Adding real value for our users with our a mobile app

We are in a “post-app” world. Reports in 2016 have shown we spend 80% of our time in only 5 apps on our mobile devices. So when the product owners of our teacher planning web app approached the design team with, “we need an iphone app”... I quickly started to shout out all the reasons why we didn’t. However through some light user interviews and ethnographic research an opportunity presented itself that we had to follow through on.


Traditionally curriculum planning and reporting is a very document heavy process. Our web app Primary Planning Tool was built to address a desire by schools to move toward digital solutions. With a cloud based application, schools can reduce printing overheads and save time for principals and inspectors. When the product owners asked us to design and conceptualise a mobile app, we worried this would face an even bigger challenge. Not only would the scope of the app be quite limited due to time constraints, it would need to add real value and something our web app could not offer.

The Research

The profile and demographic of user we were aiming for with the mobile app was limited. We identified teachers who were newly graduated or currently undergoing teacher training in college. As digital natives they would be keen to support and use digital-first products. If it saved time and added value, then we were on to a winner.

Once we had identified a set of teachers that would help focus our research, I drafted an initial few questions down on paper and set out to conduct some early interviews. The interviews were spread between classrooms and our office.

photo of classroom

Spending time in classroom gave great insights in to the teacher's environment

Through earlier interviews we had gathered that the most common times teachers plan the curriculum is in the afternoon after school or on a Sunday evening before the week begins. This meant that teachers likely need to pull open their laptop or spend some time at a computer.

For our first version of the app we would allow a quick way to pull up your current short term plan and mark off what you had completed that day. This convenience would be a draw alone for some teachers. However as product team we know it was not sufficient enough to warrant a place on your busy phone home-screen, let alone sign up and pay for our product if you weren’t already a customer.

The Opportunity

The opportunity struck us when we got to spend some time in the classroom. At that time every wall was full of artwork, drawings and stories about the students. We could see how each and every artefact was created to support some aspect of the curriculum. We began to ask how the teacher captured this and documented it for their reports. The simple answer - they currently didn't.

The one time the inspector comes in to the classroom - you have nothing on the walls...

We began to talk through various scenarios of how this rich environment could be captured in their reports and the teacher mentioned how, “The one time the inspector comes in to the classroom - you have nothing on the walls…”. We just thought how great it would be to photograph the work and attach it there and then to your monthly report.

At this point it became a no brainer - the mobile app was going to go ahead and it was going to include camera functionality.

The Process

We took our findings from the research phase and began to sketch out some concepts. Although we were keen to include the photo functionality - we first needed to quantify the work and present it back to the business to ensure they could support any additional cost it might incur.

Sample Slidedeck images

Concept generation, sketching and presentation of ideas early on in slide deck to the product owners

At this point I find simple paper sketches and an annotated slide-deck can really communicate your idea across many functions. For those not too technical it is in a format that they can work with and it becomes a launch pad for valuable discussion.

Once the stakeholders approved the use cases we wanted to include, I worked through a process of iterative prototypes. I took the initial concept to Axure and prototyped out some key work flows. With this deliverable I was able to validate technical considerations with the engineers and also include some user testing.

axure wireframes of the app

Initial wireframes of key screens

It always strikes me how even a common and relatively simple workflow (for example - to take a picture) can grow to be quite complex. I never underestimate the value of prototyping but here it was clear this was going to require in-depth visual design work. As you not only have to consider taking the picture - a user must be able to edit, delete, assign, re-assign and annotate an image. I took these workflows and produced the views in Sketch.

Screen shots of app

UI workflow for the take photo and and upload

The Outcome

Our mobile app was soft launched Jan 2017 and was demonstrated to teachers at the IPPN conference. The initial feedback is positive and the marketing team have nice ideas on how to leverage the mobile aspect in some upcoming marketing plans.

axure wireframes of the app

Sample Layouts - Subject view and info pop up on curriculum item

From a personal point of view I saw first hand how user research can identify really subtle but valuable use cases. I had an opportunity to use my UI design skills and get really deep in to mobile design patterns. Taking my Sketch files and handing off to development I used a new application called It is a great way to collaborate and ensure really well executed designs.

I learnt a valuable lesson of when to say no...

One other use case presented itself during the research by teachers. Teachers discussed how a reminders feature in the app would be very useful. It would allow them to set daily, weekly, etc reminders on resources or plans in the app. As with the photo feature, I concepted, sketched and prototyped a few workflows around this. The engineering overhead became quite complex. Ultimately time and budget did not allow for it. So as a team we decided to Roadmap the item. It may be harder to say no but at least it gives us a nice roadmap feature to explore down the line.


Product Design, User Experience Design, Visual Design


Individual designer working on this.


Ethnographic Research, Axure Prototyping, User Testing, Animated prototypes, Visual Design