Assignments app
Microsoft Teams showcasing the updated mental model and UI refresh for the Assignments app.
Microsoft Teams
for Education
Assignments UI & mental model refresh

The assignments app is a place where all class materials live for both student and teacher, often including homework, class presentations, tests and grades. In 2019, we iterated on and streamlined this experience based on early feedback from educators. We refreshed the UI and provided a clearer, more focused view for students that mapped to how they thought about and completed homework, and for teachers, we focused on how they created, assigned and then graded homework to help streamline their process.


Assignments is focused on the exchange of homework between student and teacher.


Understanding Where the current experience wasn’t meeting the needs of both teachers and students

When we initially launched the assignments app, the experience was a calendar that replicated the physical student and teacher diary found throughout schools. Whilst initially well received, our top request was to have assignments show up on Outlook (their school calendars).  We realised the calendar view we provided wasn’t substantial enough to be a substitute for Outlook (and nor should it have been). We also knew we could help better solve the problems students encountered, for example a research paper due in six weeks that wouldn’t show up on the calendar until the week it was due. The same was true for teachers, having no reminder for either themselves or their students, especially for projects with phases that required more than a week of work. With further iterations we explored tasks and to-do lists, working alongside fellow teams to explore and test existing patterns found throughout Microsoft, and specifically Microsoft Office.

Existing experience
The existing experience focused on a 5 day week, (helpful for students in America but not internationally), many didn’t realise the calendar could be viewed either horizontally (above) or as a list and days or weeks with no work due appeared misleading.

The primary difference we discovered is with lists, a single person is marking the task as done, this isn’t accurate for the school scenario since students and teachers need to mark the work as completed (turned in), and graded. We tested our theories and a student viewed their work as complete once a teacher had turned it in, but the teacher didn't view that as complete until they had finished grading everything turned in for that assignment. With this, we developed our own system, using the guiding principles leveraged from other teams during our explorations as a baseline.


Scaling our UI and education focused design system

Once we better understood the jobs to be done of the assignments app, we narrowed our focus down further to the assignment cards themselves. To begin redesigning the Assignments view, we began with the assignment cards themselves. We revisited our card sorting exercise to identify information that was the most useful at a glance and what they were comfortable searching a little harder for. This helped us to develop a metric to evaluate our designs moving forward, and to keep the focus at what works better for our customers. This proved especially helpful as guidance during critiques with stakeholders and team members who weren't as familiar with our product or our audience but found a perspective they could relate to. (Whether this be their own experience using a task focused app, having taught or mentored others before, or being familiar with homework through having kids of their own).

Initial assignment card iterations
Our first iterations focused on delight and stepping out of the bounds of what we already had. We played with hierarchy, colour and illustration, and size to really challenge what we thought we were looking for.

We explored everything from blue sky visions, to mapping 1:1 with the current Microsoft Teams UI, all the while striving to develop a personality for Education at Microsoft with each iteration. We aimed to develop a sense of delight within the task flow for both students and teachers, and knowing the app still had a lot of potential growth, we also designed with scale and flexibility in mind. We fought for simplicity throughout and the result maintained the familiarity of Microsoft that classrooms are used to, but allowed us to begin to weave our own personality into the experience too. This was highlighted by subtle UI updates, such as increasing our use of illustration and colour, increasing the text size where appropriate and giving cards more friendly, slightly rounded corners. From an experience perspective, we were more purposeful on the content we surfaced, keeping to a minimum and providing hierarchy on a must know need to know basis.

Focused assignment card iterations
Narrowing down and focusing on how this scales as we continue to develop and add new features, and how we maintain hierarchy between states and the different views for a teacher and student.

Another common pain point is the many hats teachers find themselves wearing on a daily basis. Not only do they instruct and teach classes, they also troubleshoot and problem solve technology for every student in every one of their classes. How swiftly a teacher can solve these technical issues also has an affect on their student’s trust in them and their perception of Microsoft as a company. For our team, this was reflected in the product by ensuring that even though teachers and students had different tasks to fulfil, their views and interactions with the app felt familiar no matter what they were looking at. (Later on, we’d also go on to launch a student preview mode for teachers, allowing them to test and view any assigned work before the student could see it).


