Developing and deploying a centralised knowledge hub
Roles: User Research, UX/UI Design, Development
Tools: Figma, Premiere Pro, Next JS
Team: R.K. (manager) and myself (designer, researcher, developer)
Timeline of Two Years
Background + The Problem
Takapuna Grammar School launched their maker space (nee Innovation Space) for students and staff in 2020. With a wide range of different tools and machinery, there is a high learning curve for anyone new to the space with students ranging from years 9 - 13 (12 - 18 year olds) and teachers. Without some form of training, accessibility of this space is limited.
Design, develop and deploy a centralised knowledge hub that exists both online in the form of a website and offline in the form of posters. The hub will contain different guides for using the tools and machines, as well as steps to follow for certain goals.
Design Process - the 5 Ws Method
What is the product? - A centralised knowledge hub
Who is it for? - Students and staff of Takapuna Grammar School
Why does it need to be created? - To help students and staff onboard and train themselves to use the tools and machines in Te Wāhi Auaha
What does it need to do? - Instruct students and staff on how to use specific tools/machines, as well as guide them on common goals they want to achieve (e.g. “I want to 3D print something…”)
Where and When will it be used? - At Takapuna Grammar School, to be used anytime inside or outside of curriculum
“Students and Staff would have agency over learning about how to use a certain tool or machine in the maker space, so they can be free in realising their individual projects with confidence.”
Agency - giving users control over their creative experience
Confidence - in their ability to achieve or solve a problem
Individual - what is specific to the student/staff member, which may not fall into a particular curriculum area
Primary Research Method - utilising student voice
Some initial assumptions leading up to undertaking this research was the following:
Many students don’t read emails
Many students don’t read daily notices/newsletter
Many students struggle to find where digital material for their classes are located
Many students feel that having a single organised hub/location for digital materials would help them with their learning and organisation
Many students feel discouraged from going through notifications due to the sheer amount of alerts that teachers would post and put out on a daily basis, making it difficult to filter through the noise
Using a simple survey, responses were gathered from a pool of 100 different students using Tally to gather some data regarding the above assumptions. The findings were:
The vast majority of students surveyed do not read their students emails (85%), with the most popular reason being that they felt there was so much being sent that it was hard to keep on top of
Nearly half of all students surveyed do not ready the daily notices and school newsletters (47%)
Close to a third of all students surveyed said that they struggle to find what they need for their classes on Google Classroom (28%)
A large majority of students surveyed expressed that it would be useful to have one set place to find digital materials for their respective classes, with a few noting that Google Classroom already did this to a certain extent but sometimes was hard to look through
First design and feedback round
To start with, a very basic homepage was created to act as the central hub to all matters related to the maker space. To accompany this site were a series of A3 posters for display in the space. Each poster contained a short description of the core tools and machines used in the space, with a QR code that directed students to a video tutorial demonstrating how to use said tool/machine.
Response to the initial site design was mostly positive. Through further student voice and also some comments from staff, most respondents rated the site highly but also noted that the site could host some further guides and tutorials in greater depth:
“… a clean design … could use more information on how to use more of the software in the space”
“… would be great to be able to search for stuff”
“… the links to the guides aren’t that clear … could be a button?”
To address this, the site was redesigned to include clear buttons on the homepage for the most common flows, which were the tool guides, project guides, a newly launched online exhibition space, and a form for submitting files for 3D printed or laser cutting/engraving. The tool and project guides were written up in greater detail and hosted on Gitbook, with full search capability and on-the-fly media compression to help students with limited or slow internet connections.
Google Forms was originally used for submitting jobs, but this was dropped in favour of Airtable. Students were submitting requests from their personal Gmail accounts and not their school addresses. This meant that many students were awaiting confirmation regarding their prints in their school inboxes, without having realised that they made the request through a personal account.
The hub on Gitbook functioned well but had a few key issues. Namely, students who did not know what specific thing they were looking for but wished to make something via 3D printing, laser cutting or engraving did not have a clear starting point on the site. There was a list of tools but it isn’t immediately clear which ones are relevant to what job or purpose.
Our second hub, now running a custom fork of Nextra and deployed via Vercel, includes clear sections for students wanting to 3D print, laser cut or engrave something. The homepage was also updated to have a clearer link to the hub, as well as more information displayed on each section of the site. Next.js and Tailwind were used to develop this third iteration of the homepage to improve responsiveness, speed and reduce developement time. A CDN was also established under “tewahi.me” to help with the safe and secure delivery of large software binaries for students, as well as host versions of tools that no longer officially exist elsewhere on the internet (such as the macOS version of Meshmixer).
Learnings, reflections and next steps
Upon the third iteration of the Te Wāhi homepage, a small follow-up Tally survey was conducted recording the responses of 25 students and their experience with the hub. The key findings were:
All students recorded appreciated having a centralised knowledge hub online
Most students felt the hub was easy to use. Two students noted that occasionally videos would fail to load on the hub, which will need further investigation
Most students felt that the visual design and layout of the hub is clear and accessible. One student felt that more colour could be used to signal important parts of the hub, which we will plan on implementing in the next iteration