We helped engage new families
at school by rethinking the
onboarding process. 


The New School is a public charter school in San Francisco founded on the principles of inquiry-based education, equity, and personalized learning.

Our team partnered with the New School to research and design an improved new family onboarding. I led user research and project management, and also contributed to UX/UI design.

Role: User Research Lead and Interaction Designer
Team: Zi Wang, Wilson Wu, Monica Poddar, Kush Dave
Timeline: August 2020 - January 2021


New School is a young school run by an intelligent and ambitious leadership team. One of their goals is to design the school in partnership with families.

This requires a ton of collaboration with parents, but between coffee chats, parent apps, emails, text groups, councils, and more, new parents often feel overwhelmed with where to start in familiarizing themselves with New School communication processes.


How can we improve new family onboarding in order to set everyone up for success at the start of their New School journey?


Current onboarding email vs our mobile onboarding experience.


1. Map the existing onboarding process (a series of very long emails).

2. Interview parents both inside and outside the New School community to better understand their onboarding experience.

3. Design, test, learn, iterate, repeat! 

4. Collaborate with the New School digital team to implement the designs and create hand-off documentation that includes our recommendations for the future.



This is something I'm proud of:
we conducted over a dozen usability tests with parents in the middle of the pandemic, over Zoom, from living rooms to doctor's offices, on tablets, phones, and laptops. 

One of my primary responsibilities on the project was organizing and running these tests. Two mindsets helped me manage and execute the process: the performance mindest, and the parent mindset.


I realized that every test could be treated as a performance — we needed call times, a lead actor, camera operators, and most importantly, a script.

We had parents participate in tests from their bedrooms, on their lunch breaks, and in between meetings. The fact that they made time for us was a miracle at all — so I planned the sessions assuming our participants had two kids, three meetings, and a hungry pet waiting for them just off screen.

A few of our generous testing participants, and a peek into some of our synthesis techniques (hint: lots of Post-Its...)

Features From Feedback

The feedback was invaluable and led us to prioritize three key features of the onboarding experience:

In an early parent and teacher focus group, we learned that many Spanish-speaking families primarily use their phones to communicate with school. This led to a major shift in our design approach — leading with mobile. It also meant the onboarding link could be both texted and emailed to parents.

v1 Desktop prototype --> Mobile prototype

Narrative format to list format.

When we started designing for a desktop experience, we used an illustrated narrative to explain communication protocols at New School. However, in a mobile format, this became difficult to digest and created more confusion than clarity, so we kept it simple by organizing New School's primary communication methods into key buckets.

v1 Narrative format --> List format

Important tasks to registration.

The first section of onboarding listed the key tasks parents would need to complete before the new school year. However, after testing with New School’s Director of Community, we learned that most of these tasks are included in their existing registration documentation. We simplified the section to direct towards registration forms, instead of listing individual tasks. We also moved this section from the end of the experience to the beginning, since it was time-sensitive.

v1 Checklist --> Registration forms
Prototype of the new mobile onboarding experience.


Here's what we did in order to ensure that New School staff would be able to effectively use and maintain the new mobile onboarding experience:

1. We built it as a private link on their existing Squarespace website.

2. I created hand-off documentation that summarized our work together, advised on implementation of our proposals,
and provided our recommendations for the future. 


Overview of Squarespace implementation and hand-off documentation.

Results + Reflection

— New School plans to send our new mobile onboarding experience to accepted parents in April and May of 2021

— 60+ parents will use the new onboarding experience

Through meticulous research, testing, and design, our team built a strong, scalable foundation for New School onboarding.

Design doesn't exist in a vacuum. By leveraging the platform and tools New School already uses, and following through with a detailed hand-off plan, we were able to build a thoughtful design intervention that will actually get used, as opposed to look pretty on their proverbial shelf.

I hope our contribution is just one of many ways New School continues to build a bright and equitable future for primary education.

"Team Nü is incredible. They have thoughtfully used design thinking to address some of our largest and most complex educational equity dilemmas resulting in dynamic and creative solutions. They have literally changed the course of our school's trajectory and our most vulnerable students will experience more success and the hardest to reach families will be better informed.

A million thank yous for all of your hard work, dedication, passion and ingenuity. You have left an indelible mark on the hearts and minds of our New School community and your contributions will last for many years to come - that's legacy!"

Shernice Lazare
Director of Curriculum, New School of San Francisco
© Tess Hannel 2021