Let’s talk about color accessibility — the ability to view all colors on a screen regardless of a reader’s visual ability. A crucial feature to low-visibility and colorblind readers, color accessibility can be achieved with good design and attention to color contrast. And it’s important to consider when designing any product, digital or physical — especially if that product relies on data visualization to carry out its purpose.
This is the story of how we addressed the design challenge of visualizing data for color accessibility at Kiddom.
New Product; New Design Challenge
Earlier this year we launched a K-12 school operating system for school and district administrators to measure and act upon classroom intelligence. Academy is our first enterprise product, supporting our free product for teachers and students (Kiddom for Classrooms) by connecting schools and districts to teachers and students on one operating system.
As we began working on Kiddom Academy, we saw an opportunity to define a new visual language. Prior to Academy, our classroom product had been tailored towards teachers and younger students who would be using the products to create, complete, assess, and communicate about assignments, so we optimized the design for these tasks, with some simple reporting and a color scheme that was based largely on the role using the product. For example, teachers had a blue theme, and students had a purple theme.
But, as Academy would stand as the highest-level dashboard for schools or districts to understand what was going on at every level (district, school, class, and student), the newest product would require a greater amount of data visualization.
So the challenge was to keep the visual design consistent and on brand while addressing a functional design change to work with more data — this meant more colors, and those colors needed to be accessible to all. It soon became clear to us that the new product would call for a radical redesign of our existing color palette.
Step One: Analyze the Starting Palette
For the first step, we put all of our color palettes together to analyze the overlap and discrepancies.
This was the palette at the start of our project. As you can see, it’s complex, has tons of overlap, and doesn’t address accessibility for the colorblind.
An overlap example: as you can see here, the colors quickly became muddled in the UI. The primary action color was conflated with the English subject color.
Let’s take a look at reports in the earlier versions of the product. As you see here, there were four colors in the Mastery chart, two of which were already being used in other contexts. There was also no logical progression to the color scheme (red-yellow-purple-green), making it hard to parse at a glance.
It was clear we would need to simplify, and we were beginning to gain a sense of our constraints, but before reinventing the wheel, we decided to check industry standards to see what norms existed in the education technology space.\
Step Two: Study Industry Norms
In our study of industry-specific norms, we would be looking at how others may have handled the color accessibility problem, as well as general color scheme; if teachers expected a particular color for their data, we’d be fighting an uphill battle by changing it.
In normal vision, these charts are pretty clear. The red is bad, green is good. However, turn on colorblind mode, and it’s not clear what each of the slices means. The difference between red and green just isn’t visible.
Let’s take a look at a wider palette that incorporates more colors.
In this example, the middle point isn’t overly obvious, and the ends of the spectrum, although contrasting from each other, are hard to pick out. Upon studying the norms, it became clear there were some common approaches, but no standard. We would have to make the call on what was best for our users.
Step Three: Define Constraints
Thanks to our analysis, we identified two constraints important to us, and a number of action items. As mentioned, our first constraint was color accessibility: Our colors should have enough contrast so that colorblind people can differentiate them from each other. This would be particularly important in any view that shows data reporting.
The second constraint was to reduce color overlap. This was simple enough, as we had a lot of similar colors used for totally different purposes. So, we decided it was clearly time to trim some fat.
It’s time for solutions!
Step Four: Determine Color Overlap
First, we looked at how much overlap we could remove. Let’s take a look at where each column’s colors were used in the product.
These colors were almost the same as our subject palette. Since our subjects were more integrated in the design, we chose to remove the content type.
As mentioned, our original intent was to theme the app depending on which role you were using. The available roles in the earlier products were Student, Teacher, and Parent.
However, with the addition of the Admin in Academy (green), we were adding a lot of complexity to this palette. So we made the decision to simplify by removing the overlaps of each role’s primary color.
Step Five: Improve Color Accessibility
To exemplify how we improved color accessibility for data visualization, we’ll use the example of our Student Mastery scale. On the surface, this design worked pretty well. With the exception of the purple, there was a clear progression. The middle point was extremely visible and the endpoints stood out nicely.
