Learning platform Unacademy rolled out a major update to its app earlier this year. Unlike regular feature upgrades, this ambitious initiative redesigned the app from the ground up – a big step for a platform with 600,000+ paying subscribers, who typically spend 2-3 hours a day on it.
A Fresh Slate
As features proliferate, user experience can suffer – this is true for many high-growth products.
Research showed that Unacademy users were finding it challenging to discover new content and educators. The structure of the app had become complex over the years. Instead of making modifications to the existing app, the team decided to develop a completely new one.
Hardik Pandya, Vice-President, Design at Unacademy, says that the decision was driven by the company’s vision for the future. “After discussions across all teams, we came to the conclusion that the current structure and design would not serve what we wanted to build.” he explains. “It was a big, culture-defining decision that needed a sign-off from leaders across design, product and engineering, as well as the founders.”
The Primary User Personas
Unacademy’s primary user personas fall on two ends of the learning spectrum. On one end is a user who needs hand-holding and on the other, a more independent learner who prefers to take control of her own journey. The remaining personas fall in between these two extremes. The new app aims at equipping the independent learner with the right tools and smart defaults and then ‘getting out of her way’. It focuses on the needs of the more dependent learners and sets them up for success by eliminating complex decision-making from their day-to-day tasks.
The New Information Architecture
Instead of starting with a feature-based view, the teams started brainstorming around a fresh Information Architecture that was based on user needs. They found that these needs could be categorised into three major buckets:
First, there was a certain set of activities that the users needed to do everyday – from checking their daily schedule, to attending live classes and tests. The app needed to help them accomplish these journeys as fast as possible, with the least amount of friction.
The second set of activities involved learning on one’s own time. Here, users needed access to features that allowed them to go the extra mile in their preparation.
The third set of user requirements involved tracking progress and monitoring analytics – a personal dashboard that would let them evaluate their performance more deeply.
Based on this, the team arrived at the decision to condense the navigation into Planner, Self study and Profile, versus the earlier Schedule, Syllabus, Tests, Updates and Profile.
Another big decision was to remove the Hamburger menu – a component widely touted as bad design practice, because the user cannot immediately see what it contains.
“A clear information architecture is the foundation that all the user journeys are built upon,” says Prithvi Ravi, Design Lead, Unacademy. “We prioritised simplicity and focus for our learners and took the time to rethink, test, and iterate on specific features like Planner, Self-study and Groups. Our new foundation now allows us to build out more personalisation features, so we can deliver a better experience for our learners.”
Small Change. Big Results
The redesign effort started internally in January 2021, and the new experience started rolling out by April 2021. The team says it was a nail-biting, but exhilarating few months.
“Seemingly small design choices can end up opening up entirely new possibilities in steering the user experience in interesting directions.”Prithvi Ravi, Design Lead, Unacademy
Here’s one such example that became a good case study for the team: Earlier a user’s schedule was shown in a list form. In the new Planner, this has moved to a calendar view, showing not just scheduled activity but the learner’s free time as well.
This seemingly simple tweak has reframed the user’s view of their learning activities. It has nudged them to increase their learning productivity by undertaking practice tests and other self-study activity in the open gaps during their day. This in turn means that they are taking advantage of the Self study tab even more, creating interconnected and customised learning loops across different types of features.
Going forward, there are plans to introduce more personalisation into the Planner.
The onboarding flow has also changed in the new app.
The team says they thought about the first day you start at a new college or university, where your schedule and directions are handed to you.
In the earlier version of the app, the user needed to initiate the process of content discovery. Now, the onboarding flow starts engaging the users as soon as they subscribe. It tries to understand their objectives, so their content library can be set up for them to start learning. (For self-motivated users, there is an option to bypass this.)
Another new feature that is showing early promise is social learning via Groups. Managing motivation is perhaps one of the biggest challenges for online education. The new app introduces learning with Groups, where currently learners can view the activity and learning progress of other members in the Group.
“The early reception of Groups has been very encouraging. We’ve been constantly in touch with our users and gathering feedback. We’ve seen our learners be more competitive and study more to collect points and climb the leaderboard. This learner-to-learner relationship vector has opened up a host of new possibilities that we’re excited to build upon.”Hardik Pandya, Vice-President, Design, Unacademy
Setting up Systems
Building from the ground up has also allowed the team to set up a robust design system so that the UI remains consistent across a large team and multiple releases. Again, this was much more straightforward to do with a new app, versus attempting a clean-up of the existing one.
“Every fresh redesign is an opportunity to lay down a good systematic foundation. It’s a reset button for your design system. Keeping scalability and coherence in mind, we shaped our new design system to reduce the time-to-design and time-to-build, while still ensuring a high quality output. The system has started to help us spend more time solving user problems, instead of re-thinking UI components and consistency.”Rishideep S, Design Lead, Unacademy.
Were there any unpleasant surprises?
Pandya says that the modifications after user testing have been mostly UI and labelling related.
For instance, dark mode was very popular amongst learners and based on their feedback, the team needed to go back and do a few rounds of tweaking.
As edtech matures, products too must go beyond the traditional construct of users absorbing content and being tested. Evolving from a feature-led architecture to one that is user-led and provides greater autonomy and personalisation is fundamentally a good move. More importantly, a more flexible, scalable platform is better positioned to support the company’s future expansion plans. Changing the app was a risky bet, but so far, it seems to be paying off for Unacademy.
Thinking of a redesign? Here’s some advice from Hardik
“Large-scale product redesigns are hard. No amount of prior data, audit and analyses would prepare you for what you’ll experience when you change your product in such a massive way for your users. The key is to acknowledge the healthy amount of guided intuition involved in making big and bold decisions and work closely with your users through it all.
When it feels challenging, remember that it’s supposed to be.”