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The importance of good User Experience (UX) on Educational Timetabling

“UX is the measure of friction between a user and their goal.”

Keith Harvey

User Experience (UX) is not just another recent trendy word. It has always existed and you can see it everywhere. It doesn´t apply only to software or webpages, but also to “real world” day-to-day tasks.

A simple example that resumes very well what UX is all about (reducing the user’s effort to accomplish a task), is given by Keith Harvey: “If my goal is to cross a room in a straight line in the less possible time, and there’s a chair on the way, I’m going to have a very bad user experience. I’ll get frustrated, because I won’t be able to cross the room in the minimum necessary time, and I’ll have to change my route, so I can achieve the goal”.

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Which brings me to Educational Timetabling. This is a very complex combinatorial problem, with lots and lots of variables, that relate with each other, allowing millions of possible combinations and solutions. Everything that can reduce all the frustrations and the time solving it, represent huge enhancements on UX.

Bullet Solutions - importance-good-user-experience-ux-educational-timetabling

When we talk about timetabling software (as any other software), a lot can be done to give the user a good experience, as UX guru Joe Natoli points out:

  • Organization (alignment, proximity, repetition and contrast of elements);
  • Economization (showing only critical elements to each phase, to minimize cognitive load);
  • Communication (giving feedback to let the user perceive gained value).

But what about, manual timetabling? What can interfere with UX?

One of the most common User Interface (UI) used in manual timetabling are color post-it notes. How can this affect UX? The glue may be bad, and the post-it may always be falling. Besides, there are only five different colors and you really need seven. Furthermore, they are too small or they are too big. A simple thing as a post-it can increase or decrease drastically the users frustration, and therefore, the user experience in a global way.

Bullet Solutions - importance-good-user-experience-ux-educational-timetabling

In the given example, lots of things can be done to improve the UX. Instead of glued, the post-it could be pinned to a corkboard, with color pins, for example. This simple solution will also solve the five color issue stated above. With different color post-it and different color pins, a lot more of combinations could be achieved.

Analyzing this problem from a “software” perspective, a simple calendar grid could be used to optimize the time spent by the user trying different combinations.

This component would represent days of the week on the columns and hours on the rows. Different colored events (without any restrictions of quantity) would occupy slots on the grid. Adding a drag and drop functionality would allow the user to test different hour/day combinations in a very quick way, and get visual feedback of his actions immediately.

If you combine this type of component with a very well designed UI, you could achieve a perfect UX that would reduce the user’s cognitive load significantly and get his satisfaction levels to the maximum.