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Solent Themes and Usability

Roger Emery's profile picture
Posts: 46

27 March 2013, 5:36 AM

Hi All,

We've been using Mahara for quite some time and the two main issues keep getting fed back - its looks a bit ugly and it is a bit difficult to navigate.

So we sat in a room, thrashed out a load of ideas and gave them to our designer to go creative.

Starting with the Login page



The key thing here is the three boxes (what we want the student to do, with description) is clear and to the point as an alternative to the current boxes with lots of icons and text - where do you start? Well there are only three choices now.

Secondly the top menu pulling the key things to the top for our stduents and hiding everything else in tools (for those who want to dive into a specific area).


Next - the user has logged in to Mahara and hits a page - what do they do here? and when they have done it, what the hell do they do next?

This is a common comment - the lost user. Filled in a CV then....errr...? We could argue about the workflow of Mahara, but it can be so subjective as to which order to do stuff. So lets look at better and clearer signposting.


One of our key aims for students is employability and the CV (Resume) is the centre of that. So, nice big banner at the top - what to do on this page, and even more importantly links at the bottom (these could save 'now publish' or 'now add to a page/collection') this answers the 'what do I do next' question.

Another example - Journal

We will of course make this contextual and also are looking at existing functionality and seeing how that could be applied in other places(eg, shortcut to adding a journal to a page or adding a page to a collection and so on).

This is reflected in an idea for the portfolio/collection page - getting rid of some of the icons, replacing with actions words (publish!) and offering a status.

One thing we already have in place is the customisation of many of the contextual help icons - so in the CV builder the help brings up advice from our careers service and links to their online help and leaflets.

Finally a new set of themes for students to use - maybe subject related and more professional than the current set of (with respect) dated themes.

Some ideas:CV1 , CV4 , CV7 , CV8

So - a set of ideas and designs. No coding yet. Really keen to get feedback and ideas. Really want to try to work within the framework of existing Mahara functionality, maybe expose some of that functionality in different places and certainly beef up the instruction so it offers a bit of a wizard for the newbies (and lessens our training requirements) while allowing the more experienced user to go where they want.

What do you think?

Roger (Solent Uni, UK)












Gregor Anželj's profile picture
Posts: 348

28 March 2013, 12:02 AM

Love it! Fantastic!

Cheers, Gregor

Kristina Hoeppner's profile picture
Posts: 3632

01 April 2013, 6:15 PM

Hi Roger,

I love your ideas around minimizing some of the functionality and also pulling the focus to a few items in the dashboard boxes. These can be adapted easily (see the primary school theme for a totally different approach), but I don't think that many people do so. It's great to see what you decided to highlight.

For the portfolio pages you write that you got rid of some of the icons. Do you mean also in the artefact chooser when you edit a page or primarily the Edit / Delete / Share buttons?



Dirk Meyer's profile picture
Posts: 424

04 April 2013, 3:08 AM

Hi Roger,

Nice ideas. Consisitent scaffolding and signage is quite important, at least for the novice user. With that however comes a degree of prescription, something I find some educators I work with have differing oppinions about. What I am seeing lately is users working with mahara to achieve different goals such as a school website, teacher home pages, resource pages for professional learning, filling in spreadsheets etc.
I think some of mahara's navigation and workflow challenges can be overcome by providing users a clear path, which is what you are doing.

Don Presant's profile picture
Posts: 255

28 March 2014, 1:33 AM

Hi Roger:

Very much the right direction.

Regarding themes, I notice you're not changing fonts and text colours much, if at will you employ skins vs themes?

But my main comment has to do with the impact on the UI: how sustainable will this be across upgrades? How much are you changing functionality or having to upgrade multiple screens vs. making global tweaks that will be easily repeated for future versions?

On that angle, I'm wondering how much of the current work on accessibility for Mahara will decouple function from interface? This probably makes me sound smarter than I am, but I'm remembering comments from a quick informal survey of Mahara's accessibility done a few years ago. I *think* decoupling is a good thing, because it makes connection to the interface more standardized and flexible, but more knowledgeable people should comment...such as those new core Mahara developers I just saw mentioned on Facebook!

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