Smart Sparrow is a complete Learning Design platform, used by over 500 institutions globally to create high quality, personalised learning experiences. I joined after their Series B in 2014 to give a dedicated design and user experience focus across the company. For the past few years I’ve been the design lead across all product, brand and marketing projects.

The starting point

The company’s differentiator was it’s tech – a powerful rule based engine that allowed teachers to create courseware that could adapt to any kind of student response. The problem with this is that the “tech” was front and centre in every part of the company. Everything from the marketing copy to the product was focussing on being feature first, not benefit first. Here was the product page when I started at the company:

Fixing the narrative

At the core of this problem, was communicating how the mental model of an adaptive lesson works, and the impact it has on students. The visuals that explain this are used in everything, from our website and brand to driving the product design. We needed to frame the benefits in a way anyone could understand and be excited by, and after many iterations, settled on using persona extremes of student understanding as our core narrative.

Iterations on how to explain the mental model of adaptive learning experiences

Making the story interactive

Once we settled on our product narrative, we needed to design it to reflect our philosophies – namely that the best learning is rich, interactive and adaptive. We focussed on small, bite size interactive lessons to show the power of the tool, each building on the adaptive lesson reacting to student personas. Creating them to be contextual to the stages of the users workflow, it focussed on giving them the best understanding of the tool’s benefits, so they could create something more meaningful.

Surfacing it across the product

For a long time, there was no way to actually manage a cohort of students in the product. Students could be enrolled on a lesson by lesson basis, and all analytics were tied to that lesson itself. We redesigned the management side of the product to be student centered, and it was such a big refocus it took nearly a year to be built. After this however, it allowed users to have a much better overview of their students, lesson status, and global student analytics all in one area. Saving them lots of time, and tedious repetitions that were present in the previous version.

Using it to anchor training

For this new student-centered narrative to hold, it was important for this to become the standard representation both internally for us, and externally for all our users. We now use it across our brand, product and most importantly for new users, in our knowledge base for explaining how the sample projects work.

Folding this into the creation tool

After addressing the easier wins in the product, we started rethinking our approach. We didn’t want to just iterate on what we had, and end up with something derivative. We wanted to try and rethink the product, see what we would do if we started over. I lead 2 product offsite retreats, to prototype and test new out new ideas with users. We tested with 50 users over 5 weeks to iterate fast and learn. We moved from a product that was focussed on screens and rules, to students and what they needed. Putting them at the centre of design decisions, kept focus on always benefitting users. The full section of this work is under NDA, please get in touch to understand more.