However, when we put our colorblind shades on, you’ll notice the contrast was super reduced. The mid point became almost invisible, and the ends were still visible, but only the “Exceeding” section really stands out. From here, we decided we could do better.
From here, a number of iterations followed. First, we tried red and green with higher contrast. This worked to highlight the ends of the spectrum, so users knew where to focus. The middle point was still obvious, but when we took a look in color blind mode… Sadly, although the middle point was still obvious, the ends of the spectrum were almost identical.
Then we tried an approach with more blue. This was the ‘hot and cold’ concept. And generally worked fine. However, we became concerned with the potential palette overlap with the Interaction Blue our buttons (mentioned below), so we tried a bit of purple. The purple gave us a similar issue, but overlapped with the purple in our Subject palette.
In the end, the teal approach was the most successful. We could have an obvious, contrasting middle point, while still highlighting the ends of the spectrum:
Step Six: Simplify Color Palette
Now let’s move back to the complex palette. Instead of predefining every variant of a color, every tint, every shade, we thought perhaps we could be smarter about the way we define our palette?
So we changed our approach and defined a layering system. There are now two layers: the primary color, and the overlay (tint).
By placing a tint on top of a primary color, we were able to create a consistent result, regardless of the primary color. This meant that Classroom and Academy could use the same system, but only differ by one color.
Of course we still needed a contrasting color for buttons and links, so we included a global ‘interaction’ color. To adhere to our constraints, we went for a loud blue that is AA+ accessible. And here’s the final color palette:
We hope you enjoyed learning about the discoveries along our process as much as we did, and we encourage you to check out our product for teachers to experience it for yourself!
If you have any comments, suggestions, or concerns, please let us know by sending them to firstname.lastname@example.org. We are constantly iterating our product for teachers and for administrators, and your feedback is aways appreciated.
Let’s talk about color accessibility — the ability to view all colors on a screen regardless of a reader’s visual ability. A crucial feature to low-visibility and colorblind readers, color accessibility can be achieved with good design and attention to color contrast....
I'm a developer. I'm a generalist. I bring to the table 15 years of experience packaged as a solid fullstack engineer. A proven record of successful products shipped. Love working with people from different backgrounds. Finding ways to create great systems. Balancing...
We’re building Kiddom to be a collaborative platform to allow teachers and learners to work together effortlessly, no matter where they are. To that end, today we released a completely redesigned platform, one which will help teachers plan, assess, and analyze...
Building relationships with administrators and teachers demands thoughtful inquiry, care, and reflection
Education is awash with efforts to personalize learning. But what does it mean for a company to personalize its support for the teachers who use its product? School leader, Jordan Silvestri and Kiddom representative, Melissa Giroux, describe what it takes for an edtech company to deliver the kind of personalized experience to its customers that teachers give to their students.
Jordan Silvestri: Our school focuses on preparing our students during their final years of academic involvement to gain and hone the skills that they will need to be successful after they graduate. We started Torah Academy in September 2016 with a strong vision for how and what we want our students to learn. Every class, student interaction, social setting and community learning experience is another opportunity to help our students see their potential and grow.
After our first year of running the school, we realized that one of our major challenges involved how we were tracking students’ progress. We needed a student-centered program that would be easy to function for the teachers and bring all of our work into one place.
Melissa Giroux: Our initial planning session with Torah Academy was extremely energizing. We were excited to meet a school leader who had great clarity around his team’s strengths and goals: Jordan wanted his team to become more accustomed to using data to drive daily instruction and he wanted technology to support consistent routines so his students could become independent learners. His concrete goals made us confident we could support his staff’s day-to-day work from afar.
Working together over the course of the year, we — at Torah Academy and Kiddom — together learned three powerful lessons about how to deliver personalized support to educators:
1. Lead with Inquiry
When teachers in professional development workshops push back on learning a new tech tool or question if a new platform might mean more work instead of less, it would be easy for a principal to double down on mandates and take a hardline stance.
