The Future of Textbooks

Top Hat had a vision for university textbooks. In the print world, textbook publishers would release updated editions every few years. Top Hat's digital textbooks could evolve much faster, collecting live feedback and data from our users, and updating as frequently as possible.

The Challenge

Define the vision and flow of updates for Top Hat's digital textbooks, conduct research with authors and instructors, and work with product and engineering to create a new authoring platform.

My Role

Senior Product Designer
Working with the product and content teams.

Defining the vision

In order to realize this vision, a textbook author would need a way to push periodic updates to the professors using the textbooks.

Once notified, the adopters could update their local copies, delivering the best possible material to their students.

Understanding our users

There are many different people using content in Top Hat, so reaching out to a diverse group of users was the best way to get early reactions to what we were proposing.

Interviews and wireframes

During these interviews, I showed our users simple wireframes of how content updates might look. Wireframes helped the users understand how updates would work within the platform, provoking out some interesting reactions.

To make content updates work, there were three key factors we needed to address.


In order to deliver timely updates, our authors would need a new workflow and a way of pushing updates through the Top Hat platform.

Our mission was to disrupt the traditionally slow process of updating textbooks with a faster, more iterative model similar to app development, but we learned from our users that we shouldn't go too fast.


Instructors liked the idea of textbook updates, but not while they were focused on teaching. They felt it would be confusing and disruptive for the content to change while class was in session.

To get instructors to adopt the updates, we would need to catch them in the sweet spot between courses.


Most instructors made no or minimal updates to their textbooks. Accepting the updates was going to be no problem.

However, we also had a dedicated group of power users who made heavy customizations and had become attached to their version of the text. In order to get the benefits of updates, these power users would need to see a breakdown of what was going to change.

Solutions and Prototypes

I created high fidelity of designs of different layouts for updates. Rigorous usability testing with authors and instructors helped determine how best to display the incoming updates.

The ideal solution

The final design was a two part solution. A modal provides a overview of the updates and provides reassurance that conflicts will not occur. If the user wishes to fine tune the update, a secondary UI allows them to sort, accept and reject individual changes.

This design was chosen because it proved simple and digestable for our casual users, while offering a more sophisticated experience for our power users.