A new way of learning

In 2014, Noordhoff, a publisher of Dutch teaching materials, launched a digital platform for primary schools in the Netherlands, intended to complement their existing teaching materials. This platform was supposed to support teachers in teaching students different learning methods. After launch, more platforms with even more features were introduced. Despite the vast variety of features users did not have a positive experience working with the platforms – there was no coherence or consistency between the different platforms and they were complicated to navigate. A clear vision of what Noordhoff wanted to achieve with the digital platforms seemed to be missing.


The educational platforms had many issues, to name a few: performance, outdated UI, negative feedback. Completing a task was often the biggest struggle for a user. There were many dashboards on different platforms that provided a user explanations or guidelines, but most of the time the user did not know where to find the information they needed.


  • Define a strong vision that reflects the story Noordhoff wants to tell and incorporate this story in the products that are built for a new way of teaching and learning.
  • Create a foundation for a new platform, starting with a results dashboard.


Initially, I was asked to be involved in the design strategy, providing guidance and information from a UX point of view, and creating different concept designs that helped define the proposition for 2020. Additionally, I did research with other designers to implement a global style guide and design system for Noordhoff.

Designing is difficult without a clear vision

I joined the team to redesign the dashboarding screens for teachers. The development team was working through priorities with the Kanban methodology. The mission was to redesign the results dashboard. Quick enough, I noticed that we were making the same mistake that Noordhoff made before:
  • Redesigning without seeking the reasons why things were not working before.
  • Making choices and having assumptions without doing proper research.

We were working from our own point of view, not realising that what we were creating might not be needed at all. I started to challenge this process, asking team members, publishers, and stakeholders questions like "Why do we do what we do?"; "What experience do we want to give our users?";"What is our vision?"

Project Grow up

As a result a separate team initiated the project Grow up to help define the vision. Its goal was to:
  • Define key-principles and values.
  • Rely on user experience to help define a problem or opportunity.
  • Conduct competitive analysis.

Like Noordhoff’s competitors the previous solutions were too heavily focussed on the pains, we saw an opportunity to shift this focus to the gains. This would be a more positive approach and would cover the "Whys?" in our opinion. This resulted in the main mission: "Discover the twinkle in a teacher’s eyes".

To help us with our thinking process we also created design principles.

Design principles.

Mission statements

Different teams were assigned to do a more in-depth analysis of the gains. I joined the team to explore the 'joy' aspect.
We created a mind map to discover what joy means for the teachers and the students. We then translated the result of the mind map into mission statements.

  • To create an experience where the students can learn while having fun.
  • The student’s learning experience is more important than the results because it is okay to make mistakes.
  • Give the students the right guidance and feedback so they can learn from their mistakes; this can help them grow.
  • Challenges just above their level, adapt when it is needed.
  • Give rewards to boost motivation.
  • Show teachers the growth of their students to prevent a sole focus on the results by displaying the student’s soft skills as well.
Outcome from project Growup.

A hero's journey

With the feedback and outcome from the Grow up project one team collaborated with a story writer to create a story that guides the student through their journey of growth, “the student, as a hero, goes on his/her learning journey full of challenges and growth”. At the same time this storyline in turn was a good tool to guide Noordhof when creating new content, helping us to keep the mission statements in mind.
Within this story frame different design sprints were initiated in which the teams focused on specific problems or core principles while keeping the main mission “Discovering the twinkle in a teachers’ eyes” in mind. The task given to the (cross-functional) team that I joined was to find the definition for ‘growth’ and to create various concepts on how to visualise this growth that should give teachers instant insight on the performance of a student.
Crazy 8's.

Ideation and prototyping

To define the problem or challenge we first wanted to understand what growth meant by creating an affinity map. Based on previous projects’ insights, affinity mapping, and brainstorming we created a collection of 'How might we' questions. Through thumb-voting we narrowed it down to one main question:
"How might we visualise growth to make it easy to read?"
We started ideating through a session of crazy 8's. Then, we discussed each idea shortly and used thumb-voting to shortlist the best ones. Iterating more on these ideas prompted us to create student profiles, each one with different characteristics. On the basis of these profiles we created matching growth graphs.


We invited teachers to test our prototypes asking them to share their thoughts out loud. The goal was to see if they could match a profile with its corresponding growth graph.

  • Most of the teachers were not familiar with graphs like this.
  • They said they had trouble viewing the data points.
  • They, after a short time of examination, understood what the graph was displaying –a result of a student’s learning chapter displayed in a different way than they are used to see.

Afterwards we let them try to match the profiles with a second growth graph and most of the teachers were able do this in one try. Some still had trouble reading the graph as they could not see the relation with the characteristics of the profiles.
It was necessary to fine tune these prototypes and more research had to be done on other core principles. The results from the design sprints were collected for further exploration.

Lessons I learned

  • I learned to be more direct when facing problems that need to be addressed on a higher level. Daring to ask the business managers and stakeholders challenging questions.
  • Due to a wide range of tasks, as I was the only UX designer on the project, I had trouble getting focus on what mattered. I learned to plan things better with the Product Owner and to get rid of things that are not important.
  • It is good to have a cross-functional team working in a design sprint. It really helps to have input from different fields of expertise.
  • We had roles during the design sprints, these were the chairman, the reporter, the evaluator, and the regulator. Each day a team member gets a new role. This helped to improve team effort and gave more focus and control over the process.
  • Accept that not everything can go as fast as you want. Changes, especially on organisation level, takes time.
The information in this case study is from my point of view and does not necessarily reflect that from Noordhoff.

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