Designers’ Personal Experiences
Designing Version-Zero of BYJU’S Classes
A brand new synchronous learning experience for school children
In the wake of the pandemic, the conventional methods of schooling and tutoring took a big hit with the lockdowns, which led to a significant and unanticipated transformation in the EdTech industry. Although the EdTech industry was already growing, the crisis acted as a catalyst to push its boundaries further. At BYJU’s we also strived to stay ahead of the curve, by solving challenges and simplifying online education for all.
One of our pilot projects BYJU’S Classes gained great traction towards the beginning of the pandemic. It was already providing students with Recorded Classes in which they can interact and ask doubts in real-time through Chat.
Given the urgency of the matter, we started with some quick fixes to provide the best practical solutions at the earliest. But, we all knew minor fixes wouldn’t help improve the User Experience at the more significant level as the needs had scaled. There was a need for a more personalised experience in Class. However, this first pilot project gave us a deeper understanding of user requirements to create a more viable solution.
Here is the story of how we responded as a team to this unexpected twist to provide the best user experience for our users in the middle of the most challenging times.
A dream project, and the call for duty
We started the whole thing with a three-member design team; Richu, Saideep, and myself. In a mix of emotions ranging from excitement, nervousness, and pressure to perform, we buckled up for the challenge that lay ahead of us.
Our conundrum began with the question of “How to Begin” given our capabilities and time constraints. Additionally, the product didn’t come with many references. We started working along with the Product Managers to develop the first version of the product.
We were dealing with a generation of children who had grown up primarily with offline learning. Their social ties would now have to move completely to a virtual platform on short notice. The existing tools like Zoom or Meet merely facilitate online meetings and do not focus on online learning, especially for these age groups. Plus, the emotional connection between two primary users (Students and Teachers)remained a great challenge.
Our focus was on presenting an experience that feels organic and adds elements of socialising and communication.
Following multiple meetings with stakeholders, we identified four areas for enhancing the user experience as our immediate focus:
- Encouraging live interaction between tutor and student
- Providing personalised attention to students
- Clarifying doubts in real-time
- Enabling better Student-Tutor connection
The opportunity, and initial stumbling blocks
We three were all new to the EdTech industry but were fully aware that the project’s impact would be immense. We were excited as much as we were nervous.
We wanted to understand the whole space before diving deeper. Started with understanding the needs and wants of the Student first by collecting information from our own families & friends. then we moved towards understanding the space from the tutors’ point of view. Interviewed some of our in-house tutors(at BYJU’S) to understand how they keep students engaged & receive active participation in the classes.
Once we got some grip on the problem space, we did some secondary research through available literature, online anecdotes of teachers, parents, etc. Here is a short compilation of our initial insights here.
The more we understood the more we knew the problem was even bigger than what we thought it would be. Of course, the organization was looking for senior people to join our design pod. Meanwhile, we continued to do our homework, and build a better understanding of the problem space. But where to begin remained a dilemma for us; there were too many moving parts beyond design and too little time.
Somewhere in November Dhaneesh Jameson joined our team as a Team Lead. It was indeed a relief as he brought his extensive experience in interacting with different stakeholders and design operations. We started approaching the whole thing more systematically, and he also helped us in navigating through the deadlines better. With the right design processes in place, we started everything on a clean slate, with clear direction! He brought much-needed confidence to the pod.
A discovery phase during the new normal
There was no doubt in anyone that the problem of this size need to have an extensive discovery process. But we were in a race against time and student lockdowns, restrictions and limitations of the technology(for remote work) made it look like we were swimming against the tide.
We didn’t have the luxury of going with the typical discovery phase to collect information into the intricacies of the problem, social and cultural context, specific interface constraints, technical limitations or possibilities, and other unknown unknowns.
By the time we started getting more people into the team, one by one. We all had different strengths and backgrounds and we decided to strike a fine balance between secondary research and our memories of being students to bridge the gap and move swiftly. This was an incredible way to approach the solutions space and probably we would not have relied much upon it if things were normal. And to me, and all of us I am sure, this phase was one of the most memorable and meaningful yet unexpected journeys into solving a design problem in such unique ways. We literally tapped into each one of us. Everyone was so excited and tried to defend and discuss the issues they thought was important. Of course the product and business had their bucket list of features and its priorities. But what we as designers were focussing on was how to add to the overall experience and create an incredible experience beyond merely fixing what is obviously broken.
This is how we solved one of the most challenging times as designers, and we believe it was so unique and we literally advocated for the users through the power of imagination and creativity. Unlike many other locations, we feel so much more connected to this, maybe because it also took us on a nostalgic trip to our own childhood times. And we released the final product somewhere in August 2021, after an eventful journey of roughly 9 months; a journey of zero to one.
