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Client The Michael & Susan Dell Foundation
Disciplines Research, Branding, Design & Content, Marketing, Web Development

Changing the future of education with Ed-Fi


What’s at Stake?

Imagine two teachers. They work at different schools in the same district. Teacher A records her student’s grades in Software A. Meanwhile, across town, Teacher B tracks grades in Software B.

So far, so good. Until you realize: Software A and Software B don’t speak the same language. They can’t share their data.

Multiply this scenario by approximately a bajillion and you’ll get a sense of the data crisis currently hamstringing educators across the country. School districts buy one software for grades, another for behavior, another for health, and so on—leaving the data siloed and mostly useless.

Without a common “language,” educational data is trapped inside the technology, unable to deliver an accurate, real-time, 360-degree view of what’s happening with every student. Potentially revolutionary educational data is, quite simply, in prison.

But Ed-Fi is helping it escape. And here’s how we’re helping Ed-Fi in that mission.

We delivered brand messaging recommendations based on external interviews with key audiences.

Nothing Short of Changing the World

Ed-Fi is a nonprofit organization fully funded by the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation. Their mission is no joke: To get every school in the United States and every piece of educational software to adopt Ed-Fi as the standard for recording student data.

But unless you’re one of those people who know what a Data Warehouse is or what it means to “standardize” data—i.e., unless you’re a seasoned technologist—the nitty gritty details of Ed-Fi will confuse you. They certainly confused us at first.

But then, in our Brand Workshop, Ed-Fi offered up the Bluetooth Metaphor. Everything changed.

The creative direction for a project often begins with an Element Collage, a system for typography, colors, form styles, and imagery.

The Bluetooth Metaphor

As the Ed-Fi project team explained to us, Bluetooth—that magical technology that connects multiple devices—isn’t hardware or software. In fact, Bluetooth isn’t even a company.

Bluetooth is simply an agreement—a set of “rules” for how to build things. It says, “If you want to be part of the big beautiful Bluetooth community—if you want your app or gadget to “speak” to other apps and gadgets—you need to build it this way.”

The Ed-Fi Data Standard is the “education data” version of Bluetooth.

The Ed-Fi Data Standard is the “education data” version of Bluetooth. (Their name, “Ed-Fi,” is an homage to “Wi-Fi,” which is also a data standard.)

Ed-Fi’s rules say, “Build your education technology this way.” They continue, “If you build technology this way, it can be shared with other tools and systems. Which means school districts that purchase only products powered by Ed-Fi are more likely to purchase your product.”

You wouldn’t buy a new car without Bluetooth. And soon, schools wouldn’t buy a piece of software not powered by Ed-Fi.

The Ed-Fi story can be complicated. But Mighty Citizen understood it. And then they made it simple, compelling, and inspirational.” Caroline Kazmierski, Director of Marketing Communications


The investigation was complete. We’d asked the questions, we’d gotten the answers. It was time to put some stakes in the ground.

It was time to write a Messaging Platform.

Ed-Fi’s messaging platform clearly outlines why they exist, who they serve and how they benefit their audiences.

A Messaging Platform is a document (approx. 15 pages) that describes everything about an organization’s identity, broken into sections that include:

  • Positioning Statement
  • Why Ed-Fi Exists
  • Elevator Pitch
  • Audience Summaries
  • “About Us” Boilerplate
  • Benefits & Differentiators

In a sense, a Messaging Platform is its own data standard: It’s meant to synthesize all the best thinking in your organization, distill it to its most compelling essence, and then set it down in specific, concrete terms.

The Ed-Fi website makes it easy for distinct audiences to find information meant specifically for them.

A Website in Two Acts

We believe websites are, at their best, organisms. They think, speak, and react. They engage with the people who visit them. It’s why we try to use “visitor” more than “user.” Websites aren’t simply used, like a fax machine or toaster oven. They’re responsive, flexible, and open.

So for Ed-Fi, we identified two website launch dates at the outset:

First, we’d design the bulk of the website before Ed-Fi’s annual user conference. Refreshed visual identity, simplified architecture, clear goals, targeted messages—the works, just in time to unveil it to their most dedicated advocates.

Then, even as Phase I was launching, we’d be heads-down working on Phase II, which was a list of finishing touches and enhancements—including designing a completely new section of the website:

The “Getting Started” Experience

Let’s say I’m a principal at a middle school in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. It’s my lunch break, so I spend a few minutes Googling this “data standard” thing I’ve heard about. I’m curious. But mostly, I’m eager to reduce the number of headaches I experience each month when I ask for reports on my students.

Up pops the Ed-Fi website. I click. I read. I’m more curious now. There’s a page especially for principals, so I read some of that. Here’s a brief case study about a district just a hundred miles from here who adopted Ed-Fi and love it. More curious. Maybe I need to get the ball rolling on something like this.

But what do I do now? Phase II of the website design was about answering that question.

The Getting Started section was the key feature of Phase II of the website redesign.

We created a page entitled “Getting Started,” and it is the Call To Action on the website.

Here’s what the Getting Started page does:

  1. Cuts in half the number of “steps” the user must take to deploy Ed-Fi—from eight (before Mighty Citizen) to four
  2. Shows all four steps at once atop the page
  3. Gives each step a unique illustration/animation because each step is actually unique
  4. Uses non-annoying, bouncing arrows to let visitors know there’s a next step below
  5. Allows visitors to directly request a free license (a key step)
  6. Ushers visitors into the Ed-Fi Alliance—i.e., a consortium of engineers and educators who are changing the ed-tech game together
  7. Looks awesome on smartphones

On the “Getting Started” page, there are Calls to Action inside of Calls To Action. Snazzy stuff—and effective. And at each step, users get the sense that they’re dealing with a thoughtful, well-resourced, passionate organization.

These are creative pros. They keep bringing fresh ideas to the table. I’m thrilled we partnered with them.” Caroline Kazmierski, Director of Marketing Communications

Ringing the Bell

The Michael & Susan Dell Foundation is passionate about plenty of subjects, but perhaps none more than the future of education. Ed-Fi is their answer to that passion. And in its relatively short existence, Ed-Fi has already made enormous strides—implementing their data standard across dozens of states and thousands of individual school districts.

Simply put, educators know more about their students now, thanks to Ed-Fi, than they ever have. Being their digital partner has been an education for us, and we’re honored to have played a role in crafting and spreading their message.

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