The STEAM Project

Powering the STEAM movement through parents. Using customer research and marketing strategies to increase enrolment for The STEAM Project’s educational programs.

KEEPING UP WITH THE TIMES

Fostering opportunities for students to develop resilient mindsets and gain lifelong skills has been of significant importance in novel approaches to education

Many educators are starting to embrace the STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math) movement as a way to prepare students for the modern-day challenges they will likely face. The STEAM Project (TSP) was founded in the early stages of this movement to reinforce learning for youth through its unique coding, robotics, and maker programs.

ROLE

Customer Research

UI & UX Design

TIMELINE

Oct 2019 – Aug 2020

TOOLS

Adobe XD

Illustrator

Photoshop

Robotics Program at the Edward Avenue Makerspace

TOO MANY OPTIONS, TOO LITTLE TIME

While the importance of education in youth development is very clear; parents are faced with a sea of options for extra-curricular programs for their kids.

With the help of referrals and Google Ads, The STEAM Project has gained considerable traction in the local community. As a relatively new business in a geographically bound landscape, growing brand awareness and customer retention rates are becoming more top of mind as it begins to operate in a saturated market. 

Some of TSP’s principal business goals can be summarized as follows:
 

LEARNING FROM THE COMPETITION

As the first measure to determine business priorities, I worked with the Marketing Manager to formulate a competitor analysis

We assessed our products, website, SEO rankings, and social media presence against competitors in our market. The insights gained from this analysis helped us build a framework to inform and direct our marketing and design efforts.

SETTING STRATEGIC PRIORITIES

As an extension of our analysis, I evaluated our current internal processes and identified opportunities to improve customer touch points. We chose to focus our immediate efforts on the consideration and evaluation stage. The goals of this initiative were to:

ROLES & RESPONSIBILITIES

My role in this project was to implement a holistic design and marketing strategy from discovery to purchase.

During this project, I worked closely with our Marketing Manager, Graphic Designers, Photographer and Videographers, Development Team, and Executive Director to better align the company’s vision with our digital strategies. As the Lead Designer I performed a wide range of roles–many of which included:

  1. Conducting user/ customer research
     

  2. Crafting our brand and key messaging
     

  3. Overseeing the UI/ UX redesign for our website

USERS & AUDIENCE

Considering the nature of our programs, I segmented our target audience between customers and users. The customers include parents, while the users are kids in JK to Grade 9.

Primary Customer: Parents

  • Make final purchase decision

  • Research program, make inquiries, and assess alternatives

  • In charge of program logistics

Secondary Customer (users): Kids

  • Influence parents’ decision with their feedback and interest level

  • Directly use the product

SCOPE & CONSTRAINTS 

As part of our goal to improve the website with enhanced functionalities and a renewed brand identity, we weighed various options to implement the proposed design changes.

The existing website was built using WIX, which proved difficult in achieving mobile responsiveness, managing site content, and facilitating customization. In assessing our needs for the new site, we identified the following options: 

  1.  Contract a freelance web developer to build a Wordpress site and customize as required
     

  2.  Hire a web development agency to build a custom CMS
     

  3.  Continue to adapt the new designs with the existing website builder

OPTION 1

Use theme and customize as necessary

Content easily updated

Improved SEO capabilities

Cheap and effective

Information is secure 

May not be able to achieve custom brand look/ feel

No on-going support

No quality assurance

OPTION 2

Build custom Wordpress CMS 

Most accurate to design needs

Improved SEO capabilities

On-going support

Information is secure 

Achieve more complex functionality

Costly to scale website page count

Limited flexibility in functionality changes

Most expensive option

OPTION 3

Maintain Status Quo

No additional cost

Quickly make changes in-house

Slow back-end makes updates tedious

May not be able to achieve custom brand look/ feel

Difficult to manage pages/ content

Major functionality limitations

Not mobile optimized

Poor usability

GETTING TO KNOW OUR CUSTOMERS

My casual interactions with customers led to a bigger conversation about how we might use our existing customer base to align our current marketing, customer experience, and retention strategies. 

Through interactions with our customers at open house events and in-person programs, I started learning more about our customer's backgrounds and interests. These observations made me curious about our customer's pain points and if we were meeting or falling short of their expectations. With a proposition and a plan in hand, I was able to bolster support to conduct more formal interviews with our target audience.

Customer Interviews

The goal of the customer interviews was to identify and understand factors that affect parents’ choice in an extra-curricular program for their child. I led customer interviews with 9 participants from our target customers, and invited the Marketing Manager and Executive Director to sit in and observe. Involving the core decision-makers in the interviews helped us take a more customer-focused approach to solving our current business challenges.

