Participatory Design Helps Users Embrace Change

 


CHALLENGE:

Team was looking for a way to make dramatic changes to a deeply entrenched administrative interface without alienating long-term users

SOLUTION:

A consulting engagement that combined rapid-prototyping and participatory design sessions led to an iteratively designed “best of both worlds” interface

RESULT:

The team was able to take a fully-functional prototype to conferences and sales meetings months in advance of launch


Case Study:
It is always an ego boost to see your work in public when you create external facing interfaces, yet I have a soft spot for internal facing designs, which tend to be overlooked and under-funded in almost all circumstances. So when Intuit contacted me about designing an administrative portal that would bring together a suite of tools that required their most profitable customers to login to 30 separate applications, I was eager for the chance.

The project began with an over-arching challenge, which was to propose a new information architecture and top-level navigation scheme for the new portal. After the successful completion of that work, we moved on to a deep dive redesign of a specific piece of functionality within the portal, a tool to manage marketing messages and offers within online banking and billpay functions for regional banks and credit unions.

To propose the new IA we conducted interviews with internal stakeholders and then ran both an open and closed card-sort.

When it came to the portal redesign there was general agreement that users would be able to tolerate the “discomfort” associated with big interface changes because of the associated benefit of a long-desired single sign-on. To propose the new IA we conducted interviews with internal stakeholders and then ran both an open and closed card-sort. We conducted the open card-sort with moderated sessions so that we could probe for thought process and clarify intention. This was followed by a larger number of un-moderated sessions, a round of iteration and a second (un-moderated) closed sort.

Following the card sorting analysis we proposed a new information architecture with six top-level categories: Administration, Communications, Implementation, Marketing, Products, Support & Training. There was strong buy-in from the broader team who felt that their content could be appropriately slotted into one of these categories and were excited that we had feedback from users suggesting that they categorization and labeling made sense to them in context.

Moving into the deeper IA for the Marketing area, we began to work on a complete redesign for the “Marketing Insight Manager” application, which supported banking clients in serving a combination of in-house marketing messages and “canned” campaigns from Intuit to their online banking and billpay customers.

This redesign was more sensitive because a large portion of the audience had used the tool for a long time and were very familiar with its quirks. Additionally, these administrators were time-pressed and using the tool was a small (but important) part of a hectic and demanding role where the users interacted with a large number of applications on a daily basis.

The Marketing Insight team was confident that they could deliver a far superior user-interface. That said, there was concern that users would be frustrated and overwhelmed by having so much change between the new portal and the new application—and that some users would be slow to embrace some enhanced functions, which had a strong information visualization component.

I proposed a participatory design exercise in which we would work with the in-house team to flesh out a new interface.

I proposed a participatory design exercise in which we would work with the in-house team to flesh out a new interface in a rudimentary fashion and then would work iteratively with representative users to simultaneously explain our goals, get their input and answer their question, learning and refining as we went. We moved quickly from wireframe sketches in Balsamiq to a light PHP based prototype that could be rapidly updated.

Participatory design sessions were conducted with seven representative users. The sessions were moderated remotely with the participants accessing an online version of the prototype. The prototype was tweaked after the first 2 sessions and then after subsequent sessions as needed.

Working with end users and asking them to actively collaborate with us in the redesign was a new experience, as I have typically interacted with users as either a researcher, pre-design, or a usability expert, post-design (even if very early in the design cycle). Despite having been the one to propose the approach to the client, I had some misgivings about how effective the process would prove. In one or two of the sessions some of my initial concerns were played out with the participants being unable to move outside their mental model of the current application; however in most of the sessions the participants were active contributors who really helped us to a richer understanding of their needs and expectations and who proposed excellent ideas.

Over a three month period we were able to move from a series of rudimentary sketches to a largely functional prototype of the new application.

We were able to move from a series of rudimentary sketches to a largely functional prototype of the new app in just 12 weeks. Guidance from end-users engendered confidence in the final design and the prototype served as a tool for educating customers about the forthcoming design changes well in advance of the release of the new portal.

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