Sunday, April 6, 2008

Making the Redesign Case

Previously, I wrote about the old version of Sampa and how I came to the conclusion that it was necessary to create a completely new UI. But I still had to make the case for such a radical redesign and I didn't have the time (or the money) to run usability tests or create a variety of designs that I could compare. But, I did have a few things going for me:

  • There was quite a bit of data about what people had used and not used in the old Sampa. Marcelo's built quite a stats engine. Of course, the data has to be taken with a grain of salt, but if something was particularly hard to do and users went through the pain anyway, I could pretty much assume it was valuable. I knew we needed to prune the interface and focus on the key features for our customers.
  • There was a decent understanding of the target market -- probably as good an understanding as you can expect without the benefit of hindsight (it's always easier then!).
  • There had been a lot of research about competitors and potential competitors and even some non-competitors. This enabled me to make a much shorter pass through them than would have otherwise been possible.
  • Someone else had created a partial, rough proposal for the UI that went in the direction of making it look more like a standard Windows or Mac application. My inclination was to move in the opposite direction and seeing a fleshed-out version of the system as an app helped solidify my opinion.
  • Finally, I knew I didn't have to create the final art itself. I was going to be able to work at the conceptual level and there were graphic designers who would make it look beautiful. This saved me a lot of time.
I quickly set out some primary goals for the new user experience. As much as possible, we would:
  • ... accommodate easy exploration and provide users with the ability to tinker.
  • ... give users both instant gratification and the ability to procrastinate.
  • ... give users a warm feeling and a feeling of ownership.
  • ... provide for both incremental construction and re-entrancy.
I also concluded:
  • All editing and site management would be in context, but not in place. At all times, site owners would see the site pretty much like their visitors would see it.
  • We would provide instant (one-click) access to the top things that users wanted to do.
  • We would organize the UI around the way users think of their site.
This was all fine and good, but, in order to do the next step, I had to go out on a limb. Basically, I had to design (almost) the whole experience in order to show what it could be. If I couldn't do that, how could I convince anybody that it was viable? Even though I didn't have to create the final art, it had to look good enough to make the points and not be distracting. So, I did what any reasonable person would do -- I went home, closed the door to my home office, and spent a solid week drawing and redrawing until I was happy.

And the result? Not only was the redesign given a go, but the design was solid enough that we were able to proceed with implementation and final graphical design in parallel. Coming up, I'll talk more about the new design itself.

Here are two unmodified mockups from the set that I drew in those first two weeks, along with similar screen snapshots of the current live UI, plus one bonus image of the new UI.


sblom said...

Each one of the "primary goals for the new user experience" that you list above sounds like it could be an entire post.

(Even if you don't spin up that series, I'd appreciate help understanding what you mean by "procrastinate" and "re-entrancy" in these particular contexts.)