UX Transformations
Re-imagining the user experience

Communications Manager

Trideum’s User Experience (UX) team was tasked with the redesign of the human machine interface of our client’s Unified Voice Management System (UVMS). The effort intends to transform existing capabilities into a modular, highly scalable interface that allows the user(s) to configure, access, and manage communications services to enable military interoperability across all echelons.
Vision: Easy and enjoyable to use, the Communications Manager empowers experienced communications operators to rapidly build complex multi-hub mission communication programs for in-field use; inexperienced personnel easily learn, adopt and increase skill without confusing language or legacy knowledge. Multi-network communication problems are eliminated, and mission communications are successful and easily adaptable across a range of scenarios.

1 Understanding The User

The most critical aspect of any experience design is understanding the user(s) – what goals are they trying to achieve and what types of scenarios do they encounter while using a product? How do they differ by user type? And, when re-imagining the user experience – how might things be improved or aspired to? There were three primary user groups that were identified for the Communications Manager:
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Integrators

Our principal target group – these are thoughtful decision-makers who integrate the system across users.
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Administrators

Educators stationed in the U.S. and responsible for initial setup.
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FSRs (Field Service Reps)

Non-military contractors embedded within units in the field and tasked with troubleshooting.

User Concerns

Often, the various problems a user may encounter in an existing product provide the very inspiration needed to re-imagine a future product. Here are a few the high level concerns our users faced:
  • Inconsistent naming conventions. This contributed to high levels of confusion and cognitive overload; errors were common.
  • Wayfinding and discoverability. The inability to locate necessary items in the midst of complicated workflows contributed to errors and frustration.
  • Heavy training requirements. Legacy users with significant experience could navigate the system - but new or inexperienced operators were encumbered with heavy training requirements that took a long time to learn.
  • Lack of error recovery. The system didn’t provide for easy identification or resolution of errors - and many went unaddressed.

2 Guiding Principles

When designing a user experience, it’s beneficial to establish guiding principles to check against throughout the process – these are derived from the vision and awareness of key usability issues that will play a key role in a successful outcome.
  • Inconsistent naming conventions. This contributed to high levels of confusion and cognitive overload; errors were common.
  • Wayfinding and discoverability. The inability to locate necessary items in the midst of complicated workflows contributed to errors and frustration.
  • Heavy training requirements. Legacy users with significant experience could navigate the system--but new or inexperienced operators were encumbered with heavy training requirements that took a long time to learn.
  • Lack of error recovery. The system didn’t provide for easy identification or resolution of errors -- and many went unaddressed.

3 Inspiration

User concerns are most important when designing an experience, but inspiration can come from anywhere and in many forms –  here are few of ours:
Research

Research

Nielsen’s 10 Usability Heuristics for User Interface Design: To better understand the nuances of the system, our research team received a week of training on how to use the system in addition to conducting observations on user training and testing. Following this, a heuristic evaluation was conducted to identify usability issues in the legacy system and guide discovery research activities.

Heuristic evaluations are a quick and structured approach to review a design against a set of usability standards. In this case, we modified Nielsen’s 10 Usability Heuristics for User Interface Design to fit our goals.

Once high-level pain-points were identified, a variety of discovery activities (interviews, affinity diagramming, card sorts, and cognitive walk-throughs) were conducted with each individual user group to explore user needs and use cases for the primary workflows and key system features.

Tools

Tools

Adobe Creative Cloud: Tools can make or break the design process. And not only design, but the documentation and sharing of designs across teams are also impacted. For our purposes, we relied heavily on the wide range of tools in Adobe Creative Cloud – which also offers secure services for sensitive domains.

In our project, we primarily used Adobe Illustrator for the actual product design and Adobe XD for documentation, sharing and feedback. Although XD is built for a certain amount of design, we relied on Adobe Illustrator to do the heavy lifting for drawing hubs, nodes, and network icons.

Adobe XD greatly reduced documentation and sharing of the designs – with great automated features in the developer and designer modes that allowed us to bypass the manual creation of specs for colors, fonts, and sizes – which XD provides automatically.

Color

Color

Interaction of Color by Josef Albers: The introduction of color into an otherwise mostly gray palette of the previous tool was critical to creating a more inviting user experience – and getting the right contrast levels and color harmony was important. Colors needed to work well within a general office lighting environment. And some users preferred a dark palette – our solution was to design for general office lighting along with a night theme to ensure wide adoption of the tool.

In our design process we found lots of inspiration and color theory information based on the work of Josef Albers Interaction of Color – one of the most influential books on color ever written. The app, based on this book, was a great tool for understanding color theory, trying color experiments, and sharing color combinations.

4 Designing For Simplicity

Our goal for this product was to design for simplicity – so that even new users could easily understand and use the product. Primary pain points of the legacy product centered around complicated or poor heuristics, lack of intuitive work-flow, and confusing terminology – ultimately creating a product that was complicated to use and mostly functional for experienced legacy users. Of key concern was that users were unable to quickly visualize relational connections between devices and networks. By designing to common visual diagramming mental models, the user experience was greatly simplified and cognitive loads were reduced – and new users could more easily adopt.

The screens below show a few examples from the legacy product through iteration and completion:

Before

Legacy configuration environment: Multiple hubs and devices are managed and connected with discrete settings for each.
Legacy switch: Example of a switch configuration tool used to match devices to specific channels on discrete devices.

Iterating

Early phase iteration: Effective design processes include multiple rounds of user testing to ensure usability. This iterative view displays an early phase redesign of the main configuration environment – reflecting the use of visual diagram mental models in the connection framework of hubs, devices, and networks. Additional mental modeling conventions were demonstrated with the dial-shaped switch configuration tool.

After

Final switch design: This final switch design incorporated user testing feedback with an improved labeling system and modification of some of the discrete controls.

Simplifying Common Task Flows

Directed work flows: Many users struggled with understanding and progressing through numerous common workflows. The redesign of the system provided clear work flow paths at a high level that could be initiated from the home page. And, through user research, new capabilities were added, such as building configurations from templates.
Start or new configuration.

Start or new configuration. When tested, most new users didn’t now how to begin or complete a new configuration in the legacy system. Although a wizard was available, many skipped this due to usability problems. The redesign made this a clear path directly from the home page - and was key for new users.

Quick start.

Quick start. The majority of users for this product mostly needed to modify an existing communication configuration. To facilitate speedy access, users could enter their IP address directly from the home page to begin this work flow.

Build with templates.

Build with templates. Based on user research, it was found that many users desired a faster way to create a communication configuration; templates based on common configurations were added as a new capability to support this desired user feature.

5 Lessons Learned

Once a project is completed, some aspects bear making note of and continuing forward in other user experiences. Here are some of ours:
  • Allow legacy knowledge to inform the experience, but always consider the new user when designing a product – make it easy to adopt and simple to use.
  • Avoid complicated terminology wherever possible.
  • Incorporate common mental models to support easier user adoption.
Need a UX Transformation?  Contact us at UX@trideum.com
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More about our process
The Trideum user experience process is designed to enable understanding of user concerns, pain points, and goals – and to ultimately transform the user experience. You can read more about our process in the Trideum UX 2020 Transformation Guide.