Assignments is focused on the exchange of homework between student and teacher.
A new, education focused ecosystem for microsoft

This update was well received, both internally and externally. Our team was grateful that we’d closely aligned with existing patterns, but maintained a friendlier and less rigid application of it that it felt more inviting than the current system built with a much more tech savvy audience in mind. Our students and teachers were appreciative that they now had easier access to the information they needed and at a glance, they could now get a sense of how much they had to complete and by when.

Mobile assignments
It was important to us that any student or teacher could access their work from anywhere. As a result, how our designs scaled was considered at every step, both in terms of responsive UI design but also ensuring legibility and load times on low quality devices met our expectations.

As next steps, we wanted to continue to make the assignment list and Teams space in general more personal to each student, and look for ways we could incorporate more moments of delight throughout the end to end experience. This applied as much to students as it did with teachers! Looking back, we also were focused on late middle school to high school students (13 to 18). Although this was our primary audience at the time, we could have pushed further to look at how this app grows with students as they progress through school, how does what’s important to them change over time and how does this impact their connection with our products?

hi! I'm paula
view my work
say hi!


A personal study of 90s brutalism & Drake lyrics
My two motivations for this project were firstly a desire to be different, to design something unrestricted and against the refined identities we're accustomed too. My second motivation of course, was my admiration of Drake.
personal project */
"My team good we don't really need a mascot"
Many iterations, self-help design and motion advice videos later, I landed on the video below. This bridges a 90s design style with brutalist concepts, taking the music back to its core and back to the lyrics. Enjoy!
"Wakin' up at 6pm like where'd the day go"
My first attempt at a Diplomatic Immunity, though in the end I struggled with the slower beat and the animations felt too literal and tied to the lyrics. This didn't push the bounds as much as I needed and felt more static so I pivoted and switched to The Motto.
Partnering that aesthetic with an e-commerce experience
Throughout the duration of designing and creating the videos, I circled back to what I know best and applied the design style I'd created to fit the e-commerce shopping experience.
Touring the country
I carried over the style and inspiration from the videos, geared it more towards the site. For the tour page I began designing with a typical calendar but wanted to veer away from anything too expected and test out new interactions. The end result still feels natural, (it's still a list) but I hope the experience, style and overall feeling help differentiate it.


A personal study of 90s brutalism & Drake lyrics

"We're Here for a good time, not for a long time you know"

BIG Sean Ft. Drake Blessings

I wouldn't hesitate to say that most of my design work has been created whilst listening to at least one of Drake's albums, on repeat. Some people see colour when they listen to music, some people can't stop tapping their feet, but being a designer to the heart, I honestly started to see type whilst listening to his music. I imagined it moving and animated and saw this as the perfect opportunity to dip my feet into animation and learn motion design. Making what I saw in my mind a reality was a completely different ball game though.
Personal goals //
Step outside my comfort zone and explore design styles I'm unfamiliar with
Learn After Effects and how to implement my own ideas as they pertain to motion
Create something bound to no rules & something design books would likely frown upon


This came at a time where I wasn't sure what I wanted to pursue next within my career, and I was frustrated in my role at the time, especially at the amount of rules and red tape we had to fight through with every decision. I was listening to Drake everyday, and I'd always wanted to learn motion design but just opening up After Effects had been overwhelming. Given a new found determination (and a husband and friends that were willing to teach me) I decided to give it a go. I wanted to break every rule I was trying to so hard to follow in my day to day role, opting for the brightest, most garish set of colours and clashing typefaces that I could find, telling myself that it looks terrible and that this is a disaster, but that was the point.
I stepped out of my comfort zone entirely with this project to do craft something that didn't match anything else I had in my portfolio at the time. To this day, this is still the project I get asked the most questions about and the project that attracts the most freelance clients (more than 5 years later). Creatively this was perhaps one of the most personally rewarding, showing myself that whatever I did day to day didn't impact or limit my design abilities, and that rules are there both for a reason, but to also be challenged, pushed and broken as well.
See the full project over on my Behance site ** //
Full project

Have a question? Or feedback? Just want to say hi?

Please get in touch! I love hearing from others and always up to make a new connection. */