Higher education is changing quickly because of the rapid advancement of technology, budget cuts, and the ever-changing needs of students and educators. In this changing landscape, design plays a pivotal role in shaping human-centered experiences that foster learning, engagement, success, and a sense of belonging.
As schools and universities use more Software as a Service (SaaS) platforms and products to run and manage their operations, the need for design skills becomes even more important. SaaS platforms can supply a wealth of tools and data, but they often lack the human touch that is needed to create a seamless and engaging user experience. This is where design steps in. It bridges the gap between technology and human needs, and makes sure that digital tools and platforms enhance, rather than hinder, the learning and teaching experiences of students and educators.
The challenges of a SaaS digital ecosystem.
Navigating a SaaS digital ecosystem can be difficult, especially for people who are not technical. The sheer number of applications, coupled with different interfaces and functions, can lead to confusion, frustration, and a sense of being overwhelmed. The fragmented nature of these systems can make it difficult for users to find the information and resources they need, which can hinder their ability to work effectively and efficiently.
Design as a catalyst for change.
By putting the needs of students and educators at the centre of the design process, designers can create solutions that are not only functional but also intuitive, engaging, and accessible.
Here are some ways in which design can help create human-centered experiences within a SaaS digital ecosystem:
- Student-led design: Involving students early in the design and selection of SaaS applications through collaborative user research, co-design sprints, and student internships can create a more positive and productive student experience. Student-led design can also lead to increased engagement, improved outcomes, and a better understanding of the technology.
- Unified design language: Setting up a consistent design language across all applications within the ecosystem helps to create a sense of familiarity and coherence. This includes consistent visual elements, such as typography, colour palettes, and iconography, as well as a unified approach to user interface design and its content.
- Simplified navigation: Streamlining the navigation structure and supplying clear signposts within the ecosystem can help students and educators easily find the information and resources they need. This involves organising content in a logical and intuitive manner, utilising effective search functionality, and supplying contextual guidance throughout the user journey.
- Personalised experiences: Tailoring the digital experience to the individual needs and preferences of students and educators can significantly enhance their engagement and satisfaction. This may involve creating personalised dashboards, recommending relevant content based on user behaviour or period in the academic calendar, and supplying dynamic content that adapts to different user roles and contexts.
- Accessibility: Ensuring that all digital experiences are inclusive and accessible to students and educators with diverse abilities and backgrounds is paramount. This involves following international accessibility standards (i.e., WCAG, Section 508, ATAG) including providing alternative text for images, captioning for videos, and incorporating features such as screen readers and compatibility with assistive technologies.
- Feedback and iteration: Continuously gathering feedback from learners and educators and iterating on designs is essential for creating an evolving and responsive digital ecosystem. This involves conducting user research, analysing usage data, and actively incorporating feedback into design improvements.
Humanising higher education in the age of SaaS is essential for creating truly learner-centred experiences that foster engagement, success, and a sense of belonging. By embracing human-centered methodologies, higher education can transform their SaaS digital ecosystems into seamless, intuitive, and accessible environments that empower students and educators to thrive in the digital age.