The real world is messy. Between aging systems, vague requirements and pending decisions, a user experience designer’s success can be compromised. This is where our skills for designing processes has to be turned inward.

Identify the problem

During most projects, you will encounter one ore more problems. Some common signals for identifying problems are:

  • A meeting that spins out of control.
  • Ambiguity with business objectives
  • Technical debt feels insurmountable
  • Your user is perceived as uniquely complex and the team has resorted to generalizations.
  • The team has trouble wrapping their heads around all the decisions to be made.
Image of VW Bug

Break it apart 

It’s important to deconstruct the the problem in order to analyze individual pieces. This helps drive more productive conversations and get to the root.

  • Dig into database structure
  • Understand the internal team’s process for supporting customers
  • Identify hacks that users have come to depend on
  • Additional tools do they use to accomplish their tasks
  • Identify untapped business opportunities
ExplodedBug trans

Put it back together

Reconstruct it using the good bits and dumping the bad. It can be difficult to remove features, but some cause more harm than good. By breaking down features to user needs, simpler solutions can often be found.

  • Enable your users to do more than thought they would be able to do
  • Eliminate tedious work for the support team and let them focus on deeper customer connections
  • Open up a new series of business opportunities
  • Challenge developers and allow them to work with newer technologies

The Application this approach varies depending on each situation. Part of the challenge is identifying the problem before going ahead with the initial ask.

Walt Disney Parks and Resort

Disney World was working on the launch of magic bands, an RFID bracket that stores your park ticket, hotel key, reservations, photos, credit and more.

Identify the problem

They wanted to allow the whole family to participate in the travel plan. The magic bands would communicate the guest’s birthday to the ride and characters would congratulate them as they passed. Product managers and legal team from ticketing, restaurant reservations, hotel booking, photo services and others were all writing use cases to be merged into one service.

Breaking it apart

  • Planning activity: How to families plan trips together? Who is involved?
  • Birthdates and other personal information: How and when do they ask for personal information that may enhance their visit?
  • Older kids and security: How do they allow teenage kids to have additional access rights.
  • Family dynamics: Cross family sharing and privacy settings were at constant odds with each other.

Putting it back together

  • Once we learned that families tended to rely on one “alpha” planner per vacation, collaboration features were simplified.
  • I introduced the concept of characters to represent a multi-family vacation group. Leveraging the characters from the Modern Family TV show as a model. The complexity and character development from the show allowed the full team to understand why privacy was needed at some moments and trust was given at others.
  • Terminology related to kids accounts was simplified as we didn’t need a special name for them. Simply using the child’s name with a restricted access call-out was sufficient.
  • Since families rely on one planner, changes and additions were all routed to that guest for approval. This mitigated potential issues on the itinerary.

Photo by Patrick Hunt on Unsplash

Withoutabox for Amazon

I was tasked with redesigning the tools film festivals use to manage and judge submissions.

Identifying the problem

The festival management system was over 10 years old and was difficult for new team members to figure out all the logic. Many features required a special set-up in order to view. Each of the film festivals clients has a unique flavor and unique requirements. As complex as the system was, festivals had already figured out how to hack it to meet their needs.

Breaking it apart

  • Understanding our users: We had feedback through customer support, but we didn’t know how festivals worked.
  • Festival lifecycle: I interviewed festivals and diagrammed their process so it could be compared with other festivals.
  • Customizability: What makes each festival unique? What about the process helps them find films that match those aspects?
  • Digging Deeper: I spent days reverse engineering the site and interviewing internal stakeholders. Documented processes as flow diagrams for deeper analysis.

Putting it back together

  • Discovered that festivals had different processes mostly because each one had to reinvent it themselves. Their uniqueness comes mostly from internal quality and theme mandates. This meant that less customization was needed, simplifying the system.
  • Many of the complexities of the legacy system came from Frankensteining over the years. Simpler interactions that have since been standardized could be used.
  • Most festivals had built their own FileMakerPro system but don’t have the internal expertise to update it. So it was important to maintain export formats.

Photo by Simon Goetz on Unsplash

HauteLook for Nordstrom

The fashion flash-sale startup needed a consistent experience across all devices. 

Identifying the problem

Through it’s evolution of maturing from a start-up to part of a well established fashion company, the team needed a systematic approach to design. While the mobile app team was much quicker than the desktop team, synchronizing the two experiences was seen as a hinderance to the internal process. Data inconsistencies between the experiences left the user unsure of their purchase and potentially affecting their trust in the brand.

Breaking it apart

  • Agility vs reliability: The app team moved quickly because they worked like a lean start-up. The desktop team moved slowly because the were cautious and methodical.
  • Data consistency: There were different types of data inconsistencies. Each one for a different reason, but most could be solved with a deliberate design.
  • Truncated content: Data truncation was random and came mostly from misguided visual appearance reasons.
  • Communication: Internal teams lacked communication. It required someone to go talk to the other team.

Putting it back together

  • Design brought the two dev teams together to learn from each other and to focus on the user rather than the process.
  • Data inconsistencies were separated out and solved individually.
    • Image viewers were synced up to allow both platforms to show the same number of images.
    • Description fields were tuned for the app to be able to show long descriptions.
    • Content sorting was defined and made consistent.
    • Truncation was outlawed under the “form follows function” mantra.
  • Internal team division was mitigated by including more teammates in the decision making process.

Photo by Kris Atomic on Unsplash