UI/UX Critique:

Canvas Web Interface

Critique Writing

Canvas is a web and application interface that keeps track of students’ courses, assignments, grades, schedules and more. Most students these days are meant to use Canvas a way to keep track of their academic life. It has ways for a student to keep their lives organized (such as calendars and to-do lists), however, not a lot of students end up taking full benefit of all the features that Canvas as to offer. An idea that could be useful and convenient for the masses is used by a small cluster of people. Why do people dislike it so much? 

Canvas opens with a dashboard that lists out all the courses a student has for that semester. There are different features ingrained in this part of the interface that can be further considered. The layout is user-friendly in the way that it presents all the courses distinctly and explicitly to a user. This makes it easy for someone to see all the courses without additional steps while not being overwhelming. Additionally, the interface makes good use of icons for things such as “announcements” (a loudspeaker), “Files” (a folder), “Discussions” (A chat bubble), and more.

There’s also an option to change layout style based on what different users might prefer.

The to-do list on the side is also helpful as it can serve as a constant reminder of the tasks at hand.

The question to think about then is- despite all these great features, why is Canvas not as widely used as it should be? There can be several arguments made against its usability and what keeps people from using it. One reason could be that most people associate it to be an additional interface they must interact with just because they have to or just because their professor told them to. Canvas is designed to be completely academically oriented and with most students living a life that is holistic and goes way beyond than only academics, they can find Canvas limiting. There appears to be an effort constraint here- with designers aware of Canvas being focused towards academics, less intension was put into making room for anything else. For example, when you add a task to your to-do list, Canvas lets you add in a “deadline” and a “course” for the task.

This, even though it may be giving the option of universality, shows intention for only academics. Additionally, with the to-do list and calendar features embedded within the website, most people shy away from using them given the added steps required to access them. So, to say, most students do not venture beyond the sections that they “need” to access for their class (for example- assignments, files and grades). An informal survey I conducted with a random group of students on the Brown University campus revealed that most students only used Canvas because they had to and didn’t even know that the to-do list feature existed. They preferred Google Calendar instead for keeping themselves organized because of how accessible it was. I believe, this can be used to further deduce that Canvas has built a certain brand image which restricts people from using it for anything other than classes.

How can then we improve the Canvas interface to make it more inviting and accessible to people? It if the calendar is featured right on the homepage (dashboard), people might encounter it more often and perhaps be more likely to use it. Perhaps a feature that lets you do team events and share the event with others might increase collaboration and make it more universal as people would not have to use Google Calendar for conducting meetings and Canvas Calendar for keeping track of academics. On the other hand, Canvas could allow for embedding Google Calendar itself making it a more collaborative platform across different interfaces. On the homepage, if you are on a card-style layout, your to-do list is displayed on the side but there are additional steps involved before you can actually edit it. A simple change such as embedding those features within the same layout might make the process more efficient making it more likely for users to incorporate in their daily lives. Here is a suggested layout for the dashboard that allows the user to be informed of the Canvas features as well as makes it easy for them to use those features.

If you found this interesting, you can find more of my writing on my Medium blog!

© 2018 by Reet Agrawal