3 key takeaways from HPE Labs

Find out about my experiences and key learnings during an eight-month contract as lead designer on two major projects at Hewlett-Packard Labs in Bristol.

One of my most recent projects entailed spending eight months as the lead designer at HPE Labs, a security and management company in Bristol, to bring the user interface (UI) of their management dashboard right up to date.

As a rich and varied role, it seems only fitting that I share some key aspects of the experience to provide some insight into the way I work.

The contract itself was split into two projects: Loom and the Executive Dashboard. Whilst the former required an improvement to an existing UI, the latter was a from-the-ground-up task that required the development of a brand-new dashboard in line with the modern brand guidelines.

HPE’s developers and engineers had been working on the project for four years prior to my arrival and they hadn’t collaborated with a designer until that point. Enter the onboarding process.

A project seldom starts with you — understand its past

It was important for me to get to grips with the project and its past as quickly as possible — after all, I was the one who was furthest away from the inception of the idea at this stage.

If a project has been on-going for four years, it’s important to ask as many questions as you can to get up to speed with the team and its thinking.

It transpired that serious limitations with the existing UI were at the core of the project, so I had to ensure that I could bring its focus back onto the users and their high expectations of UIs in 2017 and beyond.

In the end, it was only by understanding the project’s past and the limitations that held it up that I could work to develop a revolutionary new user experience (UX) with a completely new and intuitive UI made for touch and large-screen displays.

Collaborate, collaborate, collaborate

None of that would have been possible if either I didn’t integrate with the project team or the team weren’t receptive to my questions. They brought a designer on for a reason, so that could only be conducive to a positive outcome.

Collaboration for designers works two ways and the creative process must be flowing. This doesn’t just mean with developers and engineers; it means close collaboration with the brand police as well when it comes to brand guidelines. If we don’t stick to them from the off, we’re sent back to the drawing board when we send our work for approval.

The importance of taking your time

Of course, deadlines normally dictate our approach to ‘taking our time’, but there is a lot to be said for genuine, on-the-spot testing with real users. This is exactly what we did with the Loom and Executive Dashboard UIs for HPE.

I was lucky enough to be working in the same building as the people who would be using the UI I was designing after I’d left, so we had the privilege of immediate testing and feedback to inform our decisions.

It’s not always possible to take your time with such an iterative approach, but when you do get the chance, make the most of it.

Ultimately, my eight months at HPE Labs gave me a great opportunity to grow and develop as a designer outside of the usual agency environment. I was humbled by the belief and trust that the team put in me from the off and was impressed by the fact that they create the sort of environment in which like-minded creatives can thrive.

It really allows for a more desirable outcome if everyone works together, but it starts with the first steps you take into the office as a freelancer if everyone is going to be on and remain on the same side.

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