Discover: A new way to study

The SAT. For many students it's the dreaded lengthy exam that shapes college prospects—and, for some, future success. Given the weight placed on the SAT, students often prepare for this exam using various courses and products.

At the time Headroom Learning came to us, books were the common method for preparing for the exam. Many students, however, were disinterested in the material and felt anxious about taking the actual exam. Headroom Learning wanted to create SAT prep software that would solve these issues for students.

Define: Bringing students into focus

By listening to students, it became clear they were seeking real-time feedback on tests, as well as more engaging ways to self-study and acclimate to the challenges of the actual exam.

After gaining a deeper understanding of students' needs and their anxieties surrounding the SAT, a solution began to emerge. Headroom Learning needed software that balanced students' desires for motivation with the need to adapt to the pace and nuanced pressures of the SAT itself.

Design: Realistic practice makes perfect design

With requirements in place, we created visuals and interactions for the software. Knowing many students embrace learning with peers, we designed teenage avatars to mimic friendly, knowledgeable pupils in a real-life study group for the software's tutorials.

For the practice tests, we designed a visual interface that resembled the SAT paper exam in every detail from the typography of the questions to the oval shape of the bubbles in the multiple choice answer sheet. We also designed interactions that would mimic scenarios students would face during the exam, like skipping questions, completing answer sheets and using a calculator.

Develop: The study and exam experience

After presenting mockups to Headroom Learning, we translated our designs into the software. For the tutorials, we ultimately built slide presentations so students could move through concepts at their own pace. Avatars presented explanations alongside the slides to engage the students and enhance their understanding of the subjects.

For the practice exams, we developed an interface with a two-page layout featuring questions and the answer sheet side-by-side with built-in zooming features and navigational buttons. With these features, students could freely skip between questions—solving easier problems before progressing to harder ones-much like they are advised to do in the real exam. Other features built allowed students to fill in and erase marks in the oval-filled answer section and use a calculator so they could understand the time implications of these actions during a real exam.

Deliver: Higher SAT scores

Once the software was developed, we put our own work to the test with students who provided feedback that allowed us to further optimize the experience. Then our scores came in. Students enjoyed learning with the avatars, had more confidence during the exam, and reported higher scores on the SAT after using the software.

With an engaging experience and a promise of higher SAT scores, students embraced the product, which was rated the #1 SAT prep software at the time of its release.


6 Benefits to design documentation

Christina Maness


Andrés Richner