Empathetic leaders respond with questions: “Can you tell me a little bit more about that?” or “Can you walk me through the steps you currently take?” and most importantly, “How can I help?”
When teachers hear their administration pause to learn a little bit more about them, learning becomes collaborative. Rather than fighting, they work as a team to figure out if the platform can adapt to meet the needs of a range of educators.
Companies, too, need to build that kind of inquiry into every step of their work with educators.
Educators at Torah Academy teach courses that cover everything from Common Core mathematics to Judaic studies, as well as provide services including speech therapy and vocational training. A one-size-fits-all tutorial about edtech product features wasn’t going to cut it with such diverse staff goals.
The first session between teachers and Kiddom invited the educators to express their concerns so that together we could customize the platform to their teaching styles and goals. Teachers learned how to move their existing curriculum from Google Drive into collaborative Kiddom classes. Other workshops, using the Question Formulation Technique, helped teachers frame collective inquiry goals for professional learning communities.
The Right Question Institute frames this process well: “The skill of question asking is far too rarely deliberately taught in school.” We believe that same kind of questioning skill should characterize how teachers interact with edtech companies.
2. Walk the Talk
There’s nothing worse than a classroom full of students staring at you as error messages prevent you from moving on with a lesson. As an administrator, I (Jordan) was worried that some of my teachers might have technical difficulties with onboarding to new technology. The “competency test” for real customer service is simply this: Will it deliver when you need it?
One teacher, in particular, had reported that as she was working to set up her class over the weekend, she hit a snag. She struggled to figure out what was going on. Finally, she contacted Kiddom through the app and had a live troubleshooting conversation on a Sunday afternoon. I was floored by both the teacher’s proactive approach — and the fact that the company walked the talk, big time!
Just as important as responding quickly is speaking the language of the people you serve. The company’s support team has grown from a collection of part-time interns into a team of former educators — people who natively speak “teacher talk” — and avoid the kind of tech jargon that can confuse just about anyone.
No school is the same. Investing the time to send a company’s support team to visit schools and observe users in the field means that teacher advocates learn how to ask questions to troubleshoot and to gain context. They are not merely following tech support flow charts and giving standard responses; they’re relying on their knowledge of pedagogy and the challenging realities of everyday teaching to frame their responses.
3. Stop and Reflect
School-based staff don’t always have time to step outside of their day-to-day responsibilities and reflect on successes and challenges. But particularly when you start a relationship with a company, educators must ask their partners: How are you measuring success?
As a school for students with special needs, Torah Academy does not use letter or number grades to assess student progress. Teachers focus on helping students master the skills they will need to be productive members of their community. This approach to assessment — with the ultimate goal of having students apply their goals to new environments and interactions — has been core to our program.
During one of our first joint meetings, the company introduced its mastery grading feature to Torah Academy teachers as if it were a new concept. Hardly the case! In response, teachers showed the Kiddom team how that construct fit right in with the school’s methodology, so that teachers could correlate lessons to goals and assess student progress in one fell swoop.
Throughout the year of working together, our joint team relied on routine check-ins to collect feedback, plan targeted professional development and to provide administrators with a sounding board for worries or celebrations.
But by mid-year, it became clear that educators were adopting the platform in very different ways and at different speeds. We consequently scheduled a mid-year professional development day. The Kiddom team spent the day working with individual teachers during their prep periods, to better differentiate and leverage relationships. Each conversation was private, which allowed for candid feedback and questions and supported individual needs. Some teachers desperately wanted more support in analyzing reports; others were still working on building classroom routines using the platform.
Building relationships between teachers and students takes thoughtful inquiry, care and reflection — and the relationship between an edtech company and the teachers who use its products demands the same. When both groups invest the time, authentic learning happens.
