SpatialKey is a data visualization web app that helps insurance companies measure the current and potential impact of hurricanes, tornados, floods, etc. I was the UX lead on SpatialKey for 3+ years. It was a startup by Universal Mind (where I currently work). I helped evolve the core functionality into a full software product.
- UX lead
- Interface design
- Information Architecture
- Branding/Marketing (previous)
- Site design & markup (old sites)
If you were to map (sorry, pun intended) my journey, in the field we call UX, SpatialKey would certainly be one of my bigger stops. I was the first and only UX person at the time.
SpatialKey was a startup under Universal Mind. We had a very small team of people for many years as we built up the product. I learned a lot about more than just product design; the pressures of startups — make money as of yesterday — and especially how difficult it is to design applications that do a lot of very, very complex things.
SpatialKey began as a demo that was on its way to becoming an MVP when I was hired. The intention was to pilot with a police department in Utah, and then explore other industries for product/market fit.
For the police department, we were pulling in datasets and then enabling them to map criminal activity and help police officials make informed decisions about staffing and also help their team to investigate crimes.
Start wearing a lot of hats
In a startup you learn to wear many hats. So I did more than just work on the interfaces and IA; I designed and coded the first SpatialKey site, and also storyboarded and art directed the launch video.
At the time, Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and data visualization software was exactly what you thought of when you think of enterprise software: clunky, confusing, disorganized…
The aim for SpatialKey was to make it very easy for anyone — not just a trained data analyst — to upload and visualize raw, uncurated, private or public data on a map.
For example, if there was a string of car break-ins in a specific area, the investigating officer might ask: Who can I go and question today about this series of crimes? Previously this answer would take two weeks, pages of print outs of people’s names and a physical map with push pins and string.
With SpatialKey the officer could simply upload a dataset with parolees from the area in less than 5 minutes. Then select the crime type and filter to see only the individuals with burglary in their history. Finally selecting the street and chose to buffer out a mile or less so it shows only people near the crime area. Done; the officer now has a manageable and accurate list of names.
You might think that this sounds great, so what’s the problem? The workflow. Many others like it had to be created, as well as the entire backend system to manage all the data, people and permissions. There were many features and foundational elements that had to be planned, designed and built out. We also had to quickly create value and find a market(s) that would need this tool.
Since I worked on SpatialKey fulltime for 3+ years, it’s very difficult to cover everything that I worked on and fit it into a concise case study. I’ll try to cover a few highlights here.
The good, the bad and the ugly admin
A lot of design we see is of course focused on the beautiful product shots to help market the work. And the fun parts of SpatialKey are the maps with the powerful visualizations. However, a bulk of the work was in the admin section of the application.
Setting up new users, adding data, removing data, establishing permissions, sharing out maps to users, etc. It‘s the not so fun part of designing something because it’s complex and… not something that is going to be showcased. The thing is: it’s really important to the overall experience.
It was also something I really learned to enjoy because it was about problem solving and not just worrying about a pixel perfect comp of the UI
We went through many iterations of this internal experience to refine all of the nuanced workflows and settings that users would need to do before even getting into the powerful filtering and data visualization tools.
Sometimes we explored different product concepts that would be built on (powered by) the Spatial Key platform. We would utilize the Admin area that we created to manage the details and then the presentation layer would be a custom iteration of SpatialKey.
One such idea was a tool for sales people that integrates their contacts, current or potential opportunities, and allows them to view that data over geographic locations and plan trips around them.
The first step would be exploring various layout concepts by sketching them out. Then I would narrow concepts down with the team. Next we would wireframe out the workflows until we felt we had articulated the MVP.
In some cases we might prototype out specific elements to make sure that they made sense.
We did these types of experiments a lot as we were exploring the potential with SpatialKey.
Most of my work on SpatialKey was adding new features or carefully refining current features to better serve the users. One example of refinement was with what we called the statistics pod.
Since SpatialKey could use most types of data, we designed the interface to very open. The user could open as many pods — similar to windows on your basic OS — as they needed to explore the data. In some cases these pods were for filtering information, or in other cases help them present details, similar to infographics.
We decided the statistics pod needed an overhaul, so we began working through various scenarios and showing how it would function. My goal was to hide as much of the UI and allow the content/data to shine. I wanted to contextually show the complex settings, as the user needed it.
Once the team was satisfied with the workflow, I began the work to build out the high-fidelity UI using the established styles and patterns.
Today SpatialKey is a team of 30+ people and has moved out from under Universal Mind to operate as its own company. SpatialKey’s main niche has become insurance focused, where they continue to grow with prominent clients like AEGIS London, Validus Research Inc., and Willis Re.
I’m proud to have been a small part of helping evolve this from a demo to full-fledged product that is continuing to grow quickly. It’s also nice to see that a lot of the interface design and information architecture work from my tenure there is still a foundational part of the platform.
Francisco Inchauste. Designer. Thinker-er.
You can read more of my writing here on Medium.