Designing the first days of school with users (students) in mind

As a teacher preparing for the school year, you are more than a planner. You are a designer. You design your students’ physical learning spaces. You design your students’ learning experiences. And you design your students’ interactions in your classes. A key principle (some would say responsibility) to consider is User-centered Design.

User-centered Design is exactly what it sounds like: designing products and experiences to meet the needs of users. In a classroom setting, this means thinking intentionally about meeting the needs of students. One way of going about this is tapping your own background knowledge in order to anticipate students’ needs but a more powerful approach is to engage in empathy building research. Find users or potential users and listen to what they say. What are their fears? What are their desires? What are their aspirations?

For example, you know that you will have days with less than 100% attendance and that this creates a problem of ensuring that students who miss class know what they missed. Anticipating this problem, you could make the design decision to staple a Homework Folder on the bulletin board next to the door so that students know where to go to access information about what they missed without having to go through you as a middle man. Alternatively, a User-centered Design approach might involve holding off on your solution to the problem and first checking with users to learn from them. Do they validate that this is even a problem for them? What about it is problematic? How might you meet their needs in addressing this problem?

This exercise could very well lead you to stapling a homework folder to the bulletin board like you originally planned. But it could also present a more effective solution you wouldn’t have thought of on your own. Whatever solution comes to light, you as a designer can assure yourself that you have done your due diligence and designed for your users: students.

One hurdle facing teachers wanting to conduct empathy building research in designing for the first days of school is access to users. Because students aren’t in school yet, you might not be able to ask them about their needs. An efficient way around this is to find users, even if they aren’t necessarily your users.

For middle and high school teachers, this could be going to the mall and walking up to teens and tweens and asking them to respond to your questions. If, like me, you cringe at the mere thought of doing this, there’s an easier and less-invasive option: social media.

My Twitter and Facebook streams are full of teachers sharing their excitement about the start of school. You can rest assured that students are also excited and are sharing it with the world. While I can’t claim to follow many teens on these channels, I do know how to find them through a search.

Connecting with our students like Kailey can be more about knowing how to pronounce her name than having walls full of beautiful displays.

If you’re looking for user input on your designs for the first days of school, the hashtag #firstdayofschoolthoughts is a great place to start. Two cautions:

  1. These users aren’t consciously talking to you so be prepared to see things that aren’t meant for you (like crass comments and profanity).
  2. Approach it without ego. Just because you don’t see any comments about how much they are looking forward to appreciating the hours of work you put into decorating the room doesn’t mean you’ve been wasting your time! You are doing this research in order to learn and apply that learning to your design.

You are offering your users a world-class education that will prepare them for success in school, work and life. It’s important to remember that, as users, your students self-select what their usership looks like. They carry with them the currency of their time and engagement. You are competing with other designers who are vying to collect on that currency. These competitors, from Instagram to Nike, are formidable and we discount them at our own peril.

Learning about, understanding and designing for your users’ needs will help build relationships and buy-in, hopefully leading them to spend that valuable currency of their time and engagement on your amazing teaching and learning.

How do YOU design for the first days of school?

One clap, two clap, three clap, forty?

By clapping more or less, you can signal to us which stories really stand out.