ARTICLE: Julee Peterson

More use cases mean more complexity. Here’s how to preserve your EdTech product’s user experience.

Your EdTech product serves a range of users in different situations with different needs. That’s true even if your product is lean and focused. But as your user base and feature set grow over time, so too will the number of use cases you must account for in your UX design. Growth is a good thing. Yet when it comes to EdTech products, more use cases mean more complexity. And complexity is often the enemy of usability. 

If you want to scale your product and preserve a streamlined UX, you’ll need to think carefully about how to design for multiple use cases without getting bogged down in feature bloat. The risks are real. If you default to churning out unique workflows for every new use case that pops up, you may wind up overcomplicating your product. If that happens, it won’t just create a more frustrating user experience in the short run. It could also stunt your product’s growth, innovation, and scalability in the long run. 

The key to seamlessly managing multiple use cases? Start by clearly defining user goals, business objectives, and product priorities — then innovate within those parameters. 

It’s Complicated: The Challenges of Incorporating Multiple Use Cases in Your EdTech Product

Your EdTech product is sure to accumulate new use cases as it grows and scales. That’s an expected aspect of any product’s life cycle. It’s true whether you start off with a lean MVP or a robust, feature-packed product. 

As you grow your user base, collect customer feedback, and add more features, you’ll find that new use cases naturally present themselves. Those use cases may arise for a number of reasons, including different: 

  • Types of users (i.e. students versus instructors versus administrators) 
  • Environments (i.e. in-class settings versus remote, asynchronous environments)
  • Devices (i.e. desktop computers versus tablets or mobile phones)
  • Tasks or assignments (i.e. proctored homework assignments versus timed homework assignments)
  • Abilities (i.e. vision or hearing impairments) 

As more and more use cases pop up, you’ll find that you have more and more complexities to incorporate into your product’s design. At best, that may mean a less intuitive user experience. At worst, you may find your team struggling to prioritize appropriately. 

If you’re rushing to fold in each new use case without first stopping to think critically about how it fits into your product big picture, you have a problem. You’re likely to see design sprints spiral into weeks of exploration without a clear end goal — and, ultimately, sink time and energy into features you don’t really need.

For example, let’s say one of your most vocal power users lets you know they have a pressing need (or use case) that your existing product doesn’t support. They want you to know you need to do something about it — and they may even tell you exactly what they think the right solution ought to be. From this one user’s perspective, at least, a new feature is a must-have. And because they are a loyal power-user, they have your ear — as well as your attention. 

What do you do next? 

If your first instinct is to slot the new feature into your product roadmap as quickly as possible, it’s time to hit pause. Is your power user’s problem really representative of other users? To what extent is it an actual barrier for those users versus a nice-to-have? Is your power user’s proposed solution really the right way to tackle the problem? And how would this new feature support your business goals? You can’t make a strategic decision until you’ve answered those questions. 

Of course, the more use cases you take on, the more factors and interdependencies you’ll need to take into consideration. With all that complexity swirling around, it can be easy to lose sight of your core product values — and difficult to hone in on streamlined solutions that meet multiple use cases. 

How to Preserve the Quality of Your EdTech Product’s User Experience — Even With Multiple Use Cases 

Managing multiple use cases is challenging, it’s true. But it is possible to design a user-friendly EdTech product, multiple use cases and all. Here’s how. 

Define core product values and priorities

Simplicity and flexibility (which is another way of saying robust complexity) are like oil and water. They don’t naturally go together. In order to make smart decisions for your product, you must start with a clear long-term vision that spells out where you want your product to land on the complexity spectrum. 

Take a calendar app, for instance. It could really be “just a calendar” — or it could be a robust time management app, complete with time-tracking, task management features, and the like. Both products service the same core purpose, yet one is simple and the other is complex.

Both versions of our hypothetical calendar app have a purpose and (most likely) a market. However, each app’s stated purpose would guide its approach to use cases. The simple version would work to limit features to only the most essential use cases, while the complex version would strive to account for all the many ways users may want to use the app to manage their time. 

The same principle applies to your EdTech product. Your big-picture vision should be your guide as you consider which use cases your product really ought to solve for. 

Align around clear goals

Your next step in strategically managing multiple use cases? Define clear business and user goals

Think of it this way: If you don’t have clear business goals, you’ll unwittingly create less clarity about which use cases matter most in the grand scheme of things. That will likely lead to more design and discovery time — and an increased project scope. 

The same thing goes for your user goals. If you don’t know what your users’ goals are for the product or the new features you have planned, your team could be designing solutions that don’t solve their real problems. If you aren’t clear on your users’ current needs and priorities, it’s time for more user testing.

Allow time for innovation

The only way to preserve a seamless user experience in the face of increasing complexity is to design elegant solutions that satisfy multiple use cases at once. That requires stepping back and taking a holistic look at the competing needs your team may currently be addressing in a piecemeal fashion. 

But that’s not possible if your team only ever has time to react to short-term problems as they present themselves. If your team is always scrambling to put out the next fire, they won’t be able to step back and consider what’s causing all that combustion in the first place. 

In short, you must allocate the necessary resources and funds to innovation. Doing so will give your team the time and space to find the best solutions to both short-term and long-term problems. Not only will this allow your team to find innovative UX design solutions for multiple use cases, but it will also position your product for success in a rapidly changing digital landscape.

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    Julee Peterson

    As Accessibility Lead / Senior UX Designer at Openfield, Julee brings a tireless dedication to creating stellar user experiences that work for ALL users by leading our efforts to stay at the forefront of ADA compliance and inclusive design practices. She holds a Master of Science in User Experience Design from Kent State University. Outside of the office, Julee enjoys cruising on her motorcycle when the weather’s nice, gardening and furthering her love of cooking and baking with challenging new recipes. She is currently satisfying her thirst to learn new things by teaching herself to play the cello and speak Korean. 반갑습니다!

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