Design Challenge

At the beginning of each new semester or school year, teachers are faced with the challenge of remembering names for a large number of new students. Design an experience to help an educator match faces to names, with the goal of shortening the time needed to reach complete un-aided accuracy. Provide a high-fidelity mock for at least one step of this experience.

Why remembering names matters?

Similarly to design, empathy plays a big part in the educational process. The more a teacher can discover about her students - what they know, how they learn, their types of personalities and obstacles they’re facing - the more effective she will be in facilitating their growth and learning. In a student-teacher relationship, rapport begins with a simple acknowledgment of student’s existence - knowing their name. To summarize, building rapport between students and teachers is crucial for a positive academic environment where students can thrive. Getting to know the students begins with addressing them by their name.

Additional Questions & Observations

Who are the users?

What is the goal?

When and where is the experience used?

What resources are currently available?

How is this problem currently being solved?Pain Points? When are they experienced?

What are the constraints?

  • Time
  • Technical
  • Physical
  • Monetary
  • Cultural

Design guidelines of iOS and Android are different, for this exercise I focused only on the Android platform.


During my design process, I made several assumptions. It was important to be aware of these assumptions as I moved forward.

  1. An educator will use this experience in and outside of the classroom.
  2. An educator may teach at multiple schools and classes. All student profiles need to be consolidated into one single app.
  3. This app can be used in all kinds of schools with students of all ages.
  4. Educators want their students to do well.
  5. Educators have high importance placed on learning names, but have other important priorities as well.
  6. I assumed that basic student information, their name's pronunciation, recent pictures and intro videos of students are available in a database to be used by the app.

I conducted three forms of research: secondary research (to learn about memorization devices and the neuroscience behind memory), primary research (surveys and informal interviews to learn if and how educators currently learn names and the challenges of it), and competitive analysis (to see what already exists for this purpose).

How Does Memory Work?

Memory is the ability to take in information, store it, and recall it at a later time. In psychology, memory is broken into three stages: encoding, storage, and retrieval.

  • Encoding (or registration): the process of receiving, processing, and combining information. Encoding allows information from the outside world to reach our senses in the forms of chemical and physical stimuli. In this first stage we must change the information so that we may put the memory into the encoding process.
  • Storage: the creation of a permanent record of the encoded information. Storage is the second memory stage or process in which we maintain information over periods of time.
  • Retrieval (or recall, or recognition): the calling back of stored information in response to some cue for use in a process or activity. The third process is the retrieval of information that we have stored. We must locate it and return it to our consciousness. Some retrieval attempts may be effortless due to the type of information.
Source: https://www.boundless.com/psychology/textbooks/boundless-psychology-textbook/memory-8/introduction-to-memory-51/introduction-to-the-process-and-types-of-memory-207-12742/
Tricks Educators Use to Remember Names
  • Use name tents. Ask students to write their names in large letters on both sides of a folded 5 x 8 index card and to keep this card on their desks for the first few classes.
  • Annotate your class roster. When you meet the class for the first time, take a few extra seconds for each student to identify his or her most 1-2 outstanding physical features or other noticeable traits. Be sure to include ways of pronouncing names that are unfamiliar to you.
  • Use a seating chart for the first 2-3 classes. Ask students to sit in the same place for a few classes to help you learn their names more quickly.
  • Use photos. Take Polaroid pictures of their students individually or in small groups and ask students to write their names on the photos during the first class. Or ask students to bring a photocopy of their driver's license or student ID photo that you can attach to a seating chart or roster.
  • Learn a few names at a time. Use the time just before and after class to learn 5-10 names per class. Or invite students to your office in small groups to learn a little about them in addition to their names. Both approaches reinforce that you are interested in the concerns of individual students.
  • Ask students to write something about themselves. Ask students to tell you something to make them and their names more memorable, e.g., where they are from, what they like to read or do for fun, or their long-term goals.
  • Ask students to introduce each other to the class. Give students 2-3 minutes in pairs to interview each other and discover something that "no one can forget." Go around the room asking students to introduce each other, allowing about 1 minute per pair.
  • Use mnemonics. Associating a person's name with a physical feature. Often you can relate the name (or key words with similar sounds) to something more meaningful and concrete with visual images. For example, a tall, thin student named Creighton Rosental can be visualized carrying a large crate of roses on his head.
User Interviews

I went on to interview a few educators to get a better understanding of their day to day process and how do they usually address the task of learning their students' names. I want to ensure I am developing a vision that addresses their needs and fits seamlessly into their process. I chose a few educators from various fields of teaching: pre-K, elementry, middle school, college. Due to time constraints and wanting to get as much data as possible for this project, I created a Google Form Survey that I sent and shared with numerous educators I know from around the world.

"I try to learn as many names as I possibly can in every situation."

"I draw energy from people, it is important for me to build relationships and memorizing names is the basis for a relationship"

"If I can memorize their names ... or if I am able to learn their names, maybe a portion of the class, then a caring, inclusive atmosphere can be established because the task of learning students' names can be very daunting."

"Learning and remembering names was one of my greatest skills as a teacher. It is essential for building relationships, knowing students, classroom control, and garnering student respect. At my second school--middle school--my teaching partner and I competed to see who could get all of the students' names down the quickest. We both knew every name by the end of the second day. In large classes, or when teaching 125-150 students a day, seating charts are important for at least a week or two. And for substitutes! Otherwise, I would repeat each student's name and try to notice something unique about them to link to the name. I also used a lot of icebreakers and getting acquainted games, so the students and I learned everyone's names. Names are deeply personal. Students are gratified when teachers know their names and turned off or alienated when they don't make that effort."