I am no stranger to educational technology. As a teacher for ten years, I was an evangelist for using technology in the classroom. I was an early adopter of Google Docs (and eventually Google Apps for Education) as well as an LMS that harnessed the power of online socializing and put it to use by creating a social, 24/7 environment for students to access content and lessons.
I am also very skeptical of most edtech companies: I wanted to utilize tech that helped my students and I knew that not every device, subscription, nor platform was relevant to my teaching style. I loved tech, but it had its time and place in my classroom.
In 2017, I entered the private sector of education and spent most of the year traveling across the United States working with teachers to support the integration of technology in their classrooms. I often came across the same tired, skeptical sentiment about edtech:
It seemed like a chore for teachers to adopt and use new technologies.
In many places, administrators were pushing new technology initiatives to an entire district, while not even being able to turn on a computer or log into accounts themselves and yet wanted every teacher to become experts. There was a completely understandable level of frustration and disillusionment coming from the teachers. Why were they expected to implement something when the people asking them to do it were not capable of also integrating it into their daily routines?
I have a lot of empathy for their plight. I too had been a victim of education’s awkward fascination of using tech for the sake of tech. Regularly, administrators brought the staff together to mandate new tools, whether or not they actually fit into the goals we had for our students. It was exhausting and demoralizing. I still tell stories about the time the teachers in my school were given iPads and told to use them but given no professional development or reason behind it. But hey, at least we could say our teachers all had iPads in their hands, right? (Oh and by the way, a year later, those same iPads were taken away and redistributed to an elementary school in the district because only a small fraction of our teachers were actually using them.)
I’m sure you are thinking: but Sarah, don’t you work for an edtech company? How can you still empathize with all the tech-tired teachers out there when you work for a company that is promoting tech use in classrooms?
The answer is simple: Kiddom believes in empowering teachers so that they can empower their students. Technology is meant to be relevant, meaningful, and helpful in the classroom. In keeping with my love of odd numbers, here are 5 reasons why I think Kiddom meets teacher needs.
One: Kiddom is free for individual teachers to use. That’s not going to change for anyone that decides to start using Kiddom in their classroom. That’s an amazing thing for teachers who are so used to testing out technology only to have it turn into a subscription-based, limited platform three weeks later.
Two: Kiddom gives teachers the ability to collaborate with each other more effectively and efficiently. Instead of endless lists of documents and exchanged emails, Kiddom provides teachers with a common place to house shared curriculum documents and lesson plans. It provides them a place to create lasting, meaningful content with each other, even if they aren’t in the same room.
Three: Access to high quality content. It takes a lot of time to curate resources for our students. During that time, we are often searching multiple websites, databases, and textbooks trying to find things that are suitable for our current students AND standards aligned. Kiddom understands that plight and wants to give your time back. We have a content library that is easily searchable based on your specific needs. Heck, it even provides you a one-stop-shop to search some of the most utilized resource subscriptions that you are used to using in your classroom (ex: Khan Academy, Newsela, IXL Math, Flocabulary, etc.)
Four: Google Drive integration. We understand that a lot of teachers have already integrated the G Suite apps into their classroom and are comfortable with using them with their students. With Kiddom, you don’t have to lose what you know — you can easily add assignments straight from your Google Drive account. The added benefit: we take Google and super power it with our awesome student analytics, mastery reports, and ability to assign and customize content to individual students instead of a one size-fits all assignment for the entire class.
But most importantly?
Five: Flexibility. We want you to use Kiddom the way it works for you and your students. If you just want a place to collaborate with your colleagues and share lesson plans together, then use Kiddom to do just that. If you want a more thorough and expansive ecosystem for your classroom or school (or district), we have you covered too. As a matter of fact, this summer we are launching a new pilot program that boasts comprehensive support, training, and resources. If you want to be an early adopter of our comprehensive school wide platform (and be privy to some bonus perks for being a part of our first group of Academy educators), set up a demo with us and we will be more than happy to have a one-on-one conference with you and your team.
This is the most passionate, teacher and student-centric group of human beings that I have come across in the edtech world and that is why joining the team at Kiddom was an absolute no brainer for me.
