Unless you’re developing completely new services at a startup, you likely operate in a company that has accumulated numerous years of legacy design and development in its products. Even if the product you’re working on is brand spanking new, your organization will eventually have to figure out how to unify the entire product experience, either by bringing the existing products as much as par with the new or by bringing your new efforts in line with existing ones.
A fragmented product portfolio sometimes contributes to an overall broken user experience.
Understanding an organization and its users and designing the best interaction and visual system take exceptional effort. You also must communicate that system to teams that have already produced work that doesn’t align with it. This isn’t easy work. In this article, we’ll introduce you to a strategy for fixing the broken experience that starts with surface improvements, goes progressively deeper into structural issues and ends with a big organizational shift.
The Hierarchy Of Effort
Many large successful companies wind up in the situation where they need to maintain dozens, or even hundreds, of applications in their product portfolios. These huge suites are the end result of mergers, acquisitions, different groups of user needs, legacy services and contracts, and the inefficiencies that naturally develop in huge organizations. Sometimes the reasons for so many different product lines are legitimate; other times, the wide group of offerings doesn’t serve anyone’s needs particularly well. Users will often struggle to find out a suite of related products because of major differences in the way they look and operate.
The initiatives to correct these broken experiences are referred to in ambitious and somewhat generic terms, such as “common look and feel,” “unified online experience” and “unified look and feel.” Regardless of the term, the common elements represent a drive to bring consistency to a big pair of products in multiple stages of development and spearheaded with a centralized internal group. There’s a a feeling of urgency; we sometimes meet by incorporating internal resistance; and frequently we’re arrested for fixing a previous agency’s failed attempt to deliver design and guidelines that can be metabolized through the client.
The hierarchy of effort to fix a broken user experience
One effective approach begins with surface improvements, goes progressively deeper into structural issues and ends with big strategic organizational shifts. We start with the low-hanging fruit and at each and every step reach higher to develop products which will ultimately deliver great experiences. It’s worth noting this approach was developed to make it possible to get a team to create incremental improvements to products already under development, but additionally to check ahead to future releases, when rewriting code or rethinking interactions won’t be so disruptive.
If your organization is working on its first product, then this approach will be totally backward. But in the large organization with a lot of history and many products, this approach will enable you to articulate both a short-term and long-term strategy for building a product portfolio that delivers a user experience that’s learnable and builds confidence plus a portfolio that makes your work easier and much more effective.
Visual Consistency and Simplification
The lowest amount of effort required are at the bottom of the pyramid, therefore we suggest starting there. Sure, it’s lipstick on a pig, but simply having a consistent visual approach will assistance to bring many different products under a shared brand experience.
Assuming you’ve done the groundwork to articulate the style of an ideal experience, the simplest and arguably easiest way to start implementing it is to reskin the merchandise currently under development. Finding approaches to simplify and excise unnecessary information, unifying the information architecture, and adopting standard fonts, colors and controls are all relatively low-effort ways to improve existing products.
This will be the foundation. It won’t improve a poorly designed interaction, nevertheless it could dramatically increase the appearance of unity to the end user. Products that use a consistent visual language will clearly convey their membership inside a single portfolio. The benefit of improving the visual system first is the actual fact that changing or adjusting your skin of an application is a lot easier than changing items like behavior, which will demand rethinking and recoding fundamental areas of the application.
If your organization has simplified and unified the visual language, the second step is to create the behavior consistent. This is basic stuff: disciplined reuse of patterns instead of applying patterns ad hoc from a grab bag of widgets, and unifying the nomenclature and conceptual frameworks. Hopefully, any individual product will have internally consistent patterns; it’s once you examine teams of applications that were developed by different groups or obtained through acquisitions which you usually see wide discrepancies.
Assuming that the given design expresses high-level principles and provides a basic pair of pattern libraries, the goal only at that stage would be to evaluate individual products and figure out just how much work is necessary to align them. This work entails at the very least replacing widgets in certain applications. It usually also entails a decent amount of coding and testing to make certain that the revisions give rise to a consistent experience. Maintaining a shared approach and understanding will need more coordination between development groups.
Behavioral consistency can make it easier for your end user to learn a tool after which to transfer those skills when picking up related tools. The user has to create merely a single mental model of the way the applications work. This gives them confidence and enables these phones pick up new services without facing a steep learning curve and without being forced to be confused about how precisely things are done.
