Rocket MultiValue and User Experience Design
Back in the 80’s, when I started in software UX, this discipline was not well-developed. For example, what made sense to the developer was really confusing to the user (Q. Anyone wonder why the UNIX ‘vi’ command has many shortcuts that you can do with one hand? A. So the programmer could eat pizza at the same time!). Is this the ultimate UX design – fitting keyboard shortcuts to how programmers wanted to experience their keyboard or is this the very first emergence of design for accessibility in today’s world?
Fast forward to Windows and other WIMP (Windows, Icons, Mice and Pointers) interfaces (Lisa anyone?). This is when UX and UI blurred in conversations and exchanges. Much being facilitated through this new thing called the Internet (about the same time Donald Norman from Apple came up with User Experience Architect in his job title). But for those who don’t want to be doomed to repeat history, I suggest we look at Feng Shui as the earliest example of UX some 6,000 years ago.
Keep your finger on the fast-forward button to today and we can see UX has now evolved to a fully-fledged movement, encompassing not just how something looks (UI) but also how we design software based on making it a more consumable experience. (Wikipedia says User Experience Design is the process of manipulating user behavior through usability, usefulness, and desirability provided in the interaction with a product. User experience design encompasses traditional human–computer interaction (HCI) design and extends it by addressing all aspects of a product or service as perceived by users).
So how do we start changing the way we design software here at Rocket? We’re investing heavily in UX, appointing UX leads at every level (Director, Architect and Designers) and integrating them into our Agile processes to transform the User Experience for our customers. We’re quickly finding that UX practices are universal and relevant across all product lines, so we have implemented a “UX Guild” at Rocket to help drive consistent approaches and share ideas and thoughts across the various product teams. Because it’s a great, short read, I’d like to point you to a recent blog post from our Director of User Experience, Kimberley Anderson.
Now, back to our MultiValue world and how we’re bringing UX into the design of our future MultiValue Experiences (MVX). I’ll start with our discovery process which involves analysis of user research. This research allows us to understand what problem our users are trying to solve and what features they would like to see in our product. Implementing the discovery process has allowed the MultiValue team to keep sight of what the user actually wants, not just what we think they need. Instead of creating personas (a typical user) we use our customer base to pull out wants and desires and then implement our desires with the customers’ needs.
Once user research is conducted and the MultiValue team has confirmed a summary of intrinsic and extrinsic user motivators, we proceed with the wire framing process. With tools like Balsamiq and Azure – we attach imagery to the needs and wants of our customers. By doing so, we create visualizations of our research to hand off to our development team. Imagery is powerful in the UX design process because we can not only affirm the needs of our users, but we also get a first glimpse into the UI platform that correlates heavily with the UX design. By laying out our intentions for the Application Platform, we can start to see the end goal including if the User Experience we’ve created is intuitive.
Why does the MultiValue team take the time to travel through the UX design process? The answer is empathy. As one of the pillars of Rocket we always put our customers first. The UX design process is part of what allows us to “see ourselves from the customer’s perspective”, to continually act in their favor, and it drives us to create intrinsic value through intuition.
Testing the prototypes is the final step before production. Created in Axure, prototyping allows us to touch and feel the platform prior to development. Here, we are confirming intuitive actions to see if we address the customer fully through an empathetic lens. We set aside extra time for the internal team (consisting of support representatives, developers, engineers and product managers) to discuss the platform options that are presented through previous prototyping. We discuss internally and tweak the wireframes. Once we are satisfied that the direction we are heading in is transparent, intuitive and accessible, we move into development.
From a Product Manager’s perspective, although it feels we work on similar task at times, having UX designers on your team is a game changer. As a PM, we are usually juggling multiple projects at once, bouncing from meeting-to-meeting, forever contextually switching, and just tracking way too many things that need to be updated or coordinated across stakeholders. So, having a dedicated resource that can spend cycles to observe, empathize, and really understand our customers, is extremely helpful in ensuring product success. I’ve found that some of the best UX designers can saturate products with feeling.
In my opinion, while we all like to say that it’s just business, those products that make us feel are the ones that drive purchasing decisions. For example, customers who recently participated in an alpha test for one of our products were absolutely elated that the flow in the product was frictionless. Every interaction, every step, data representation, and progress within the application was simple. They had no need to look at a pdf or call support. The product experience was easy to use, smooth, and a memorable one that delivered on its promise without fuss or being overbearing. That is hard to do, and its only after spending hours and hours refining their art, keeping up with the ever-changing world of design, and culture R&D teams can make a product that makes the user feel good and keep them coming back for more.
So, in short while a Product Manager may come up with the idea or concept, and the Developers may create the product, the heart and soul are imbued only through a UX designer’s eyes.