicated ourselves to transforming this vital information that usually only resides between the ears of our users into key features within Stepwell.
Based on our own experience in schools and state government, we confirmed that the workload of our participants was every bit as complicated as we thought it might be. In the current implementation of monitoring compliance with IDEA Parts B and C, we found the following:
- There is no easy way to find out whether a school is struggling with a compliance measure until it has already failed.
- Record-keeping exists in stacks of paper and disconnected electronic files
- Information is housed in multiple systems and locations.
- It’s nearly impossible for monitors to know who is working on what and the status of any of these tasks.
- Staff have trouble drilling down to just the information they need.
- SEA staff spent so much time just trying to monitor compliance that they struggle to find time to support improvement and provide technical assistance.
It’s quite the headache. After documenting users’ pain points, our team got to work.
What we learned gave us the insight to build initial versions designed to remove these problems. Those first versions were just the starting point – we continue to innovate and improve Stepwell through our commitment to designing with the user in mind.
Another critical aspect of the UX ideology is user testing. This involves engaging a real person in actually using the software while we document any problems they come across, from spotting language that is unclear to identifying bugs. We look for each opportunity to make the interface easier to use and remove any barriers to getting work done quickly and efficiently. The results sometimes involve a designer slapping her forehead and thinking, “Of course! Why didn’t I think of that?”
We believe each such instance is just one more step in the right direction.
It is through user testing that Stepwell came to be an all-in-one, easy-to-use solution to the nearly overwhelming complexity of IDEA Parts B & C compliance. But user research is never over; our team is dedicated to continuous testing through the technology updates and design improvements necessary to ensuring Stepwell remains in top shape over time.