The prior step was done solely to align the behavior of the different products. A deeper degree of work is required to optimize the behavior and to make the applications more powerful and simpler to use.
This step reworks the products even further. It means evaluating the current products contrary to the user’s needs and goals and looking for methods to eliminate work also to simplify the patterns. This assumes some measure of design effort beforehand to recognize the areas where this will increase the risk for most difference. It assumes a commitment to user-centered product design, some research, too as personas and scenarios. Without these, you’ve got no way to decide what patterns to simplify, which work to excise, and what user needs you may anticipate and solve for.
An optimized experience enables users to execute their tasks with less or more effective work. Any work that’s performed is captured in this type of method that users aren’t asked to perform the identical task twice. Smart defaults are captured and leveraged to produce tasks flow more quickly. Where possible, shift computing work to computers, and judgements to humans. Mine data to see broader patterns and opportunities that allow the system can be expected and meet needs before they become issues.
This is when you are doing all you can to make each application the best it can be. It requires a large amount of work, with new interactions introduced and much code rewritten. A considerable investment of commitment is required.
Unified Experience Strategy
The result of the final iteration can be a set of products that do whatever they do best. The point of this iteration is always to rethink the way the suite works together. This often means rethinking product strategy.
Designing a unified experience requires looking at the important picture, reevaluating the internal product silos in the organization, and reconsidering the ideal workflow for individuals and between roles. It could lead to collapsing multiple products into one, bridging gaps with new products, eliminating redundancies in capabilities or refocusing the service. This sort of work takes deep organizational commitment along with a strong mandate. It takes long-range, instead of short-term, planning. It can’t be done quickly, and carrying it out well takes organizational honesty and courage.
The real beneficiary of this type of effort may be the end user, because this product strategy is user-centered. The company recognizes that the item exists to help people perform their work and that they might use other tools and services to accomplish their goals. Users don’t exist in isolation; they share work with others. Success isn’t measured by how well they perform a task, in how competently they traverse a complex and dynamic ecosystem of people, data, devices and services. When a company brings their manufacturer product line to this stage, both the corporation and the product line happen to be transformed.
All of the prior steps were directed at fixing a broken user experience. By following them as an iterative path, it becomes possible to greatly improve a severely broken user experience. The way to avoid being forced to continue this cycle inside a several years is to transform the organization itself. Software and services are conceived and developed in a particular organizational culture, and also this includes a profound effect around the products. Products taken from an engineering-oriented organization bear the unmistakable focus on technology; services with a focus on sales deeply communicate this; and products that come out of organizations with a UX bent cannot avoid their focus on a good user experience.
If you need to repeatedly deliver a great user experience, you must go deeper than applying design to the surface. Your organization needs to comprehend and agree to making user experience a core priority. Executives have to guide or advocate for the unique perspective that design brings; capable designers have to work for a user-centered approach; along with a user-centered method of building things has being integrated to the organization.
A great user experience rarely just happens. Understanding an individual and keeping their demands as your priority throughout the design and development stages take deliberate effort. Products and services are produced by teams of people who collaborate to bring a thought to life. The output is ultimately shaped by the agreements in what is important, the strategy of performing the job and decisions on the way to measure things. A transfer of organizational culture takes the most effort as well as the longest time, however it results inside the largest, most pervasive and most coherent shift — not only for your organization and its products, but also for those who use them.
Isn’t This All Backwards?
“But wait,” you’re thinking. “Isn’t this all backwards? Shouldn’t you design the complete system around the right workflow, optimize the behavior within it, make sure it’s consistent with other products, and lastly make sure it’s visually easy and clear?” Yes. Yes, you should, particularly if you’re building a completely new product.
But we view again and again that few large companies really hold the ability to clear the table, start using a clean slate and build something utterly new and great. Most start using a line of items that cannot be abandoned. They have applications that are supported by various teams around the world, perhaps owned by different subsidiaries and in several states of compliance. While you can design the ideal experience, you can’t just build it. Moving toward something whose design really delivers will take many iterations. This situation isn’t great, but it’s the reality. When you end up here, you can’t boil the ocean. You have to begin somewhere. In our experience, starting at the underside is a very practical method to move forward.