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SFUSD staff gather during design sprint

Prototyping Solutions for the SF School District

Conducting a collaborative design sprint with SFUSD

The Client San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD)

Throughout 2018, we have been working with the San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) to provide parents, faculty, students and staff a cohesive digital experience, providing relevant and updated information in a seamless and timely manner. SFUSD is the seventh largest school district in California, educating over 57,000 students every year.

While SFUSD aims to clearly communicate to all of the district stakeholders, their four disparate website groups make it difficult to keep information updated and useful. A public-facing website, an employee portal, school websites and department websites all created a confusing and frustrating user experience.

We partnered with SFUSD to create a digital strategy for all of these web properties. We started by digging into their analytics, talking with stakeholders, and identifying pain points across multiple user groups including students, teachers, administrators, and parents. This upfront work allowed us to kick off a Design Sprint grounded in the users’ experiences providing a human-centered starting point for the group to respond to.

A Design Sprint is a 3-day intensive workshop to validate assumptions about users and glean product insight. The goal is to create alignment on challenges faced by target audiences, and create a prototype to test the product idea.

Exygy Product Designer, Alice Yan, sharing some initial findings with the SFUSD team at the Design Sprint kickoff.

During the Design Sprint, we gathered an extended group of stakeholders to hear voices from all over the organization. Working as a team, we distilled big problems into discrete areas of focus. The sprint allowed us to facilitate discussions and brainstorms that surfaced institutional knowledge and hidden issues.

As a result, we created:

  1. Proto personas—a sketch of user types— to gain empathy for SFUSD’s target audiences;
  2. User flows— the steps users take to accomplish common goals;
  3. Clickable prototypes ready for user testing.

The prototypes were tested by real users, and the feedback from the tests informed the product features inventory and the plan for the next phase: a web properties redesign.

A proto persona of an SFUSD teacher outlining her motivations and goals.

Alice Yan, Product Designer

The design sprint met its original goal of providing ideas and a prototype for the new SFUSD website, but it did much more: it ended up shifting the SFUSD team’s approach to problem solving overall. During the three-day sprint, the SFUSD team surfaced issues, identified patterns of pain points throughout the organization, and ultimately developed a better understanding of each other’s needs and motivations. The design sprint created space to develop empathy among the various stakeholders, and then equipped the team with tools to generate solutions to address their challenges.

Design sprints create an environment where innovation can happen. Often bureaucracies are hierarchical, but sprints foster a meritocracy where everyone has equal opportunity to generate solutions. The SFUSD team proved that non-designers can use human-centered design principles to dramatically improve user experience. Their initial success with the sprint method allowed them to continue using what they learned to lead design sprints across the school district.

Based on our design sprint prototypes, we are now working with SFUSD to design and build their new, central website.

The Exygy team’s partnership with SFUSD went beyond the development of a product. In their work with us to create a world-class digital strategy and website, Exygy also helped the district define and implement new approaches for collaboration which will aid us in serving the students, families, and educators long after this project has concluded.

– Jared Joiner, former Chief of Staff of SFUSD Dept. of Technology