Dance Maker is a free app for anyone learn­ing, teach­ing or enjoy­ing dance. It pro­vides a struc­ture for prac­tic­ing fun­da­men­tals and making cre­ative deci­sions while plan­ning lessons and during move­ment classes. Stu­dents using the app can make dis­cov­er­ies about their phys­i­cal expres­sive­ness and the role tech­nol­ogy plays in their learn­ing.

I wrote and bud­geted the pro­posal for this project, cre­ated and refined a sto­ry­board and pro­to­types through stake­holder engage­ment, crafted and imple­mented a visual iden­tity, pro­duced copy and design assets, built a dataset, ran work­shops with the com­mu­nity to pop­u­late and refine the data, super­vised and assisted with devel­op­ment and pub­lish­ing, imple­mented simple ana­lyt­ics, cre­ated basic adver­tise­ments and mar­ket­ing lan­guage, and set a course for future growth and improve­ments.

Ratio­nale

Dance Edu­ca­tion Lab­o­ra­tory (DEL) was founded in 1995 by Jody Got­tfried Arn­hold as a prac­ti­cal ped­a­gog­i­cal alter­na­tive to dance edu­ca­tion in acad­e­mia. For 20 years since, they’ve been train­ing edu­ca­tors and artists in a system designed to meet the stan­dards of New York City Depart­ment of Education’s Blue­print for Teach­ing and Learn­ing in Dance.

DEL pro­duced the app to meet edu­ca­tors’ needs through­out the 5 bor­oughs of New York City and even­tu­ally beyond. The vision we shaped together stemmed from a set of goals:

  • Create an app for public school edu­ca­tors.
  • Adapt DEL’s cur­ric­u­lar model for the mobile device format.
  • Cul­ti­vate teach­a­bil­ity while encour­ag­ing exper­i­men­ta­tion.
  • Broaden the reach and appeal of DEL’s method­ol­ogy.
  • Lever­age the rich com­mu­nity wisdom of edu­ca­tors and chore­o­g­ra­phers to sup­port dancer makers every­where.

I wrote the fol­low­ing state­ment for the app’s cred­its:

We want to empower teach­ers of all ages to lead move­ment exper­i­ments with the resources of an entire com­mu­nity of dancers, edu­ca­tors and chore­o­g­ra­phers in hand because we believe dance is for every­one and you can make a dance about any­thing.

People

Henry Holmes
Lead, Designer
Dim­itry Knya­jan­ski
Devel­oper
Barry Blu­men­feld
Prin­ci­ple Advi­sor
John-Mario Sevilla
Direc­tor, 92Y Hark­ness Dance Center
Jody Got­tfried Arn­hold
Founder, 92Y Dance Edu­ca­tion Lab­o­ra­tory

Process

My first task was to under­stand the needs of DEL’s teach­ing com­mu­nity and rec­om­mend an approach for the new app. I stud­ied lesson plan out­lines, sample lessons and other sup­port­ing doc­u­ments, then I met with a team of expe­ri­enced edu­ca­tors who helped me shape a fea­ture set.

Sto­ry­board

Here’s an early sto­ry­board (pdf). It runs through two sim­i­lar nar­ra­tives in par­al­lel but prob­a­bly should’ve been struc­tured as two sep­a­rate sto­ries. The deci­sion I pre­sented in the doc­u­ment was to shape the app as a guided wizard or a mod­u­lar dash­board — a hybrid of the two solu­tions would later win out.

Pro­to­types

I cre­ated three inter­ac­tive pro­to­types before we were ready to start build­ing the app. We learned from the first pro­to­type that I needed to pare things down. Iter­a­tions on a second pro­to­type led us to our core fea­ture, the Explo­ration screen, and gave me con­fi­dence to design an iden­tity and inter­face ele­ments. The third pro­to­type pre­pared us to write code.

Design

I cre­ated a simple visual lan­guage with DEL’s exist­ing type­face and color palette. The inter­face struc­ture emerged from a process of refine­ment as advi­sors and teach­ers responded to the pro­to­types. I was fully respon­si­ble for trans­lat­ing stake­holder feed­back into design deci­sions and imple­ment­ing those deci­sions in the design spec. I also received help­ful input from our devel­oper.

This home screen design pro­gres­sion hints at sev­eral key moments in an evolv­ing user story. The left­most vari­ant pri­or­i­tizes cus­tomized con­tent in the form of lesson plans, answer­ing the ques­tion, How can I use this app to create my own lessons?” The middle screen answers the ques­tion, How can this app adapt to my needs?” by min­gling tools and resources in a cus­tomiz­able list. The right­most screen reduces cus­tomiza­tion and con­sol­i­dates options for a more con­sis­tent expe­ri­ence, address­ing the ques­tion What does this app do for me?”


This word cloud screen lets users nav­i­gate a siz­able pool of words orga­nized by cat­e­gory (or theme.”) I opted for a list instead of a grid for ease of imple­men­ta­tion. Based on user test­ing, I noticed that most testers wanted more con­trol over which words were selected. To respond to this need, I got rid of the lock­ing and ran­dom­iza­tion and intro­duced a type your own word” fea­ture in its place. I also added a counter to imply a max­i­mum word count, which is aug­mented by a toast if users try to select too many words. The word limit con­straint is pro­vided by DEL, whose move­ment sen­tence for­mula accom­mo­dates up to 4 actions.


During the design and revi­sion process I paid spe­cial atten­tion to the explo­ration screen because it’s where pro­to­typ­ing, user test­ing ses­sions and mix­panel data showed the most time was being spent by our testers.

Random with lock to keep”
The first explo­ration screen uses a lock­ing par­a­digm sim­i­lar to the word cloud screen. This encour­ages exploratory behav­ior and crit­i­cal think­ing: each time the user wants to see more infor­ma­tion, they need to eval­u­ate each row for sig­nif­i­cance.

Ran­dom­ize per row
It became clear that a more common usage pat­tern for the screen was to cycle through options per-row instead of than per-round. Rather than making users tediously toggle a set of locks for this behav­ior, the devel­oper and I decided to permit indi­vid­ual rows to be ran­dom­ized by tap­ping them.
 

Choose per row and weighted ran­dom­izer
Testers in the latter ver­sion noticed the ques­tions in the middle screen (eg. with?”) didn’t always match for gram­mar so I revised by includ­ing LMA cat­e­gory titles, using domain-spe­cific lan­guage, and adding a ref­er­ence of artis­tic ques­tions to the screen’s help modal.
 

Work­shops

I co-taught sev­eral work­shops to engage DEL’s com­mu­nity of edu­ca­tors. These involved show­cas­ing the app, infor­mal user test­ing, brain­storm­ing ses­sions, col­lab­o­ra­tive fea­ture demon­stra­tions and dis­cus­sions around ped­a­gogy and tech­nol­ogy. The oppor­tu­nity to work with teach­ers in their prac­tice was an indis­pens­able resource for the project.

One of the most impor­tant things we dis­cov­ered was a gap in the user expe­ri­ence of our core fea­ture. Teach­ers loved exper­i­ment­ing with vocab­u­lary on the explo­ration screen but expressed strong desires for a sum­mary of the process. I found an effi­cient solu­tion: view­ing the dance in a cumu­la­tive format that’s suit­able for pro­jec­tion and screen­shots.

View Dance” screen

Prod­uct and Press

Dance Maker is avail­able now in the app store. It’s being uti­lized by the Children’s Museum of Man­hat­tan for their exhibit Let’s Dance.

My advi­sor and I will be pre­sent­ing the app at the National Dance Edu­ca­tion Orga­ni­za­tion 2017 con­fer­ence.

92Y Press Release