Putting the sass in SaaS (sorry)

An Austin Ventures backed SaaS product was looking for exploratory design research around how to grow their UI services. Their current UI paradigm seemed to be frustrating users. They were seeing bottlenecks in adoption and in their ability to add much needed features. 

Toughest challenges
Their UI was something that had grown from an MVP and contained many mis-used and (frankly) abused interaction schemes that testing revealed were adding unwelcome cognitive overhead for users. Secondly, the team I would be interacting with is the same that built the application making each recommendation potentially politically charged. 

The challenge as stated above was to clarify the changes needed to move the application forward while creating allies internally. My first order of business was to establish a clear list of gaps between the current UI and user expectations. I did this with a highlight reel from hours of remote qualitative interviews. The highlight reel helped the team to see first hand the issues users were having. This depersonalized the issues and made them real to the team. Once this was well established, we then developed an order of importance for the recognized gaps. Once the order was established I set out wire-framing the proposed solutions which were then iteratively tested and then implemented. 

Key concept
Trying to force change without establishing empathy can be a mine field. There is no substitute for empathy. When you do the work to establish true empathy within a team, as a UX Leader, your work becomes much easier and with a significantly greater chance at success. 

A wide range of tools were employed in this engagement. I generally start with an 8x8’ whiteboard writing out all that is known about the current challenges. Following with some competitive research and notation I will write the user interview script. I will then execute the interviews via Gotomeeting and summarize each interview with a video highlight reel and a powerpoint deck to share the research findings with the team. When I am sure the findings are well socialized and understood by all key stakeholders, I will then start in on the sketches using Omnigraffle and Axure. The sketches will be finalized as interactive wireframes in Axure, annotated and delivered to the client. 

Business process software or SaaS is a special animal. It has a very low burden of proof in that the user is highly motivated to do what they need to do to complete their task. Many companies rely on this as part of their design criteria allowing for difficult and or frustrating UX in the B2B sector. This is how we have sites that require hours of training. As a UX Practitioner, I do not find this to be acceptable. I think all software should “just work”. There is much work to do. 

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