As technology continues to find its way into the classroom at a rapid pace, valid concerns from teachers continue to surface. Will educator responsibilities and/or impact be minimized? Will teachers no longer be needed? What parts of the job might be enhanced via technology? In fact, these questions have been raised by educators since the birth of education technology. With the transition to cloud-based technology becoming more widely accepted, many school and district administrators are feeling the same unease. How might technology enable more efficient resource allocation? How will these complex systems impact their jobs? How will machine learning and AI impact their schools and districts?
As we saw with the former, educators were able to start differentiating instruction more effectively as a result of some of these technological innovations. I believe the same will happen for the latter, as administrators evolve into true edtech coaches through K12 versus managing a rack of servers or blindly purchasing curriculum content for a district without being able to truly measure its efficacy. With device access having become more and more ubiquitous due to favorable technology and pricing trends, the foundation is set to truly differentiate and individualize all student learning pathways. Remember though that while technology is the vessel, instruction, curriculum, content and most importantly, collaboration are the key ingredients for student achievement.
Over the last 13 years, I was incredibly fortunate to be part of two generational and disruptive companies in Google and Dropbox. During my time at Google, I was lucky to have been part of a transformational time in the education world. In the K12 space for example, nobody expected the rapid success Chromebooks experienced, but it demonstrated what the right product, at the right time, for the right price point, could do to forever alter an industry. Dropbox was no different and provided the opportunity to fine tune a beloved consumer product, into a robust set of tools for global researchers across higher education.
During the last six months, I’ve had time off to think about the direction my career would take next. Over that time, I met with many amazing people across a variety of industries. Having that time is a luxury to discover what truly makes you tick. For me, seeing the way my seven year old son’s eyes lit up when he was reading My Weird School or Notebook of Doom, or watching a nature documentary, was the clearest sign I could get that I needed to be back in the world of K-12 education technology. The time seemed right to step out of my comfort zone and into a start-up, where I could influence product, marketing, and of course, revenue.
That led me to Kiddom. A serendipitous call with its CEO Ahsan Rizvi, and a follow up meeting in San Francisco with 25 truly dedicated and passionate people, had me sold. Hearing from the teachers about how much they love the platform, reminds me of similar experiences prior to the launch of Google Classroom. I truly believe that if you stay focused on the end user, good things will come. And we are, as Kiddom is now present in 70% of US school districtsand we are just getting started. By focusing on key pieces of teaching and learning such as standards-based grading and reporting, understanding content efficacy and utilization, simplifying collaboration, and enhancing parent engagement, Kiddom has built an incredible set of products loved by and advocated for by teachers across the country. Teachers will always be at our core, as we continue to solve pain points they face every day in and out of the classroom.
As the roles of people in K12 evolve, so do the tools they use. In this case, the systems that have managed the process of learning in school. Kiddom isn’t just iterating on the monolithic LMS, but rather rethinking from the ground up what a true K12 operating system could offer. Our school operating system enables educators to collaborate and individualize instruction more effectively. Classrooms gain access to a library of teaching resources and curriculum development tools. Beautiful, actionable reports help students, teachers, parents, and administrators monitor progress and take action. Pedagogy and technology work in harmony on Kiddom to help schools unlock their full potential.
To ramp up our Academy product for school and district administrators, we’ve nearly doubled the size of the company this year, to set up for a strong 2nd half of 2018. Having been at Kiddom for six weeks, and with the school year winding down, my excitement about our impact continues to grow by the day. Our Academy pilot kit also launches this week, which will help administrators learn what many of their teachers have become so excited about. As Winston Churchill once said, “Success is not final, failure is not fatal, it is the courage to continue that counts.” Sounds like the definition of lifetime learning to me. Come join us on this journey to reshape teaching and learning with our new K12 OS!
Kiddom’s mission is to build technology that unlocks the potential of all teachers and learners. In fact, we believe it takes a village to raise a child, from parents to teachers to school and district administrators.
