Canvas redesign

Redesigning a learning management system dashboard.

macbook-temp Canvas.jpg

4 Weeks

Usability Tester


The Canvas Learning Management System (LMS) used the University of Washington currently has an underutilized dashboard. Additionally, Canvas is missing ways for students to prioritize assignments and manage their time. I addressed this question:

How can Canvas's dashboard be improved and support better time management?



This project spanned four weeks and was comprised of the following:



For this project, I interviewed Tyler Fox, past director of UW learning systems team as a subject matter expert to learn more about Canvas's functionality from an administrative side. I also interviewed three current users of Canvas to learn about how and why they use Canvas, their time management habits and most importantly, current practices. Interviews gave me qualitative data. 

Here is what I learned:

1. While there were different priorities between current users and differing most frequently used features, there was unanimity regarding the low perceived utility of the dashboard. 

2. Few users realized Canvas currently has a calendar feature which is helpful for determining how one’s time is used.

3. Users adaptively change their priorities at least daily and sometimes multiple times a day based on what assignments they had completed, how much an assignment was worth and newly introduced assignments during class.



Survey data was used in conjunction with qualitative interview data. The survey data was taken from many Canvas users and addressed a variety of topics. Here are two highlights:



For reference when developing a solution, I described a typical user journey translated from interviews into a short storyboard. An insight was that students typically only opened Canvas when they were in a position to do schoolwork and they usually had some sense of what was due -- Canvas was more useful in prioritizing and submitting assignments. 


From my interviews, I discovered assignment submissions to be a key part of the Canvas experience. I created a user flow of doing this to demonstrate the current process and found the submission process to be quite cumbersome. My eventual design solution cuts out a good deal of this initial process. 


To arrive at a solution for the dashboard, I sketched out dashboard possible designs. These are some thumbnail explorations. 


I created interactive wireframes for prototyping in Sketch and put them in InVision for evaluation them using a usability testing protocol I created. My participants were Canvas users, so they were familiar with the current system. The calendar system was well received, but the class cards system contained too much information and needed work. Using feedback from this testing (featured in the image below) I created my final designs.



This redesign was created to help students manage their priorities, and simplify assignment inspection and class information at a glance. The Canvas LMS dashboard currently provides too little and too poorly organized information, and suffers from the these main issues:

1. The current system groups and collapses by default Announcements, Notifications, and Discussions, which makes it challenging to associate these individual items with their respective classes. 

2. The To-Do and Coming Up sections of the dashboard are useful and used shortcuts, but their entirely text based presentation lacks the visual dimensionality of time key to managing priorities.

3. While the text does present the amount of points an assignment is worth, this is without context as the point amount is often a part of a weighted category making comparing assignments by points a useless measure.

Before and after.

The following three features define the revised dashboard:


  • Assignments populate the calendar allowing the observation of time between assignments.
  • Indicators of what assignments have been submitted, which have not been and which are worth a substantial amount of the final course grade help the user determine which to prioritize and how to spend their free time.
  • A by product of allowing modal inspection of assignments is a drastically more efficient submission process.

Course Cards

  • Separation of course information (Announcements, Discussions, Messages, Grades) into cards based on course allows attention to be separated efficiently by course.

  • To quickly identify the course and all materials associated with the course, the chrome of the window is customizable and the positions are interchangeable.

Assignment Modals

  • This allows the user to jump quickly the the assignment page if they wish — but also to subvert the previous user flow of uploading an assignment and reduce it substantially.



Within the project timeframe, I was able to successfully solve the problems I set out to solve. However, given more time I would like to further improve the interface design, and use more rounds of testing to further improve functionality. 

The way I tested my wireframes provided some usability insights but revealed more about concept validation. More rounds of fidelity usability testing would be important moving forward.