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A Global Platform for Design Education

Autodesk Design Academy

Building a high performance site for the next generation of designers, engineers, and makers.

Autodesk is a leader in 3D design, engineering and entertainment software. To help drive the future of innovation, Autodesk gives their software away to students and educators around the world. The Autodesk Design Academy platform supports this initiative by providing a space where users can create, share, and collaborate on content.

Designing a place for the next generation of innovators to share and learn

The Autodesk team envisioned a digital space where students could master the Autodesk software. To do this, the team needed a site that could let students:

  • Access online materials for self-directed learning.
  • Interact with different types of shareable media.
  • Create portfolios where they could showcase their work and receive feedback.

To achieve these goals, Autodesk's previous learning platform was rebuilt and rebranded as Autodesk Design Academy. But the new site ran into scaling challenges, and frequent vendor changes only contributed to the trouble. A colleague referred FFW to the team, and after a proposal was presented, work began.

Various devices on Autodesk site

Improving the user experience for everyone

To start, FFW built out several sorely-needed new community features. At the same time, they updated and cleaned up the back-end. An audit identified 10 key problems with the site, and FFW proposed an agile workflow solution with tasks, sprints, and measurable improvements.

FFW began by solving the 10 key problems over the course of one quarter, resulting in a 300% increase in site performance. The changes and cleanup meant that the FFW team was able to deliver new features in half the time estimated by previous vendors.

Simplifying the process of adding new content

Empowering the Design Academy team to have ownership of their site content was one of the project’s top goals. The Design Academy site was originally built so that pages followed a rigid layout. This meant that a development team needed to help with any content modifications beyond making changes to text.

To fix this problem, FFW worked with Autodesk Design Academy to develop a flexible page builder. The new solution allows the Design Academy team to create and customize pages without needing technical help, and is being used to rebuild every page designed with the old system.

Autodesk Design Academy site on an iPad

Better server performance

Autodesk Design Academy is a learning platform where all 100,000 users can upload content. But even with a cleaned-up back end, the system couldn't scale as needed when it came to managing files. So the Design Academy team and FFW migrated the Design Academy site onto a more flexible solution, and built a better way of storing large files.

To make sure that the site wasn't slowed down by content uploads and downloads, FFW built an abstracted file system. The site and the files are stored separately on the hosting server, but work together to provide a single, seamless experience.

Integrating information from elsewhere

Autodesk's main blog site, Redshift, is well-known globally, and runs on Wordpress. The Autodesk Design Academy Team wanted the ability to use Redshift's content for educational purposes, so FFW built a Wordpress-Drupal importer. It allows the Design Academy site to pull content from the Redshift site, and display that content on the Design Academy site. This allows the content team to easily reuse popular design content to support their educational goals.

Overhead view of woman on Autodesk siteImage of a formula one car designed in Autodesk software

Measuring program impact

To help the Autodesk Design Academy team evaluate whether they were achieving their KPIs, the FFW team built out an internal user analytics system. It provides performance data around activities on the site, and can generate reports on three million records at a time.

Users can compile advanced data on user behavior in visually-appealing reports, which are now used by many different Autodesk Education programs worldwide to measure various initiatives.

Achieving their goals

Autodesk Design Academy’s new platform is now helping the Design Academy team achieve their goals. Adopting a truly agile system and embracing an embedded team structure means that the Autodesk Design Academy team gets the updates they want as soon as they want them.

Since contracting with FFW, Autodesk Design Academy’s success metrics have shot up:

  • 125x error decrease
  • 40% more efficient servers
  • 183% faster page load
  • 276% improvement in server performance
  • The number of site modules was cut in half (from ~500 to ~250)
  • Site files are stored in a separate repository and can no longer interfere with site performance
  • For high-traffic events, the site is able to gracefully handle large spikes

Beyond being satisfied with their technical improvements, Autodesk Design Academy is also thrilled with the customer service they’ve received from FFW. FFW has been a strong partner in determining site strategy, and in a 24-hour work cycle, Autodesk Design Academy counts on FFW to bring in team members from 5 different countries to bear on one problem.

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