The always evolving textbook

Top Hat has a vision for university textbooks. In the print world, textbook publishers would release updated editions every few years. Top Hat's digital textbooks could evolve much faster, collecting live feedback and data from our users, and updating as frequently as possible.

The Plan

  • Define the vision and user journeys for our new textbook product
  • Conduct research and prototype development with authors and instructors
  • Work with engineering to create a new authoring platform
  • Launch our first digital update

Defining the vision

In order to realize this vision, a textbook author would need a way to push periodic updates to the professors using the textbooks.

Once notified, the adopters could update their local copies, delivering the best possible material to their students.

It looks so simple in this cute diagram

Understanding our users

There are many different people using content in Top Hat, so reaching out to a diverse group of users was the best way to get early reactions to what we were proposing.

A catalogue of users this feature would impact

Interviews and wireframes

During these interviews, I showed our users simple wireframes of how content updates might look. Wireframes helped the users understand how updates would work within the platform, drawing out some interesting reactions.

A couple of very rough wireframes

I compiled my findings and presented what I'd learned. If we were going to ship this feature, we had three big problems to solve ...

Problem #1: Customization

Top Hat allows instructors to customize their digital textbooks. In some cases, the edits our users made were going to conflict with the incoming updates.

While our goal was to make updates simple and non-invasive, we would need advanced tooling to support these power users.

Breaking our customizing users into different categories

Problem #2: Timing

Instructors liked the idea of textbook updates, but not while they were focused on teaching. We would have to rely on adopters accepting updates in between courses.

A timeline of professor activity before and during their courses

Problem #3: Workflow

In order to deliver timely updates, our authors would need a new workflow and a way of pushing updates through Top Hat.

Mapping the author workflow

Solutions and Prototypes

I created high fidelity of designs of different layouts for updates. Rigorous usability testing with authors and instructors helped determine how best to display the incoming updates.

A gallery of proposed designs

We have a winner

The final design is a two part solution. A modal provides a overview of the updates and provides reassurance that conflicts will not occur. If the user wishes to fine tune the update, a secondary UI allows them to sort, accept and reject individual changes.

This design was chosen because it proved simple and digestable for our casual users, while offering a more sophisticated experience for our power users.

An overview of the update
A more sophisticated experience