How User-Centered Will Re-Write Education

Explore Interactive's Jesse Clark moderates a user centered design testing session for Explore!'s educational augmented reality mobile game.

User-centered design, a game-changer

Since joining Explore! in February 2018, I have been overwhelmed by the passion of our team. Working as a remote organization is no simple task; add extreme cost constraints, looming deadlines, and you’ve got the recipe for a start-up! One key challenge when operating in extreme uncertainty is ensuring you invest time and money into building things that create the most value for your customers. Sounds like the perfect opportunity for user-center design!

My experiences working in enterprise software, being surrounded by great people and learning from Dan Olsen’s Lean Product Playbook have taught me always to challenge the team to make our features smaller, get them in front of users quicker, and to iterate through the design-build-measure-learn cycle rapidly. All this is to say that user research, user testing and user-centered design principles lie at the center of the Explore! Kit (coming Summer 2018) product development strategy.

A group of Explorers play our educational game during a user-centered design test session.

The Event.

On March 17th, with the help of Purdue University, we did exactly this. After months of planning, 75 parents, teachers, and children registered for our first user testing event. Our event goals were simple:

  1. Understand if the game mechanic is fun to play
  2. Establish the top sources of frustration for Explorers
  3. Determine if the users learn when playing the game

You might be thinking, “Well couldn’t you just survey your early adopters to see what they like and don’t like?” The short answer is yes, absolutely – surveys are excellent for understanding the “what” of your customers and users. User testing is the complementary tactic to understand the “why.” It is not enough to say that our users LOVE feature A or hate feature B. By observing a tester interact with these features we can identify the involuntary subtleties that lead to delightful user experiences.

As an example, “ground plane detection” has been an on-going challenge in ensuring the user’s gameplay goes undisrupted, and the game remains stable. We have dedicated hours to discussing various technical and non-technical strategies for improving this capability. During our event; however, one ambitious Explorer used the quirkiness of our ground plan detection feature and began to stack batteries in the air all around his play area – one of the coolest test sessions of the day. No internal discussion or research would have predicted this behavior, which highlights the need for flexibility in how we define where users can and cannot interact with widgets in the game.


A curious child plays our educational game during a user-centered design test session.


Although just one example, these experiences occurred throughout the day. Our early-adopters authored our next phase of product development, and will continue to drive our roadmap! If there is one piece of advice I can leave you with, it is to listen to your users. I don’t mean read your Google Analytics, or survey results; I mean meet them in person, listen to what they have to say, and watch them interact with your product. You will be amazed by the wealth of knowledge you can tap into by empathizing and connecting with people that want you to succeed.

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