17 December 2019 • Martijn Tamboer
‘These are our children’
It was very clear that something had to be done about the design of Blackboard. But two students from the User Experience Design degree programme took it to a whole other level. A poll among students and staff members clearly marked the ‘dark mode’ as the ultimate favourite. “It will be more modern and intuitive.” The new design will go live at the end of January.
A perfect match!
Bob Mooijenkind, the functional administrator of Blackboard, received an increasing amount of signals from both students and lecturers that the Blackboard design had become quite outdated. “At the same time we received an email from two User Experience Design students at THUAS, asking if they could be of any assistance with a practical assignment. A perfect match!”
“One of our study components is the Experience Lab, where we obtain practical knowledge and skills.” Viktorija Liberytė en Soňa Königsteinová happened to be at the right place, at the right time. “Of course we could tell that the tool’s look & feel had become quite outdated. But there were also some usability issues. For example, only half of the tab pages were being used. And the flow, the way you navigate through the website, wasn’t very straightforward.”
Both students were given the freedom to do research and present three designs based on that. Viktorija and Soňa did a very thorough job. They filmed students using Blackboard, conducted a comparative study with other educational institutions and then made a so-called Kano analysis, in which students used post-it notes to rank all functionalities and components of Blackboard according to ‘functions well’ or ‘needs improvement’.
A few pots of coffee
“Next we used the outcome of our research to map out all the requirements. And based on that we created a wireframe, a draft of the website structure.” The analysis was a huge undertaking. “It took several weekends and a few pots of coffee until we felt ready to begin the visual design.”
Viktorija and Soňa chose to create three colour schemes. One was discarded almost immediately because the colours weren’t suitable for students with a visual impairment. Then it was up to the students and the staff members at THUAS to make the final choice. We received almost 5,000 responses, with an overwhelming amount of 4,000 votes in favour of the anthracite design.
“The dark mode is quite trendy right now,” explains Viktorija. It’s easier on the eyes to look at than a bright screen. Your eyes get less tired. Although the functionalities of the new Blackboard haven’t changed much, “it will be much more intuitive”. Certain functionalities, for example the tutorials, were very hard to find on the old Blackboard. We have made them more prominent and easier to find. The button ‘My content’ was rarely used. So we have tucked this functionality a bit further away.
A good website usually goes further than usability, the two students explain. “It has to be inviting, meaningful, inspiring and easy to use. How the website communicates with its users, the tone of voice, how it’s structured and to what extent it allows users to reach their goal quickly and easily is also important to pay attention to. We look at websites from a designer perspective. We are very passionate and dedicated. Our designs are like our children.”