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.
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.
- Henry Holmes
- Lead, Designer
- Dimitry Knyajanski
- Barry Blumenfeld
- Principle Advisor
- John-Mario Sevilla
- Director, 92Y Harkness Dance Center
- Jody Gottfried Arnhold
- Founder, 92Y Dance Education Laboratory
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.
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.
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.
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 used a locking paradigm similar to the word cloud screen. This would encourage exploratory behavior and critical thinking: when the user wants to see more information, they evaluate each row for significance and decide consciously.
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.
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.
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.