Incremental Improvement with Mike McLeod of Eli Review
By Laura Cowan
Laura K. Cowan is a tech editor and journalist whose work has focused on promoting sustainability initiatives for automotive, green tech, and conscious living media outlets.
Mike McLeod helped start Eli Review as a project at Michigan State, to help connect professors and students online. The project took off as an online learning platform over the past 5 years, and now McLeod isn't so much aiming to always disrupt with new products. "I'm about evangelizing for incremental improvement," he says. "Maintenance is important to me, designing for the long term." McLeod is a user experience designer, who recently spoke at the UX Ignite MI 2019 meetup at Cirq Bar in Ann Arbor. His speech had a lot more to do with what he learned from doing wrong on Eli Review than what went right, and how he and his team learned to improve things from there.
This is a bit unusual to hear in tech, where people are often trumpeting their latest new projects and offerings, but McLeod says that for him, it's about incremental improvement of existing products, and specifically he's focused on storytelling with data. "Our product is prime," he tells me. "We tell stories with our data in ways that will be useful to teachers."
Medicine is a big inspiration for McLeod. If he has one ask of the Ann Arbor tech scene, as someone who visits to speak at user experience events like UX Ignite MI but lives in Lansing, it would be to connect with folks in medical and user experience design because of the complexities of the space. Accessibility is the one thing that's never done, he says. "We're always reassessing."
Eli Review is currently overhauling their user interface in a way that should be more accessible to students who access the platform on a phone screen instead of a laptop. McLeod tells me he was surprised to learn that the digital divide has not only persisted but gotten worse over the last few years, and many students who are increasingly expected by teachers to access online learning resources only have their iPhones to log in. This means important changes not only to the interface and how it loads on smaller screens, but to speed and performance. Eli Review is working to downsize the footprint of the site needed to load, so students can load the site faster, and the company is working to increase server speed so users aren't left hanging loading content. "I don't think we'll ever be finished," McLeod says.
UX Ignite MI 2019 at the Cirq Bar in Ann Arbor, where Mike McLeod spoke on what his team learned from forgetting to include some functionality in the original Eli Review product.
The company also deals with experience rot. For example, popular Google Docs comes along and fundamentally changes the way people think about saving documents. Users come back to the Eli Review product with a different mindset about how and why to save data and documents. "How do we keep up with those changes?" McLeod asks. Eli Review is constantly working to integrate their platform with new systems and processes that make it more seamless for users to use the product in ways they expect to engage with technology online.
Another example of this is the GDPR privacy laws coming out of the EU. "Students own all their work in the system," McLeod says, referencing their rights to their own data. "We don't sell it." Students are creating class work in the system, but they also produce data in the form of peer-to-peer feedback. Eli Review has been working to make it possible for students to retrieve that data for future use as well as their coursework.
It's this kind of incremental change in the same product that fascinates McLeod. "Folks don't often talk about maintaining products over time," he says. That's where my interest lies. [I would love to hear] from people who are focused on improving existing ideas and fine-tune products and tweak conversions."
If you want to reach Mike McLeod for a conversation on medical industry user experience design or incremental product improvement, you can reach him here by email.