AACT / Design Strategy Coalescing a Community of Chemistry Teachers

Design Strategy
Design Strategy
Information Architecture
Year & Duration
2015, 2 months
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In 2014, the American Association of Chemistry Teachers (AACT) set up shop (operating within their parent, the American Chemical Society), signed up hundreds of members, and launched a website rich in resources, periodicals, and events.

As the calendar turned to 2015, the group caught their breath and began to wonder:

“What next?”

Enter EightShapes. We worked with AACT to establish a digital product experience vision over two months of research and design activities. Our mission: create, assess, and refine a collection of concepts– enhancements or new product experiences that AACT could release in the coming 12 to 18 months.

Generating Ideas

To start, EightShapes and AACT staff convened for a half day session of brainstorming. Using the KJ Technique, the group broke into teams, recorded each feature idea on a Post-It note, grouped similar notes together in clusters, and named and scored the clusters.

Within 90 minutes, we had a breadth of ideas clustered into categories like resources, mentoring, topical and group discussions, online collaboration, and networking at face-to-face and online events.

Feature ideas across Resources, Mentoring and Discussion clusters

Feature ideas across Resources, Mentoring and Discussion clusters

Learning from Teachers Directly

We interviewed 11 chemistry teachers to understand their needs, expectations of AACT, and how the organization could serve them best. To be respectful of teacher’s time (in fact, a pervasive theme was “I just don’t have any time.”), we guided 60-minute interviews through a diverse, flexible script that yielded findings and quotes like:

Sample findings and quotes from formative interviews

On Mentoring

The mentoring life cycle begins with face-to-face meeting, includes mutual observation, and evolves into calls and email as trust is built.

A good mentoring relationship is about sharing a similar teaching philosophy that is supportive and built on trust and similar styles.

On Resources

Teachers distrust using resources as-is from Google. They often test, refine and modify it to fit their teaching style.

My favorite part is seeing the aha moment and seeing how a chemistry concept clicks!

About Teachers

Teachers of chemistry considers her style unique, is afraid of stagnation and seeks to new ideas for teaching existing chemistry concepts.

Ideas for chemistry haven’t changed but how we implement them have. We need to be ready for the millennial student.

Survey to Verify Hunches

The interviews also validated our instincts about which concepts were most important. At the end of the conversation, participants ranked the 12 concept ideas (such as “Offer to mentor others,” “Upload a lesson materials to get feedback from AACT members,” and “Post advice to other members indicating similar challenges”) on a scale from Not important to Very important.

Results validated some assumptions, like how teachers aren’t as interested in meeting one another for coffee. However, other responses shifted our appreciation for teacher passions, like their strong desire to mentor others.

Respondent feedback about feature priorities. Upload lesson is important. Find teacher nearby not as important. Find a mentor that shares your priorites is very important. Offer to mentor others is very important. Create and publish a professional profile online is important.

Sketching & Prototyping

Sketches of user interface design

With a bevy of ideas and early validation from users, we brought these ideas to life through design activities. The project shifted into design ideation: a brainstorming workshop convened ~16 stakeholders for a full day to sketch screens together, based on scenarios we prepared.

The session yielded hundreds of sketches, and the team converged on ideas for presenting resources, revealing profiles, welcoming and connecting new members.

Assembling a Testable a Prototype

Following the studio, we designed nearly 30 unique screens at a fidelity a bit higher than wireframes, with real content, but not yet perfectly polished. Over two weeks of collaborative iteration – both face-to-face reviews and asynchronous feedback via comments – we wove the concepts together into a clickable prototype with inVision app.

Screen designs organized by phase of customer journey, prototyped using InVision app

Validating Concepts

With the detailed prototype, we tested the design with another 8 teachers, using a technique called “cognitive walkthrough” In this activity, participants step through the prototype providing feedback as they go.

Collecting Feedback for Each Concept

We collected concept feedback as participants navigated the prototype, which often blended many concept ideas (sorting & filtering, discussions, uploads, reviews, and more) within single pages (such as a list of resources).

For example, the concept Dynamic Resources improved primary navigation, enabled faceted filtering and sorting, and previewed content better across many prototyped screens. As the participant navigated and talked aloud, we recorded findings, features that resonated most, suggestions we’d not thought of, and other considerations about what worked best.

Evaluating a Concept, Across Screens


Screenshot: Landing


Screenshot: List


Screenshot: Detail


  • Users trust AACT resource quality, setting it apart t from Pinterest or Google.
  • Filtering by topic, grade, and standards strengthened belief in reliability & trustworthiness of content for classroom use.

Resonating Features

  • Exploring by multiple dimensions: type, grade level, and especially topic
  • Published date, connoting freshness
  • Prep time estimates

Teacher Suggestions

  • College Level or AP Chem as an additional filter.
  • Identify materials by specific high school grade level(s).
  • Filter by estimated lab time for activities or demos.

Other Considerations

  • Nobody read content about “Not being a member.”
  • “Editorial status” (published by AACT or a member) as a filter was least favored, consider alternative label.

Similarly, we collected feedback from teachers across all the concepts, verifying their perceived value along the way.

Quantifying Concept Value

At the walkthrough’s conclusion, we asked participants to rank the importance of the features they used, each corresponding to a concept. We weighted responses to arrive at a concept’s “member value”:

Aggregate feature values with corresponding concepts, ordered by value
Aggregate Concept Value

Digging into Comfort Sharing Identity Online

During earlier interviews, a few participants voiced concerns about sharing personal information online. These concerns stoked stakeholder fear, tamping initial enthusiasm that teachers would be willing to share enough about themselves to network effectively in an online community.

In the second round of interviews, we probed these concerns. We learned what information was most sensitive. Some aspects of a teacher’s profile – such as Teaching Philosophy (a point of connection) and Years Experience (a point of pride) – generated passionate, positive discussion. These findings dispelled the notion that all teachers are afraid to share anything. Teachers are actually willing to share plenty!

Comfort in Sharing Identity, by Property
Comfort in Sharing Identity, by Property

As a result of exercises like this, we knew how to design a teacher’s profile that would convert new members, target promotions, personalize content, and connect them together.

Defining a Strategy

By the project’s conclusion, we’d described 25 distinct concepts in detail and infused each with research inputs.

Details for Each Concept

We described each concept with one or more screen designs, inputs and analytics from research, an explanation of essential functionality, and a sensitizing quote.

UX deliverable, annotated

Prioritizing Concepts by Tiers

In the closing weeks, some concepts increased in importance while others faded, and by the end we settled on a model that prioritized concepts from highest tier (the “Flagship”) to lowest tier (“Other”).

Tiered concepts

The project concluded with a presentation to align diverse executive stakeholders. AACT wanted to know 'what next?' and through this prioritized set of concepts, rationalized through research, they had an answer.