When we finally released the product, we know we are not even close to 5% of what we would have imagined. But then that is how the story of every product is and will be. I think it is so important that we should share with our community of designers
There is a long way to go and there is a lot to be done. We achieved the first step and focused primarily on the infrastructure of the entire project (laying down the stones). We were attempting to complete the first full version of the MVP. For the new versions, we have been focusing on other important aspects of design, such as service design, Gamification, new typeface design, sound design, icon design etc.
Stay tuned for our upcoming blogs, where we’ll go into the finer details of how we make each design decision.
On your mark, set…Bangggg!!
Within a few months, we were 12 of us and every person brings something unique to the table. With different skillsets and experiences, we were able to directly address a variety of problems through different perspectives within such a short time. Most significantly, the adversities drove us to think in newer ways of thinking and problem-solving.
We believe, Identifying the strengths and shortcomings of each member played a significant role in the success of this product and our journeys as well. The confidence we found and the bond we built with each prepared us to face the roadblocks with ease.
We know we may be far away from delivering the ideal product experience that we have envisioned, but there is no doubt that we have really discovered one of the best teams to work with. It is so true that the adversities help find the best in all of us. Each one of us feels we are on a mission and everyone works towards bringing the best in each other.
( for Classes Team)
Some Personal Notes
Check out this space to know the stories from our team, of what made our journey so special. Especially how we became an integral part of what we made in the most unexpected ways.
I was an introvert as a student. I always felt uncomfortable talking in a group and was hesitant to clear my doubts during classes. I observed similar behaviour among many kids in my family & neighbourhood.
When we started working on this product, I empathized with this specific category of students and envisioned some product features which can empower them to become more confident about themselves. Also coming from small-scale startups, I was used to working on tons of problems in a minimal time. This quality helped me during the product development. I could contribute to the team with speedy, creative & innovative solutions for the multiple complex problem statements we were getting during the ideation phase in product designing.
I wasn’t a studious person in my school. And I tried to bring in perspectives of students who were similar to me into our discussions about classes. My drive was to make Classes an exciting product for students like me and resolve issues like zoning out in classes. We introduced an ice-breaking session to engage the students and build reports with other students slowly. We also reimagined the class structure with multiple breaks in between to avoid the heaviness of attending long classes.
While talking to my cousins who were attending online classes, they told me their issues. They were confined to their rooms for education or entertainment or even talking to their friends. All of their communication with the world was happening through a device screen. Considering their age, they lacked physical real-life face-to-face interactions, which led to their personal growth. Hence we wanted to make the online classes as similar to offline classes as possible and even improve them further.
Music has been my major interest besides design. So when it came to bringing physical metaphors of an actual classroom into an online class, using sounds intrigued me. I began exploring the possibilities of using sound, and I created the sound design system for Classes with the super talented BYJU’S sound design team. This project was a fulfilling experience for me where two of my interests converged.
Even before I became a UX designer, I was a keen observer. Human emotions have always captivated my interest; I recollect observing people’s reactions in comparable situations and wondering what causes them to react differently. I’d try to imagine myself in their shoes to see what they’re thinking.
When we started working on BYJU’S Classes, the ability to look at the big picture while working through the details, specifically helped me contribute to the whole design process. Whenever a certain task came while designing, we always tried to approach it as a story considering different user perspectives, rather than just a feature need. For example, when we were working on mute & unmute/on & off video functionality for users, we explored why users would want to stay on mute, their surroundings, the emotional aspect, and other situations had to be taken into account so that the team could better judge what all to include while we design this feature. We utilised our study from primary & secondary research, creating a complete story & user flow from beginning to end. I was coordinating with others to observe how individuals would react in certain situations and what kinds of needs and desires students or teachers could have.
I was a bit apprehensive of my transition from an industrial designer to a digital product designer. Still, When I joined Byju’s as a senior product designer, I was delighted to work on a new but relatable project. To establish a strong personal connection between tutors and students, Classes Neo was created. Our ideation brainstormings reminded us that school is much more than taught sessions. It’s the chaotic bus ride to school, planning to arrive early to play before assembly, the lunch break chatters, and the bonding we form with our friends and teachers. We knew it was almost impossible to replicate those experiences in virtual space, but we wanted to bring some of these experience elements to our platform.
I was never a very studious kid, and I was too shy to always ask questions in class. I would rely on my friend to teach me after class. I think whenever I was brainstorming ideas; I was designing for kids like me. The most challenging part of this project was to design for a broad user base who are diverse in terms of behaviours and preferences. What works for young kids is very likely to annoy adolescents. Self-driven learning requires a lot of discipline and motivation, and this was a new concept for students and teachers alike.
My habit of visualising the whole picture from different users’ perspectives and general interest in observing day-to-day behaviour helped me build ideas for this product. In this journey, I also realised that the fundamentals of designing for the best user experience remain the same for physical or digital space.
We are always looking for more people to join us in our mission to design and lead the future of synchronous remote learning experience. If you think you are a fit, please visit here.