Designing for User Profiles at Axial
An ongoing case study about creating a new product feature
We set out to design user profiles for Axial members because we wanted to build a better networking experience. For background, Axial is a marketplace that connects companies seeking capital (or looking to sell) with those wanting to invest or buy. Networking is core to our world, and networking occurs between individuals. However, the product originally placed emphasis on the company rather than the users interacting with the site. Displaying identity, and retaining it across job changes, is very important!
Our goal was not to re-create LinkedIn or Facebook. The content on the profiles had to be important and relevant to Axial’s specific use case and our users’ goals.
How we went about it:
Since we had recently released a lightweight networking feature, we were able to start talking to users at the same time as we began brainstorming the profile’s layout and content. These conversations allowed us to form some initial ideas about how our users felt about the information we were surfacing in a networking context, and how that information shaped the conversations they were having.
One lesson from the process was that we waited too long to do our synthesis as a team. We had spoken to 20 individuals, and really should have come together after each batch of 7. By 21, some of the stories had gotten stale and it was too easy to blur users and inputs.
Defining the content
At the start, we designed with the freedom that anything was possible, and consequently the early designs were dense with information. But instead of investing too much time into content that wasn’t yet proven to be compelling, we started stripping the profile down to the core essentials. While the risk of having a profile is relatively low, the risk of failing to get users to provide the information, or not find that information valuable, is much higher.
Throughout our sketching and whiteboard sessions, some challenging questions kept coming up. First was untangling the relationship between individual and company, and who had ownership of information. Secondly, we continually examined what content was compelling. Does this show our user’s goals? What kind of identity do they have?Would they be willing to share this information? These are some of the questions that guided the stories we created.
Ultimately we stuck to the direction that a member would have control over their own profile, and they could curate which information was the same with their company’s profile. This allows users to show off specialties, and keep their own identity.
We work transparently because we believe better products are built when everyone is excited to contribute. In order to do that, it’s important to engage with everyone across our organization. We posted sketches of the profiles alongside the product roadmap in the common area. We also used bi-weekly “braintrust” meetings, to get feedback and ask more questions. By showing off our work, we’re able to discover new questions and incorporate feedback.
There are a lot of next steps to this project, not the least of which will be getting ready to code it. We’re still working to flesh out all the pathways of how users might fill out their profiles, and their motivations. So we’ll start building soon (real building, with codes and bits) to push out and start validating– or invalidating– some of our assumptions.