Competive Analysis

Apart from understanding what the educators needed, I looked into what tools already exist in the market that have attempted to solve the problem. I analyzed each of these tools by using them, and reading user reviews. I made a list of what works and what didn't about them. Here’re some of the Android and iOS apps I found that are trying to solve similar problems. I found it very efficient to go through competition and take mental notes about their solutions.

Name Shark Nemo PowerTeacher PupilPath TeacherKit Skedula Who's Who NameLearner

Combining all the insights from contextual interviews, literature review and competitive analysis, I gathered the following insights which directed my design ideas:

  • It is important for educators to remember students’ names, since it helps them connect with their students.
  • Educators utilize notes and visual aids to assist them make a connection between students and their names.
  • Educators find it difficult to remember names, and work hard to store and recall students’ names.
  • Educators tend to have developed strategies to remember students’ names.
  • Some students’ names are easier to remember than others.
  • There exist several tools in the market that aid people in remembering names, but none of these are focused specifically on students and teachers.
  • There are several memory tricks that can help me remember students’ names better.
  • Primary ways educators learn their students' names is through taking attendance (roll call).
  • Many memory training apps use associative and observational methods of recall to help users strengthen their memory.

After interviewing some educators I was able to create two user personas to help me focus on the goals and needs of the users.

Ideation & Brainstorming

There are many ways to design an app that helps teachers remember students. Before I jumped into designing, I brainstormed possible concepts by sketching and writing ideas on post-it notes to explore different directions and ideas before moving forward with one idea.

Translating insights into ideas

After analyzing the gathered data and insights I’ve internalized, I want to design a solution that will meaningfully address my users needs.

Idea One - Seating Chart
  • App lets you create seating charts with desks on a grid, record and export attendance
  • Create a custom desk layout by starting with a grid pattern that you choose, then hide selected desks.
  • Add special markers/stickers in app seating chart and have the same marker/sticker on student's physical desk. Memory by association
  • Add notes to students to help reinforce memorization
  • Educators can either assign students to seats before meeting the students, and have students move to pre-defined seats or have tap and add students to the seat map when students pick their seats
  • Students are either prepopulated via admission records or teachers can also manually add the students on the first day, and have a photo session/intro session
  • Move students around by dragging and dropping students.
  • Generate a PDF version of your seating charts (with photos) as a backup or to give to substitute teachers.
  • Take role easily by tapping on absent, tardy, or excused students.(Repeat & Recall)

Rough Sketch and notes on Seating Chart Idea

Idea Two - Grouping/Filtering
  • Grouping helps with memorizing
  • Quickly group images of the kids.
  • Quickly add names of new students, fill up their description.
  • Easily find their name later by looking them up by their features (description, looks, ethnicity, siblings, gender, etc).
  • Quickly search lists to recall names
  • Periodic notifications will remind you names of your students
  • .
  • Organize your students into custom groups
  • Export/Backup all your contacts to file, and import them on another device if needed

Rough Sketch and notes on Grouping and Filtering Idea

Idea Three - Glass
  • Enhanced Google Glass
  • Have kids in grade pre-loaded into supplimentary app with name and picture and any other important and distinctive tidbits
  • Educators will not need to memorize the students names before class
  • Educators will be able to learn names over time, and not have to worry about it
  • Lets user focus energy one more important lessons.
  • Uses facial recognition technology, to recognize ONLY registered students in pre-approved academic/admission database.
  • Due to privacy permissions is required to access and import information on students, teachers, classes and schedules from the school’s database.
  • Uses same touch gestures, head detection and voice commands

Rough Sketch and notes on Glass

Idea Four - Gamification
  • Quizzes or memory type games. Flashcards?
  • Learning names via gamifying
  • Have a student roaster created, and have the ability to quiz oneself to memorize the students via pictures, and name recalling.
  • Should have small goals
  • Notifications to reminds users to practice.
  • Have users reach top scores for at least 2-3 names before other names are released to be memorized. (Leveling up, feature?)
  • Have a very clear and distinctive way to show progress.
  • Make it fun and engaging. Have interesting tidbits be hints, educators can use to help with answering.

Rough Sketch and notes on Glass

Upon completing the ideation phase, I compared each idea against the goals and objectives. I wrote the positives and negatives of each idea. Although I loved the AR idea, privacy seems like a pretty taboo subject, so I decided to lean more towards the gamification aspect. Memory games and quizzes seemed like it would do the best job of simply connecting faces with names. I also decided that it has room to provide additional tools that would assist the teacher with memorization. IE. Seating charts and adding additional notes and tags to students. Finally, I distilled these ideas into one single idea that formed the concept map.
User Flow

I created a user flow to help me think through the concept, and figure out what screens will be needed, and which screens interact with one another.


This is a simple wireframe showing the quiz portion of the app. I did not spend as much time as I usually would focusing on the wireframes, as I did have time constraints to consider. So I kept my wires as simple, and mostly used notes to solidify my thoughts, and flow.

High - Fidelity Mock-ups

I decided to break the app into 3 sections. Classes, Seating Chart, and Quizzes. Below are the relevant screens for the app.


I also created a quick prototype to help to show the flow for the app

Owlette App
Future improvements

I feel that with more time and research this app could be improved upon alot.Especially in terms of all the games that help educators bridge that gap and connect with their students on more personal level. It would be interesting what name games other teachers use in the real world can also be implemented into the app.

I would also like to introduce more related new features, such as timetable, grade book, and other reports so that educator could use only one app. Another interesting feature could be to allow students to contribute to their profiles and even learn about the others.

And with further AR developments I think maybe having Glass to compliment the app is an interesting concept

It would be interesting to build this app and A/B test it to see what works and what needs improvement.