5 ways you can increase user understanding and engagement

A look at the methods we utilise when introducing users to new products.

Feb 15, 2023

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4

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person using iPAD

Digital technology is revolutionising the ways we can learn and teach. And whilst ed-tech often dominates discussions around the disruptive potential of digital to help us to learn in more immersive and integrated ways, the reality is digital products that combine first-rate design and content will naturally boost user-end literacy. At Spinning Fox we have created a number of e-learning platforms, but actually what discovered is that regardless of sector, teaching components are vital for all products.

We are always excited to partner with people looking to innovate either in an existing business space, disrupt an industry or embark on an entirely new idea — here are a few of the methods we utilise when introducing users to new products.

Learn by doing

All teachers will tell you the most engaging way to learn is by doing something yourself or discovering an answer through trial and error. This is an approach you see in many experimental play educational apps for children, such as Lingokids.

"In product design, don’t simply tell the user what the features are but prompt the action of using them. This is common practice in many onboarding scenarios, taking you through a step-by-step setup and exploring a feature along the way."

What’s interesting in learning environments though, is that sometimes we want users to make mistakes and we might veer away from the usual “smooth” UX to cause a bit of deliberate friction in order to bring value to the lesson. In a puzzle game for example, we might have a reset button for when a user goes wrong but if it undermines the purpose of the puzzle then instead we should find other ways for the user to correct their mistake or work backwards rather than simply starting again. This way they can self-correct, truly work out their error and learn in the process.

Cater your content

Simply digitising learning materials is merely the first step for e-learning platforms. How you present those materials to engage users and meet their needs is where the value can be taken to a whole new level.

Often people like to learn in bitesize chunks in a variety of ways. Consider those materials could be written word, audio or video formats. But also allow students to explore a curriculum in their own way. Similar to a content streaming service like Netflix or Spotify, you could let users search for the exact lesson they need, explore content based on a theme, or be allocated a slightly more focused plan through a “playlist”. Suddenly the platform becomes a learning environment uniquely catered to the student.

Use plain English

One thing that consistently sets startups apart from the industry heavyweights they are disrupting is their ability to speak to the user on their terms, in the language they actually use.

By cutting through jargon, dense information becomes accessible rather than something the user is confused by or ignores. Good, clear descriptive language also makes an interface easier to understand not only for those with good language skills, but also for those who might have learning disabilities, or for non-native speakers.

But whatever you do, don’t make it needlessly quirky!

Bake it into the journey

Teaching isn’t always a digital experience’s primary function, but users often need ancillary information to support how they go about using the product.

Airbnb has honed this skill pretty well. I remember in the early days, I’d book my place to stay and then have bags of questions for the host around check-in, directions etc. But the platform has since evolved and all that information is easily accessible at the right times, reducing any hassle or friction.

"Baking easy-to-understand, instructional information into the product often goes beyond its actual mechanic, in this example booking a trip away, but is invaluable in encouraging engagement and empowering users.'

Focus on the outcome

When it comes to the aesthetics of a digital learning environment, a lot of effort often goes into realistic environments and surrounding details. This doesn’t usually bring value to the lesson and can in fact be distracting. Designers should focus on the outcome — what should the user actually be learning, and often stripping the visuals back with a level of abstraction is the most effective solution. This can help to draw focus on the areas that are most important.

Take the vocabulary game on the Elevate Brain Training app for example.

They’ve gone for a space rocket theme with the aim of travelling as far as possible, each time you get an answer right, it refuels the rocket to gain more travel distance and combo scores give the rocket some extra boost. There’s a fair amount of detail in the illustrations but I’d say they have go the overall visuals just right, the colours, detail and UI components are paired back enough to allow the user to focus on the game interface which is very simple and intuitive.

With each project we find that relevant design and UX research really help to solve issues like this. There are some common UX patterns, but there’s no one size fits all solution so it’s essential to get early ideas in front of users to gain valuable insight and guide our design decisions for better user understanding.

About
the author

Matt Boyle

Sr. Product Designer

Matt is a Product Designer with an eclectic skillset centred around creative problem solving. His design thinking is driven by empathy and clarity to design stand out digital experiences. With a background working as part of in-house digital teams and for agencies; he’s helped startups, brands and corporations to launch and transform their digital presence.