A few years ago, we recognized that we could do better when it came to the user experience of our products. We formed a design team, hiring user researchers, product designers, and front-end engineers. We got to work improving processes and building a suite of tools to help us work efficiently and effectively. We established product design principles, design guidelines, and built an all-new design system we call ProgressUI. Working with product leadership, we changed the product development process to incorporate design and user feedback early and often. These changes have helped us push the design and experience of our product forward and we’ve learned a lot.
Establish Principles, Guidelines, and a Design System
First things first - we analyzed our own internal team process. How could we make research, exploration, ideation, testing, and prototyping more efficient and effective? Standardization of our resources, styles, and tools was a great first step. We developed ProgressUI to define a common visual language for our products. With this new resource, we’re able to generate designs with consistent layouts, components, and language. By using integrated tools like Sketch and InVision we can quickly stand up ideas for our colleagues and clients. We also established a set of design principles to guide our work.
Have a Kickoff Meeting
Before any project begins, key stakeholders including product managers, designers and the team lead developer gather for a formal kickoff to review the big questions: What problem are we excited about solving, who are we solving it for, and why? This gives everyone the opportunity to discuss concerns and assumptions, provide expertise in their own areas, and document follow up questions. This meeting is our chance to create an open atmosphere for all to feel involved and comfortable with the next steps in the process.
Talk to Users
It’s important for us to let users speak openly and honestly in our interviews and usability tests. As designers, we need to understand our users’ motivations, needs, and complex day-to-day activities so that we can advocate for the best experience possible. We also need to translate that feedback into core problems to solve. While a user might request “X”, there may be a different solution that would solve not only their problem, but a variety of other needs for our users. It’s our job to observe and translate those take-aways for the rest of the product team.
Create Visuals Early On
No matter how descriptive we are verbally, a sketch, wireframe, or prototype always ensures that everyone has a common understanding of a possible solution. “Dashboard” might evoke a completely different meaning for each person on a team. Diving into visuals early helps generate more thoughtful conversations and raises questions that might have remained buried. Having conversations facilitated by visuals ensures that we can avoid surprises when a development team finally begins work.
Create Feedback Loops
A linear path is rarely taken. We have to communicate, circle back, and refine ideas to make sure that the final product is the best possible solution for our users. By emphasizing checkpoints and milestones for each project, we can step away from our work and trigger a natural feedback loop with our colleagues and clients. This allows us to iterate quickly and effectively, all while keeping the team up-to-date with the latest feedback, findings, and solutions.
Our team has found success applying this process to new features, including Sidebar, Dashboard, and our Engagement and Development platforms. We’re excited to turn our attention to existing core features as we work to improve the overall user experience of our products. ProgressUI will see big changes as we continue to refine our look and feel to follow modern standards, and other existing functionality will see usability improvements in the coming months. We’ve learned a lot from this experience and look forward to continuing to improve our products for you, our users.