“Once we’ve finished with a class, we want to know what’s next–what can they take? We always love to see new content and programs available. It keeps us on our toes.”

Anita, 33

Market Research

We had a general idea of who our customers were based on interactions with parents at our programs and events, however; we wanted to know the landscape of our business in order to grow our reach and visibility. To find out who our customers are, their consumption patterns, and the best way to target them, we performed market research using Environics Analytics, which provided us with customer segments within a 15km radius of our brick-and-mortar location.

“At first, my kids were intimidated to enrol in a ‘science & tech’ program. They were worried it would be too advanced, but the hands-on building and design focus is what drew them in.”

– Maria, 41

Customer Personas

The insights gained from our market research and customer interviews started to shape our understanding of our customers’ behaviours and motivations. After analyzing the data, we identified three major customer segments within our target audience. I create personas based on our findings to better understand how each makes decisions, what ideas, messages, and imagery resonate with them, and how to leverage opportunities from other spheres of influence. 

“I feel so lucky and relieved that I was able to get him a spot in this program. Usually these programs fill up quickly, so I signed him up for the whole summer as soon as I could.”
– Joanne, 38

Customer Journey Map

Once we established our customers and their motivational drivers, I took the insights further and mapped out the opportunities and weaknesses of our customer touch points. Developing a customer journey map would help us frame how our customers interact with our business at each stage and through which channels, and consider how we might create continuity between our website and social media.

RESEARCH INTO ACTION

Before we could address any design changes, we had to consolidate our branding guidelines to align our visual language and messaging across all marketing channels.

Developing the Brand Identity

With perspective from our customers and discussions with our marketing agency, I started to flesh out our colors, tone and voice, brand attributes, and language.

This process was not as straightforward since there were many complicated considerations from previous marketing experiences. Some of these concerns included choice about photography and the complexity of terminology.

Composition
Projects
Hands-on Skills
Facial Expressions
Tools & Technology

Photography

Photography is an integral part of our brand personality. It captures the nuances of our brand identity that cannot be expressed through words. Imagery used for digital and print media should be conscious about the composition and subject matter, facial expressions, inclusive representation, and mood.

Language/ Tone

Using parent-friendly language that increases in complexity with every age group is crucial as parents are concerned that classes may be too advanced for their kids. Course descriptions need to be fine-tuned for each level and include specific learning outcomes appropriate for each age group. 

NEW WEBSITE CALLS FOR NEW SYSTEMS

With ineffective systems in place for managing our website, I mobilized my team to address fundamental issues with our current processes. 

One of the main reasons we decided to transition away from our website builder was to do with the inefficiencies in maintaining the site and limitations to improving the mobile and desktop experience. With the relative ease of implementing changes in-house, there was a heavy reliance on using "band-aid solutions". Although a CMS would give us less flexibility, it would require us to be more deliberative and strategic in our website structure, design, and usability. 

Adapting a Website to an Evolving Business

An on-going challenge with our website was determining the most effective way to structure the navigation of our website from discovery to registration. With our product offerings constantly evolving, we had to continually rethink how to design, market, and simplify the purchase experience. Each design pattern we tested presented several challenges in usability and back-end management. 

Educating the Audience

Striking the right balance between educating and highlighting unique features of our programs was a hot topic of debate with my team. We grappled with questions about the level of detail, relative importance, and subject matter to communicate on our home page. 

Managing Perceptions

A complicated challenge we encountered when designing the flow of our summer camp page was figuring out how to distinguish cohorts. From discussions with customers, I learned that many parents were concerned about the perceived difficulty and the potential for age group mixing.

 

My first design attempted to solve this issue by further segmenting cohorts under each session theme with slightly different descriptions and photos, which gave users the illusion of separation. Upon testing, this proved to be a management nightmare, creating more work than necessary. Instead, I reduced the listing and developed a cohort framework to help guide users when deciding to register.

SEO + Marketing Meets Usability

Balancing a seamless user experience and an effective marketing angle was a crucial step toward increasing our traffic and conversion rate. This became especially challenging when configuring our product pages for mobile. We wanted to pitch our programs well enough for customers to commit to their purchase without slowing down the process with excessive scrolling and poor loading speeds due to lengthy pages. 

laser cutter 1.jpg

LEARNING ALONG THE WAY

The experience and lessons I learned through working with a small business have provided me with tremendous growth as a designer. I wore many hats to understand all the moving parts, from marketing and product development to customer experience. This helped me acknowledge the role of design as more than just pure aesthetics and more as a tool with real implications on time, resources, and outcomes.

 

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Product photos are best used for marketing specific programs or targeting specific age groups by varying the complexity of the project. It can also be used to achieve more inclusive representation by avoiding gender or age-group specific associations.