April 16, 2019

Real User Feedback

Emoticons with social media reactions representing user feedback

By: Rich P., Sr Systems Analyst

More than one year in, my work at Cengage continues to focus on supporting the development of an authoring tool (My Econtent Factory), part of a larger pipeline in which to deliver digital first content. Within the context of that work, a happy intersection has grown between user feedback and my support to paint a holistic picture of the “user experience”.

Top of Mind

The user experience is always top of mind for me. I often try to think how personas might help drive that experience for teams building an interaction, whether that interaction involves an author developing content or a student consuming the content.

A persona describes a fictitious person who represents a particular group of users. In my view, we should move beyond a boilerplate of demographics and look more closely at needs within the framework of a user interaction. The description for a persona should reflect behavior, attitudes and motivations, based on interviewing members who are part of that group.

Work teams can refer to a persona as they think about how to build the right solution from the perspective of the user. The persona offers a way in which to see the experience as the user would. To have empathy for the user. To be the user.


At about the time of our baseline release, I was invited to attend a two-day summit where prospective users would test drive the authoring tool. Authoring would focus primarily on Quick Lessons, learnings on discrete topics containing narrative and assessment content; secondarily on Study Guides, traditional reviews to prepare for exams.

The summit was a gift, I thought.

Aside from introducing the tool to real users, understanding what authoring capabilities had the biggest impact was particularly interesting to me.

The aim of the summit was to author many Quick Lessons and some Study Guides; then provide feedback about the authoring process, any gaps and missed requirements. Everyone who attended the summit would participate. It felt like a testathon in some ways. In advance of the summit, a script was prepared so that attendees could refer to the authoring workflow. To maximize authoring time, prerequisites also included setting up specific products across disciplines for both college and career pursuits.

Test Drive

As you might expect, Day One started with an overview and walkthrough. The subsequent hands-on part of the summit produced instant engagement among participants. A kind of community emerged in which tool and content guidance were provided in real time. During the test drive, feedback was logged in a shared Google sheet.


In addition to observing, taking notes and answering some of the inquiries re the current state of the authoring tool, I also created content in the tool. In a sense, I was walking into the experience of an author, dropping real content into patterns available in the tool. The content from the legal discipline made it more challenging and at the same time rewarding in helping to identify gaps.

The overall experience gave me a better appreciation for the pain points associated with the authoring experience. It made me think of developing personas even more, so that this kind of appreciation could be shared with the team.

By the end of the second day of the summit, more than 140 items were included in the Google sheet. In addition to those and other stats (e.g., 30+ Quick Lessons authored), what impressed me was the positive and constructive attitude of everyone involved who were undeterred in working with a baseline release with a limited set of capabilities, just enough to get started.


Following the summit, I categorized the feedback in support of a read-out; then worked with teammates to translate some of the feedback into work for our backlog. The challenge now is to find the time to do the work along with our planned priorities, a kind of puzzle. Among my takeaways was to continue this kind of activity with the aim of helping to create an enduring user feedback loop, and as a matter of course, advocate to build those personas.

For me, the summit represented a nice way to complete my first year at Cengage.