“Let’s Talk! is your always-on listening station. Scan your community for potential risks and engage with parents, teachers, students and staff — wherever you are.”

Let’s Talk! is a web and mobile based application that increases community engagement between school districts and their communities. It manages all district email communications in one central hub and keeps track of social media and news outlets for information and conversations on the district.

The main goals of this product are to make it easy for school district to:

My Role

I worked as the lead designer on this project, collaborating directly with the product manager and development team. My responsibilities included

Creating Let's Talk!

The components of Let’s Talk! include a public-facing side that allows parents, teachers, students and community members of the district to send in any message, and have it delivered to the relevant department or person, and get a response quickly, have their questions answered, and feel like they have a voice in their district.

On the district side, Let’s Talk! provides a ticketing system that allows district staff members to easily manage and see messages, and track which ones have been closed, which are in progress, and which haven’t been answered yet. It also creates reports, showing actionable information about departments and the messages themselves. It keeps all communication in one central hub.

When districts start using Let’s Talk!, they want to make it as easy as possible for parents, students, teachers and community members to access the submission form on their website, often through a button that I’d design and by adding the link it to their main navigation. They would also use posters and postcards I designed to advertise the implementation. A community member facing form made it easy for them to communicate with the district.

As more school districts began using Let’s Talk!, users began to want more customization options. They would reach out to us asking for the ability to add school colors, text and images to the form. I designed an alternative form option that allows much more customizability, including creating and customizing multiple versions of the form to go on different school websites throughout the district.

In addition to the form on a dedicated webpage, I also designed a small plugin that can be added to every page of the district’s website, so visitors to the site can leave messages without specifically looking for Let’s Talk!.

All communications that come through other channels are handled by the district facing side. Emails can be sent directly to Let’s Talk! by community members, or forwarded to Let’s Talk! by district staff. Once there, they can be tracked and responded to easily using the Let’s Talk! ticketing system. The internal system also manages communication through phone calls by integrating with the district’s phone system, and to manage social media by automatically scanning all social and news media for mentions of the district’s schools or staff, and giving employees a way to respond and track the conversation.

The page that manages and tracks that conversation, where individual messages are answered and information about their source and history can be found, became an integral part of using Let’s Talk!. There, users can assign other people and departments to different messages and reply and leave messages to other internal users. It’s where teams working on a single problem can discuss, answer and track their actions relating to these messages.

I went through a few iterations of this page during my time on this project, eventually reorganizing the information on the left and breaking up the page into sections to make the amount of information more manageable to the user, and using iconography to create a more intuitive experience.

The Dashboard

The dashboard is where all the information about district communications is presented as a series of graphs. When I came on, there was an existing dashboard, but it showed information that was confusing for users. When it came time to redesign the dashboard, I started speaking to some of the district leaders using Let’s Talk! about what kind of information they wanted and how they were already using it.

They told me that they wanted to

The first problem was that the data was overwhelming and couldn’t be seen in a snapshot. It was all in one page with no filtering or organization, and graphs were often huge without a way to customize or filter them. I organized it into three sections based on the feedback I had gotten from users, Performance, Trending Issues, and Source.

Under Performance, users can see their feedback, and how well and quickly they’re resonding to issues over time. Trending Issues shares in a moment the most important issues and departments that the community is interested in. Source shares a distribution of where messages are coming from, as well as what kind of community members are reaching out most often, and how engaged those people are.

I also designed a PDF and PowerPoint report that users can download, and share with stakeholders who don’t have access to a Let’s Talk! account. Feedback was overwhelmingly positive, users were so excited to have a dashboard that they could really use and share with others.

Below are some process pictures, digital and handrawn sketches - and things that got left on the design room floor.

Designing the Mobile App

One of my first tasks when I started working on Let’s Talk! was to design mobile applications for iPhone and Android that would offer all the functionality of the web software.

The goal of the mobile application is to allow Let’s Talk! users to keep track of their district and community outreach and communications without being tied to their computer. The first and most important goal was to make the messages easily available to read, assign, and to keep track of their progress. The one-page message screen of the web application was broken into different pieces, a design pattern that we repeated on the home screen and in the ‘social media and news’ section of the application.

The other goal was to allow users to easily add messages from conversations, phone calls, or something they saw. A lot of time was spent iterating on the section of the app where users created new messages. We kept the required information short, and made it easy for them to add photos, videos or voice recordings in the moment.

The final focus was translating the Dashboard screen. This was the biggest challenge, a lot of the functionality in the web Dashboard included hovering and viewing graphs on a much larger screen. These design problems were solved by dedicating each graph to its own screen, and to allow users to swipe through them and get a clear picture quickly. I also designed a slider on the bottom of the screen, which users could use to slide through the different graphs to get more detailed information.

Reflection

This was the largest software project I’ve worked on to date, both in stakeholders whose voices and opinions were part of every process of its design and development, and in data to manage and organize.

In a product going to so many districts with busy superintendents, I was fortunate that a core group were always available for feedback and to discuss how they were using the product and what they needed to make using it easier and more helpful.

I learned a tremendous amount about working with a large development team, listening to many opinions and creating a design that met the criteria they presented, and taking feature ideas and adding them to a large application seamlessly and consistently.

There was also room for other, smaller fun in the midst of all this craziness. Here’s a website I made with some of my coworkers to advertise a company event by showing off the office plants. I’m proud of this one.

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