EcoSchools Canada (formerly Ontario EcoSchools) is a nonprofit that manages an environmental certification program for K-12 schools. This program was delivered through an online application form where teachers submitted information about environmental initiatives they had led at their school.
EcoSchools' certification platform was a digital version of the original paper form. Likened to a tax audit, it was time-consuming for busy teachers to use and impossible to personalize for different contexts. Teachers often lost data they were inputting or got confused trying to decide what to fill out. Many gave up partway through, resulting in lost impact data. These were risks for user retention and impact reporting - especially if the EcoSchools wanted to scale their provincial program to nationwide.
Our solution involved redesigning both the digital platform and the business logic of the certification platform to meet the needs of a diverse national audience. Combining staff insights with user feedback, we homed in on a "choose-your-own-adventure" model that recognized participation regardless of certification level.
Here's what we did, and why:
To rally the staff and mine their insights, we ran a product visioning workshop to mine their insights and align the team behind a product vision. Focusing on examples from e-learning and personal finance, this resulted in 7 design principles and a list of potential ideas for us to validate against user feedback.
To get context and clarity on the pain points behind this redesign project, we reviewed documentation from the EcoSchools team, including design charette notes, community feedback sessions, user surveys, and internal planning notes. We also asked the staff to provide: a summary of the business goals needed for their scale-up, a high-level journey map of the current certification experience as well as the program changes they envisioned for the future one, and a list of users for us to reach out to for user interviews and user testing.
To get to know the team and align internal stakeholders behind one product vision, we planned and facilitated a product visioning workshop, comprised of the following activities:
Our design principles, described from the user's perspective, were:
Combined staff insights, user interviews and feedback, and secondary research into Canadian teachers, I created and validated personas and journey maps to guide the product's development.
Thanks to a product-minded team, we had many great ideas on how we could implement the new certification platform and program. Next, we needed to validate our assumptions. I researched Canadian teachers, including school systems, how to get certified, and teacher lifestyle content. This informed my interview questions. Then I interviewed four diverse teachers ranging from highly experienced to users who dropped out of the program.
As I integrated my learnings, I developed two personas and journey maps: one for an experienced teacher-user and the other for a brand-new user. I constantly iterated on these as I checked assumptions based on the user interviews.
Based on the personas and user journeys, we worked with the EcoSchools team to devise a conceptual model for how users could get certified. Then, we identified priority user goals within, from which I built task flows and an overarching process diagram.
The key difference was the user experience of earning points for certification. Rather than checking off all boxes on one rigid, complex application form, users could pick and choose what actions to complete to earn points. This made the whole system modular and flexible - both for users, who might have different skill levels, curriculums, and resources, as well as for the EcoSchools team to add/edit actions while scaling up their MVP.
We homed in on a conceptual model that echoed the structure of the original certification program but allowed users greater flexibility in terms of how they could work towards certification. The original program was (a) aligned with the school year, (b) gave points for action completion, and (c) rewarded users with certification at different tiers (from Bronze to Platinum). The new system would keep these features for familiarity.
Based on the personas, I devised a series of user goals. With EcoSchools' input, we turned these goals into user stories that tied to specific feature ideas. The basic structure:
Then, we worked to prioritize which flows and features made sense for us to include in this first MVP, and which we could park for later.
From the user stories, I created a series of flowcharts depicting click paths, user input points, and UX dialogs.
Choosing a medium-fidelity prototype allowed me to truly concretize EcoSchools' vision without spending too much time on visual polish. Two cycles of user testing and iteration gave us the confidence that this product design was headed in the right direction.
The original scope called for a low-fidelity prototype, using paper or simple wireframes, but I quickly realized that this wouldn't be enough to help EcoSchools get to the next phase of their redesign. To ensure they had the best possible MVP going into the development phase, I created a "medium-fidelity" prototype with more fulsome UX writing and visual polish. I retained a simple greyscale palette to lighten cognitive load (less resources on choosing or getting distracted by colours), and worked with the staff to write copy that was clear and relevant for users.
To test the prototype, I developed a testing script with tasks that demonstrated core functions of each part of this prototype. Then, with staff support to take notes, I facilitated user testing with a range of s: internal sta (including leadership) the nonprofit's user advisory committee, teachers who were new to the program, and teachers who'd been running EcoSchools for years.
Finally, I worked with the team to document, triage, and implement changes to the MVP, prioritizing core features and saving the rest for the next phase of EcoSchools' product pipeline.
I broke the prototype up into three core sections: onboarding , making progress in the new EcoPlan model, and showcasing the different dashboards/core screens. My user testing script followed this breakdown as well.
I categorized user feedback based on priority, source (user or staff), and assigned a status based on whether it would be implemented for this MVP, discussed, or saved for the next version.
I had the pleasure of working with Maggie during EcoSchools Canada's redesign of its environmental certification platform and education program for schools, and I can't say enough good things! Maggie's expertise in UX strategy and design thinking added tremendous value to the project and was pivotal to its success. Maggie has an intuition for asking the right questions at the right time (i.e. generative questions) and a knack for distilling data into insights.
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