For centuries, schools and technology have struggled to find a balance, with technology typically attempting to dictate the relationship between teachers and students. We believe technology has failed to unburden teachers. We believe technology has failed to help schools become centers of proactive support. Teachers, school leaders, and district administrators continue to spend an inordinate amount of time piecing together data to take the pulse of teaching and learning in classrooms, schools, and districts.
Given these inefficiencies, the idea of “personalized learning” seems impossible to achieve. For Kiddom, “personalized learning” is not about applying technology to learning or adding screen time, it’s about designing and implementing technology that enables every student to learn through pedagogy optimized for them, at their own pace. Our aim is to give schools and districts the power to execute on their vision for teaching and personalized learning.
Today, we’re excited to announce two things: (1) Kiddom Academy for schools and districts and (2) a $15M Series B round of financing led by new strategic partners Owl Ventures to help us deploy Kiddom Academy. Owl Ventures is a venture capital fund that invests in the world’s leading education technology companies. Existing investors Khosla Ventures also participated in this round.
A blast from the past
When we started Kiddom over three years ago, we first focused on classrooms and the tools needed to enhance the classroom experience for teachers and students. We realized every classroom experience played a role in the larger ecosystem within the school, so we designed a set of collaborative tools to help school communities work together, share, and learn from each other more effectively.
By connecting classrooms to each other, we discovered a disconnect between classrooms and their respective administration bodies, and so we listened and worked closely with public school administrators to understand how to connect school systems from the top-down and bottom-up.
Academy for schools and districts
With this funding, we’re ready to release Academy, our K12 school operating system for schools and districts to take advantage of our technology, allowing leaders at the school or district level to identify and act on aggregate achievement trends, manage and disseminate curriculum and proprietary content, and efficiently integrate with other tools districts have come to rely on.
To facilitate Academy adoption, we’ll be using the funds we raised to aggressively recruit for technical roles, as well as implementation and success roles to ensure that each and every learning community subscribed to Kiddom Academy is bought-in, on-boarded, and equipped with a plan to take full advantage of the product.
A special thanks to teachers
Since our inception, we’ve experienced rapid growth across hundreds of thousands of classrooms, catalyzed by word-of-mouth referrals from great teachers. The Kiddom team is forever indebted to our teacher base. Thank you for being our biggest champions. Thank you for continuing to passionately serve students around the world.
As the Kiddom team works toward our mission, we’re excited to help more and more teachers, schools, and districts achieve the wonderful things that were previously thought impossible. While today marks an exciting milestone, we’re just getting started, baby. Thanks for being with us on this journey. 💜
For many of you, the 2016–2017 school year has come to a close. On behalf of the Kiddom team, thank you for your passion and your service to students. We’re incredibly grateful you trusted Kiddom in your classroom.
The Kiddom team celebrates the end of the 2016–2017 school year with you.
This year, Kiddom got a major facelift. Based on feedback from teachers like you, we completely redesigned the platform to allow you to plan, assess, and analyze learning from one place. A month later, we released a redesigned student experience to promote student ownership. Oh yeah, we also released an iOS app to help you and your students work together effortlessly, no matter where you are.
In addition to a makeover and a full set of new features, we published a plethora of professional development guides to help you learn more blended learning and standards-based grading. We shared how Kiddom’s Planner makes for an effective curriculum tool for self-paced instruction. And finally, we outlined how curated playlists support differentiated curriculum development.
Since our inception in 2015, we’ve experienced rapid growth across hundreds of thousands of classrooms, catalyzed by word-of-mouth referrals from teachers like you. Your communication and collaboration has inspired us to think about how teachers might collaborate together on Kiddom. So as we wrestle with this project over the next several weeks, we wish you a fun, safe, and restful summer.
P.S. If your school or district is interested in piloting Kiddom for the 2017–2018 school year, book a demo for school and district leaders and submit your school information here. You’ll be among the first to access all of the collaboration tools we’re working on.