Retooling high school students for success


I worked with a team of designers to address the College-Ready Education Challenge posed by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. We sought to design a technology solution to help students succeed in high school in a rapid three-week sprint.

My Role: UX research and design



We started with a general look of the American education space. Using published academic research, federal/state data, and education-focused journalism, we attempted to gain insight into:

  1. Federal education initiatives (such as Common Core) and their effects on students and teachers
  2. Trends and innovations in education technology
  3. Changes in 21st century teaching techniques and learning styles
  4. The relationship between education and quantifyable socioeconomic outcomes such as income and life expectancy

We then coordinated 30 interviews with students, parents, educators, school administrators, and subject matter experts (education non-profit and edtech professionals). For each interviewee, we sought to understand their perspective, experiences, and observations with respect to:

  1. The current state of education
  2. Measuring  success and achievement both in school and out of school
  3. Education standardization
  4. The efficacy of high school education as preparation for post high school life (college or otherwise)

I was particularly interested in speaking to students who were both recent high school graduates and current college students. I believed this demographic would be most able to tell us how high school prepared them for college and where it fell short.

Synthesis, problem identification, and target users

After codifying our data in an affinity diagram, we noticed one of the most prominent clusters in our diagram was under a category we called “organizational soft-skills”. We noticed that interviewees from all demographics identified time-management, planning, prioritization, and goal setting as crucial skills for college and life success. However, all parties noted that high school curriculum did not cover these skills. Educators lamented that test-taking skills were emphasized instead. College freshman explicitly identified this skill gap as one of the steepest learning curves they faced.

This lack of emphasis on “soft skills” presented a promising design opportunity. We created a problem statement, principles, and user personas to guide the design phase of our project.

Issue Statement:  High schoolers need help with time management, planning, and goal-setting skills.


  1. Be inclusive – The tool should be helpful for and available to all students.
  2. Be clear – This tool should support a student’s ability to sort through a large number of tasks with competing timelines, with little to no learning curve.
  3. Emphasize progress – Show users how much they have accomplished and how each step brings them closer to an objective.

From our student interviews, we generated two distinct user personas for whom we would design.

Prototype, test, and iterate

We pursued two separate concepts for the initial mockup of this tool one mobile and one desktop. I pursued the mobile option because I believed that a mobile application would allow students to quickly check their progress and to-dos while on the go.

I prototyped a task manager and calendar tailored for high school students. Within the application, students could view a list of to dos organized by time or class.  I also created a feature that would allow a student to breakdown a large project into smaller, discrete tasks.

After rapidly prototyping two products, we tested the initial tools with high school students. Based on feedback, we focused our efforts on developing a simplified version of the mobile application. Insight gained through testing also led us to explore a system which included a central admin console from where teachers could create, organize, and push out assignments and tasks to classes.


Final designs

We revised our initial mockups then applied visual design.

Lastly, we wanted to create microinteractions to accentuate the completion of an assignment or task. We wanted to associate the accomplishment of a goal with a gaiety, celebration, and delight. Here are a few of the interactions we came up with: