Prime Digital

Heuristic Evaluation – Participant Observation – Objective Response


The Quick Read

How do you facilitate community as quickly as possible in the short time Full Stack students are here at Prime Digital Academy? Can that be brought to life with a simple replacement of the welcome gift?

Prime Digital Academy asked me to redesign the gift that new Full-Stack Developer students receive on their first day of class. For the past several years they have given new students a t-shirt and a water bottle. The water bottle has been receiving mixed reviews from students and is now out of production.

Utilizing Heuristic Analysis, Participant Observations, and Usability Testing I was able to ideate several possible solutions for a new gift. With three options sketched out I presented to a group of 12 students and they unanimously voted for a set of fun fuzzy slippers.

Moving to rapid prototyping I built a test pair and used a directed storytelling & objective response survey to get student input on a final product. I learned that not only did student want warm comfy feet, they also felt that an initial shared inside joke in their cohort would help them build a less judgmental community more quickly than with t-shirt alone. Community through slippers.


  • Final Presentation

  • Potential Solutions

  • Heuristic Analysis


  • Usability Testing

  • Participant Observation

  • Muppet Skin

  • Sewing Skills

The Full Story


Prime Digital Academy has been searching for a better solution to make their students feel more welcome on that first day on campus. This is a not a new challenge for learning institutions but one that is particularly important to a school that only sees its students for three months from that first morning through graduation. A welcome gift that will set a tone, make students comfortable, and fit within the existing institutional budget. 

The students didn’t seem to engage well with the existing welcome gifts, specifically the water bottle. It came across as impersonal, lacked usability and was a bit redundant as an addition to most of their lives. The goal of this project is to bring the students into the fold on research and evaluation of a new welcome gift that fits the institutional needs stated above but also feels more personal, more usable, and as we learn in out research…creates more of a community.

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In the past Prime Digital Academy welcome packages included the a 28oz fruit infusion bottle above. Well it is quite nice to look at, it lacked the basic usability students required. Through heuristic evaluation (based on NNG 1994 usability heuristic) research found it to have several flaws, from a lid that took two hands to open to an air flow problem that made it nearly impossible to drink from. 

The bottle was no longer a viable value add product and the decision was made to replace it.


I was able to spend time on campus over a two week period to experience student life, to observe their behaviors through participant observations and to ask questions about their daily interaction with Prime and the students/staff. 

It became clear that a few problem spaces existed. Synthesizing those findings allowed me to develop 3 individual design concepts. These concentrated on voids in the experience while attempting to find a solution that was not offensive to any broad identity or religious bias. A personalized/branded coffee mug, a $20 value Go-Card for Metro transit to help with the commute, and a pair of fuzzy slippers.

These concepts were presented to a focus group of students and 10 of the 11 chose Fuzzy Slippers via an anonymous dot voting poll where each student was giving one dot sticker to place on the design they thought best fit their needs.


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Here With votes cast it became clear that students were more interested in casual added creature comforts. More enthusiastic with a welcome gift that would make them feel more at home. 

With that insight I moved to the prototyping stage building a full scale single mid-fidelity pair of fuzzy slippers. The humorous mismatched materials used were not meant to be a final solution but we will see shortly that they played a huge roll in the products successful testing. 


Testing a somewhat surprising and potentially visually divisive prototype can be a challenge so I chose to interview students individually on their lunch break while on campus at Prime. Initially requesting 10 minutes of their time and securing their permission to have audio recorded of our conversations. 

The evaluation format went as follows: 


-How did they choose to come to Prime Digital Academy and what was their life experience prior?

-Think back on those first hours you spent on campus. How did they present themselves, what were some of the initial emotions felt?

I then removed the cover placed on the table to expose the grid shown below and asked each student to select one word from each row. One that described how they presented themselves and one each for a positive and potentially negative emotion.

5 of 5 students evaluated chose the same answers. All had presented that first day casually. All had been excited and they were all definitely nervous. 

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I asked if they had made changes to their space, brought anything from home to ease that nervousness? Most had not, most felt more comfortable with their surrounding and classmates as the days turned into weeks. 

The came the slippers…

While setting a handful of blue and orange fluff in front of them I asked how they would respond if they found these bright colored fuzzy slippers on their desk that first day.

This is where things got interesting. One student said initially that if they were the only one to receive a bright pair of fuzzy slippers they would be embarrassed. That same student then shared what became a theme. If all the students received them they would suspend judgement. The shared humor of the mismatched brightly colored fuzzy slippers would in fact help them build community more quickly. That it would level the playing field long enough to get to know each other without building the walls of stereotypes we all put on strangers in new spaces. 


What a pleasure to work on this project for such an inspiring up and coming company. It was also a good learning experience to put the user at the front of any analysis and not assume knowledge of a workflow. I look forward to seeing Dispatch grow and to see what changes if any they decided to build into their new dashboard.


After heuristic evaluation, participant observation and objective response interviews I am please to announce that the slippers have been approved for next steps by the client stakeholders at Prime Digital Academy.

In the coming weeks we will set up focus groups with all current students and place surveys on Slack channels to better understand student backing for the upcoming redesign. (Students who participate will receive complementary custom slippers, but that will not be known to them until the process is complete.

Quantitive Surveys will request input of color, material, warmth, branding, personalization.

Qualitative Surveys will look into the emotions of the students, the feeling of community, etc. 

That data will be synthesized and used to design a second series of prototypes will be made in six-eight shoe sizes to be distributed within 60 days to a future cohort as they enter campus for final testing.

Once I have final data on hand showing that we have been successful in creating a better welcome gift, I will guide Prime Digital Academy forward to finalize bulk production. Each student will then receive a comfy pair of fuzzy slippers that meets their needs and makes campus a more welcoming, comfortable environment.