Designing the new online learning experience for Smart People Inc.

Ella Forté
5 min readJun 16, 2019


Smart People Inc. is an educational company that offers languages courses. Their main offer is the 4-weeks Summer Camp experience during which hundreds of teenagers can enjoy the Summer time taking part in outside activities and practicing foreign languages with others.

Becoming aware that this offer was not affordable for everybody, Smart People Inc. want to provide an engaging online experience for those who cannot attend the camps.

That’s where Laura Mondoloni and I can help. We spent last week designing the solution that would both answer Smart People Inc.’s goals and their customers expectations.

Business Goals

Users Expectations

To make sure the solution would meet users’ expectations we needed first to get to know them. In our case, users are teenagers from 12 to 18 years old. But they are not the only ones concerned, the parents need to be involved as well for financial reasons in particular.

Starting with teenagers

We managed to get insights from 5 teenagers from this age range and what was surprising was that, no matter their age differences, a general trend appeared among all of them:

In this hyper-connected world we live in, teenagers are looking for interaction with others more than anything.

We learned also that the traditional learning methodology used in school was not efficient nor interesting to them. They want to exchange, they want to speak the language and not just learn vocabulary, they want to have fun.

More than the scholar and parental obligation to learn a new language, the idea of discovering and opening up to a new culture is what really motivates them.

By being mobile native and the most-connected generation ever, content in English and other languages than their mother tongue is everywhere, reminding them daily that it’s essential to speak another language than French for their future.

To them, understanding and being able to communicate in English for example would also be a mean to feel as a part of a broader community.

What about parents?

Aside from school, parents are the first trigger for making their kids acquire new skills. When teens went abroad on a language stay during holidays it’s usually parents who pushed them. Even if, in the end, they all loved the experience thanks of the possibility to interact with others precisely.

To parents, what counts is making sure their kids will learn something that will be both qualitative and efficient and that they will be able to assess the results.

Security and time control are also part of the parents’ concerns. As soon as we mention of an online experience, parents can be afraid that their kids will spent even more time on screens than they already do. And of course, secure and adapted content is crucial. Also, on a social level, parents like to feel and be seen as involved parents in their kids’ evolution.

Designing a solution

For us, the challenge lied in between all the actors’ expectations. We needed to design something efficient, affordable, reassuring, challenging enough for teenagers to progress and above all, qualitative and simple. That’s where we came up with a vision of what we wanted to offer in an app.

Frequency was essential to us. Summer camps usually last four-weeks during which teens and coaches are 24/7 together but in the case of an app, it can be used all year long and it’s important to make sure users feel involved enough to use it daily without being it addicted to it (very important from the parental point of view).

Why create something new when mental models and patterns already exist and are deeply anchored in everybody’s mind? That’s why we wanted one page of the app to feel social-media like reusing mainly what can be found on Twitter and Instagram. Also, this page — called the Newsfeed — ensures interaction and collaboration with features like the “help your friend” one and it reminds them of the “camp” feeling of team work.

The continuous follow-up with coaches is crucial for teens because it helps them knowing where they are at without feeling judged or being graded by a teacher.

To give you more idea, here is the demo of our mid-fidelity prototype that we tested on 4 potential users:

The flow shown in this video is the one of a daily use. The teens launch the app, land on Today’s Goals page and need to complete the 3 steps for the day. They start by the video lesson, then they can take the daily exercise linked to the lesson they just had. In this example it was a quiz but we can think of other games of course. Then, time for the activity that they will share with their community. In our case, it’s about recording themselves pitching their favorite TV Show in English and then share it on the Newsfeed. They can then see others’ posts, like, comment, and correct them via the “help your friend” feature. Then, time for debrief with the coach and last they can check their day-to-day progress as well as the fields in which they feel more at-ease in the Dashboard.

Testing insights

When we tested it at first, the navigation was only icons and we saw that some of them could be confusing for users so we decided to add text for more clarity. Also we designed an all-English interface but if users are younger and don’t understand everything it can be difficult for them. So we added an option in the profile page for them to translate the interface in French and only keep the exercises in English.

We were really happy because we got great feedbacks, the best of them being “When will you release the app??”

Iterating always

The next steps would be to:

  • Dig deeper into the research and especially regarding parents and educational experts.
  • The coaches already have their dedicated entry on the app but it will be good to improve it and give them more possibilities.
  • As for parents, for this MVP* they get a weekly email feedback on their kids evolution but it is important to involve them more by developing a dedicated entry for them too. We also thought of specific features for them such as a Switch off mode for kids to stop using the app from 9pm for example.
  • Increase gamification on the students entry and develop more collaborative activities.

*Minimum Viable Product

That’s it for now! Thank you for reading :)



Ella Forté

Product Designer based in Paris. Huge fan of Friends. How you doin?