Team: Acaboo is founded by a team of three founders; one responsible for business and sales, one developer, and myself as the designer/product manager.
Role: Co-founder & Head of Product. Did research and design of the entire project including user interviews, problem discovery, sitemaps, wireframes, prototyping, testing, graphic design, branding, and illustrations. Lead the frontend team, together with the CTO, to build out the frontend of the website.
Summary: I co-founded Acaboo, an interactive study book platform. We believe that the traditional format of educational study books is ready to be challenged. Acaboo started as a subscription study book service where students could read all their material online for a fixed monthly fee. Although we had over 80 customers we were still not solving the real problem. There is a reason why students don’t buy study books anymore. What is the real issue that students face when studying? We went back into user research to search for other user pains. We found that students have problems with studying. The rise of smartphones and new media asks more and more from students attention. Students have increasing problems with procrastination, lack of concentration and distractions. These distractions make it harder to study. How can we enable students to start on time? Can we guide them along the way? The result was a new approach to learning, completely online, where we help students to beat procrastination through gamification, social elements, and reward systems.
Acaboo started in 2017 with the aim to increase the quality of higher education. Frustrated with the study book market we started with a subscription service for digital books. Roughly three and a half year ago Mikel, one of the co-founders, started his bachelor’s in science, Business & Innovation. Just like all fellow students he bought all the required books for the first courses and to be honest, those were the last books bought during the entire study. Why? Well, books are extremely expensive, and students are a poor breed.
Currently, only 25% of University students buy new study books. They simply find them too heavy, expensive and inefficient. Luckily, the time where the professor and a study book were the only means of studying is over.
Mikel thought he could do something about it. So he started this magical Dropbox with all the books of his course. Over 80% of the course joined so Mikel knew he was up to something and the idea of Acaboo was born. Together we three other students the team was formed and the journey began.
After a couple of months of hard work, the team launched the first pilot at a couple of studies at the Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam. The offer was simple. For an affordable monthly fee, students had access to all of their needed study material. All the books were available on our study book platform. Technology enables us to connect university and publisher content to provide students with all their books.
Moreover, we felt that we were not really bringing something new to the table. The linear format of a traditional book is well suited for narratives but not necessarily ideal for academic texts or scientific papers. The technology could enable us to do so much more with books than currently is the case.
Digital books up to now
Digital books are still painfully ugly and weirdly irritating to interact with. They look like copies of paper, but they can’t be designed or typeset in the same way as paper, and however splendid the cover images may look on a hi-res screen, they’re still images rather than physical things. You still can’t flick through an ebook properly; you can’t riffle the pages, you can’t look at more than one page at once. And the advantages of having a book in digital form (easy scrolling text, proper shareability, a global text search of your library, synchronization with audiobooks, links to television adaptations, person-to-person sales) have been ignored in favor of a weak simulacrum of paper. Better, a lot of the time, to shove a paperback in your pocket. And for when you forget, well, there’s still your phone.
“Reading (books) is such a physical thing. As designers we need to translate the feelings of nostalgia- the smell of a book, the texture of a page, the weight in your hand- into the digital world.” — Catherine Mao Kue
What is the problem?
But is this really the tradeoff we are making? In design, the secret to success is to understand what the real problem is. A brilliant solution to the wrong problem can be worse than no solution at all. Are we solving the right problem? Are we building a digital alternative to books? Or do we take a look at studying as a whole and define a product with unique features allocated to the digital age?
How come that movies, newspaper, music, and (to some extent) books have evolved as a medium but innovation in traditional higher education has entirely stood still?
This realization led us back to the drawing board. We went back into user research to search for new user pains.
Based on the interviews and multiple design sprints we got a great understanding of our target customer and corresponding needs.
All our data and research helped us create our user persona, David.
To reshape education we need to join forces with publishers and make sure to deliver high quality, edited and curated content to students in a way that is appealing for the current generation. We not only are making the switch from physical to digital study books. Instead, we are leveraging technology to create an E-learn platform where students can play, interact and consume with high-quality content. Studying could be so much more than just reading the content. By making it interactive, students can engage with the content and ultimately learn a subject in their preferred way. The technology learns how students interact with their material and create a fully personalized learning journey. Every student is unique, and every student has different ways to interact with user content.
On our platform, we enhance the study experience by adding motivation elements. Let’s say you have a difficult math course. Acaboo helps you to stay on track through gamification. Throughout the course, students are guided to do their study work from week to week. Every time you complete a subject you earn points and badges. The study content is interactive so after each chapter, you complete questions to test your new gathered knowledge. Students can also study together and help each other with the more difficult subjects. We teamed up with universities and teachers and teachers are now able to give proper feedback and stimulate students through reward systems. By combining the three motivation enhancers students are actually motivated to do something.
Standardized learning experience
Our e-courses are cheaper than physical books because we can cut on distribution and printing costs. We help publishers with the switch to digital and or the first time they have access to valuable data. We also eliminate the second-hand book market. We standardize the content and add videos, podcasts, and interactive questions to create one unified learning experience. Students can choose their own personalized learning journey.
The second part of the sprint was focused on the website of Acaboo. Our old website was very outdated so we felt that it was time for a rebrand.
Sitemap and UX
Together with a junior team of 5 frontend developers, we started working on the styling of the website. We handed off the finalized high-fidelity designs to the developers at this point. We have been supporting them through their process.