International organizations aren’t always driven by invoicing and revenue. This means that the initial “why?” might not be well defined. Leadership might have good reasons why a product has to be (re)developed but we can’t rely on abstract or hierarchical motives only. Business objectives should always be defined, and shared with those who join a project along the way.
During initial workshops, I tried to identify the core of the objectives, but the environment wasn’t ready to define strategic goals. Tactical goals were defined instead.
The old systems have been used for many years and valuable information regarding user behaviour has been stored in back-alleys of databases. I wanted to get a good overview of behavioural patterns. The systems contain many documents, reports and filter functionalities and various user roles have different objectives.
The information gathered in the data analysis phase has been used in various subsequent steps. Combining raw data and user interviews allowed us to define an elaborate list of user types with different motivations. This list could be reduced by grouping overlapping characteristics into a list of 5 personas.
The old systems were part of the user’s daily routine, but their experiences were unknown by the product team. We shadowed two dozen domain experts from all departments. This resulted in a clear overview of strengths and weaknesses of current systems including pain-point map. In addition, it gave as a deep understanding of how our users work, and how much they still rely on printed paperwork.
CERN isn’t subject to any domestic or international laws. This means that business processes are highly specific and often complex. I organised a workshop where various domain experts could collaborate to define processes, assets and roles and the relation between them. Participants impressed each other by showing how well they knew particular domains. “I didn’t know you knew that.”
CERN’s culture can be hierarchal and top-down. This results in team members relying on decisions from their superiors. They sometimes underestimate how much they have to offer. It’s essential to create an environment in which everyone feels at ease to share their ideas and can contribute to the product direction. Various ideation sessions allowed me to collect ideas from developers and external stakeholders.
It’s understandable that specialists take established structures for granted. The organisation of personal data is well understood within the administrative departments but less clear to new arrivals or non-administrative people. Cart sorting enabled me to convince key stakeholders that their understanding of categorisation is not always the same as that of the day-to-day user.
CERN didn’t have a UI design strategy. This created a great opportunity. Many applications have similar scopes so, in parallel with this – and a few other projects – I worked on a design pattern library. This allowed me to combine insights from the various projects and to combine user tests to see which design choices would be most suitable.
Designing data-driven financial and HR screens means that much of the feedback is related to data validity and efficiency. I choce to let the initial paper prototype phase have an emphasis on content: is the right content there and is the content right? Printed screens allowed the participants to draw on the mockups and share how they would solve particular challenges.
The first rounds of video tests had a focus on assessing the interaction design and usability of the main elements. This created an opportunity to target a different persona. This persona had a less deep knowledge of CERN’s internal world but gave us great insights in where we had to improve the UX of our MVP.
Our first MVP used several out-of-the-box components that didn’t perform well. We didn’t have the luxury to spend much time on redeveloping a new prototype so I created a “static interactive” prototype. I just needed to know where users would click to see which elements they would use. This way, I could test and redesign some elements with limited time, and without the support of developers.
I used paper prototypes to improve the financial reports. I found that giving the users a chance to draw on the printed pages was an effective way to work on specific details.
The data in the screenshots is confidential so the images are blurred. On the left, you see the initial version. The right image shows the design after interviewing more than 10 domain experts.