While working at Prezi as a Product Designer, I ideated, prototyped, designed, tested, and delivered a new product for giving presentations to a remote audience.
I led the design process, and coordinated UX researchers and engineers under significant time pressure for the release of Prezi Business, a new presentation tool for sales professionals.
The problem: ‘Prezis just don’t work with screensharing’
Screensharing makes Prezi’s famous zooming interactions too blurry and laggy to be usable. To address this, Prezi Classic already included a feature for collaborating and presenting remotely. However, it was inadequate — especially for the new audience of demanding sales professionals . We needed to find a better way.
The goal: Invent a screen sharing alternative for sales professionals
Sales executives are power users of screensharing and remote presenting tools. Our new product needed to work under pressure, in stressful situations. It also needed to deliver a friction-free viewing experience for their clients. We aimed at driving repeat use among among professional users by inspiring confidence.
Our Approach: hacking the design process
To hit the deadline, we needed to adapt our standard process without reducing confidence in our decisions.
We succeeded by adopting a mix of techniques that made crossfunctional collaboration work efficiently and aligned internal expectations around a modular MVP, that could support its demanding user’s needs from day one.
Design Hack n. 1: unblock the engineers first, iterate later
A co-designed product architecture to run parallel work streams
To deliver the product in time, engineering could be on hold until the end of the design process. At the same time, we did not want to blindly start producing without a clear end goal. So we identified the first step in the user journey that did not need extensive visual design to be built: link sharing.
Even at early stages of our research, we could give clear requirements about the link structure ( e.g. needed to be customised, password protected, be ‘attached’ to a user ID, not content item) and about the presenter’s and viewers user journeys.
Without a need for time intensive visual designs, we were able to co-design different solutions on a whiteboard. This in turn allowed us to invite the engineering team to participate in these white boarding sessions.
This surfaced architectural issues early on. More importantly, some of the ideas contributed by the engineers substantially improved the product design and experience.
Running the design process in parallel meant we effectively gained two months’ time for 20 user tests, five prototypes, and multiple iterations.
Iterations covered: user onboarding, improvements to findability, and to the visual visual and interaction design of the presenters’s controls. After testing prototypes in many user testing sessions, I turned the presenter’s control bar into a movable widget to minimise friction and give the presenter’s more flexibility and control.
Design Hack n.2: formulate an holistic vision, then condense it into a MVP
Making a first small step in a very precise direction
To build a valuable MVP, we needed a clear vision for the product.
For us, this included the practical and, crucially, the emotional needs of the presenter. To drive repeated use and adoption, the overall experience of using the product needed to deliver ‘confidence, and a sense of reliability and control’ during the Live session.
We created different user stories that used both of those facets, and captured realistic situations — e.g. team participation, connection problems, password protection.
Sometimes these included small but crucial details. For instance, well designed error states (around latency issues, or connection problems) enabled the presenter to ‘feel’ in control of the situation, and clearly understand the state of the system. While only a small feature, we understood they were vital to get right even for an MVP.
Design Hack n.4: mine existing insights, and test products other than yours
Legacy internal researches and live testing of competitors products accelerated our learnings.
Prototyping real-time interactive systems is time and resource intensive. We needed such prototypes to replicate not only the user journey, but also the user situation accurately. We used a number of ‘hacks’ to get around these constraints. First, we used legacy UX research for Prezi Classic real time collaboration product ( similar to Google Docs) which had remote presenting as an edge case.
Second, we tested the journeys of competing products. This helped us understand not only their weaknesses and unmet needs, but also the stress, anxiety or unease in the overall experience.
Design Hack n.5: use beyond MVP designs to validate MVP direction
We used speculative designs as a tool to think big, and build just enough to make it possible.
We used design to create tangible and realistic previews of how the remote presenting tool could look like in the future. Could we imagine how this feature could look if we had more resources and time?
I designed a series of previews that included solutions to user problems we discovered during our research, but we couldn’t solve just yet. For example, helping the presenters at not showing his screen, or seamlessly embed a product demo in the presentation.
Going through this exercise allowed us to pitch our product vision internally, aligning expectations on future opportunities, and discovering dependencies between teams early on.
More importantly, it allowed us to start our planning from a fully developed future product (called the ‘meeting room’) to its smallest viable AND valauble version ( the ‘meeting link’).
What’s the best process? ‘It’s not process — it’s content’.
Every project is different, and so is the process you end up taking for contingent reasons ( vs. the idealised one). One of the reasons why I decided to write about this project is, though, that the process itself felt very natural, at times exciting and satisfying. We gained clarity and alignment as we advanced in the project, and that helped us focusing on the execution of what mattered.
Thinking back on what helped us, I started to think that it might have something to do with the (in)famous Steve Jobs quote: ‘ its not the process — it’s the content what makes great products’.
That meant for us, truly ‘staring with the ‘why’, and focusing on the precise problems we had to solve, and constraints we had to adapt to.