How can we help teachers to create engaging, interactive lessons for their students?

SMART Lab allows teachers to create game-based learning activities in less than 5 minutes. We provide customizable templates where teachers can add their own lesson content. The activities can be played on an interactive display (SMART Board) at the front of the classroom or on student devices.

The previous creation workflow for SMART Lab had grown organically over many years with many different UX Designers. It was overly complex, lacked consistency, felt too stuffy and corporate, and had low discoverability and adoption. I redesigned the entire creation workflow to solve those problems.


I determined that 6 key design goals were necessary for this project to be successful:

1.  Reduce the steps in the creation workflows
2.  Remove unnecessary decision points / reduce cognitive load
3.  Increase discoverability
4.  Provide a consistent experience across all activity creation
5.  Update the visual style to be more friendly and engaging
6.  Design for future scalability

  • Role: UX Designer
  • Tools: Sketch, InVision, Photoshop, Illustrator, Balsamiq
  • Timeline: March to December 2016 (10 months)


•   Alison: UX Designer
•   Min: Product Manager
•   Colin: Dev Manager


SMART has spent many years developing relationships with teachers who use our products, so I was able to speak directly with them at the beginning of this project. This helped me to understand exactly what wasn't working for them in the previous version. However, the trick was to make sure that I wasn’t only designing for our very technically adept users, but also for the everyday teacher.


Heuristic Evaluation and UX Audit

Since I was new to the company, I was in the unique position to be able to view SMART Lab with fresh eyes. I started by doing a focused Heuristic Evaluation of the existing product and then a UX Audit. This allowed me to determine user pain points and begin to plan the scope of the project.



I wrote a detailed Scoping document that broke the project down into about 20 Design Stories. This included designing the workflow for 12 different types of activities, plus additional necessary functions (editing and managing content). This was an ambitious project with a tight deadline. To meet the deadline, I had to complete 1-2 Design Stories per week for a period of 3 months.



There were many structural frameworks that I explored while I was in the planning / Information Architecture phase. I knew I would need at least 3 screens for the basic flow: on the first screen the teacher chooses the type of activity, on the second screen they add their own lesson content, but the remaining screen went through a number of iterations before the best path was discovered.




Structural Goals

Two of my key structural design goals were to simplify creation workflows and reduce cognitive load. The previous UI gave users so much flexibility that it was overwhelming. Users had decision fatigue and too much cognitive load. I reduced the number of decision points, and provided intelligent defaults. My designs simplified the number of interactions and choices, while maintaining just enough options for customization.





In addition to simplifying the workflow and reducing cognitive load, some of my other design goals were to increase discoverability, update the visual style to be more friendly, and use design patterns to provide a consistent experience across the different types of activities.


Recognition Instead of Recall

Inconsistencies in the previous UI resulted in users having to re-learn the creation process for each activity. That increased their work and slowed them down. In my redesign, users could rely on recognition instead of recall, which made it much easier to complete tasks.


Simplifying the Visuals

The older version lacked clear visual cues for user actions and included many unnecessary distractions. I value simplicity and clarity in designs, so I updated the layouts to reduce the mental effort required of our users to complete their tasks.







I believe that Usability Testing is crucial, so even with our very tight schedule, I prioritized Usability Testing. I partnered with a firm called The UX Guys to run Usability Tests with 10 teachers. I built a medium-fidelity, interactive prototype with 5 complete activity types. Each teacher created 2-4 activities in the prototype. By doing this testing, I was able to validate that our overall design goals were met, and I made sure that we had time to iterate and improve the designs based on that user input.

Below is the prototype that I created for usability testing. It demonstrates the creation flow for 4 of the different activities.


I was working on this project before we had an in-house User Researcher, so we hired the UX Guys, an outside firm, to help run the usability testing. The following is an excerpt from the usability report that they created.


Increased Discoverability / Onboarding

We had a problem with discoverability and adoption. Many teachers with subscriptions to our software products didn't know what it was capable of doing. My solution was to create an onboarding video that would appear the first time the product was launched. This shows new users why they'd benefit from using SMART Lab, in addition to giving them a quick tutorial on how to use it.

I was able to step beyond of my role as a UX Designer in order to art direct, script, and produce the following video.



I worked closely with our developer team while my designs were being implemented. In December 2016, the new SMART Lab creation workflow was publicly launched.

Response to the redesign has been overwhelmingly positive. Usage has grown tremendously with the new design. According to preliminary numbers:

•   "Start Activity Creation" engagement has grown more than 300%
•   "Finished Activity Creation" engagement has grown more than 200%
•   The population of users interacting with the new creation workflow has more than doubled

The preliminary numbers exclude several event streams, so the actual engagement is likely to be significantly higher.