As UX professionals, we’re used to iterating as part of the design process. We tend to think about our users’ needs, release an initial product that meets those needs as best we can in the time we have, then improve that product over time in response to user feedback. But there are also times when it’s best to put extra care into refining the initial experience, focusing on the subtle details that can greatly improve a users’ perception of your product.
Giving the Community a Bigger Voice Through Prioritization
Salesforce has many ways to gather customer and partner feedback, including research, insights, roadshows, and community platforms. One of those platforms, IdeaExchange, broke new ground at its inception in 2006 by seeking to crowdsource product feedback. The platform gave the Salesforce community a way to post, vote, and comment on user-submitted ideas, many of which eventually become product features.
But both the community and the number of Salesforce products soared, and rapid growth took its toll. For a few years there, even top IdeaExchange ideas received little attention from Salesforce product teams. Then, at Dreamforce 2018, the True to the Core session featuring CPO Bret Taylor, cofounder Parker Harris, senior director of Customer & Market Insights Jenny Sacks, and others — all pledged to do something about it.
That’s when I joined the team as UX lead for Salesforce IdeaExchange. My primary role was orchestrating our users’ future experience in collaborate with talented designers, product managers, and engineers.
And as of that moment, the clock began ticking — and not just for me. The whole IdeaExchange team dedicated ourselves to meeting the needs of our customers by relaunching a newer, better IdeaExchange exactly one year later, at Dreamforce 2019.
We discussed several new avenues for delivering community ideas. One early concept, called Prioritization, would let community members indicate their favorite ideas from a list of the top voted ideas, then notify product teams of the most popular. In addition to creating a channel between the two groups, it would let customers and partners step into our shoes. They could essentially help define the Salesforce product roadmap — a responsibility that carried with it two realizations: Multiple dependencies go into shipping even the simplest feature. And people and time are both limited resources.
Once we’d established high-level goals for the concept, we started to speak with the community about their pain points, weighing the pros and cons of each suggestion as it related to the larger program design. After several rounds of feedback and brainstorming, we landed on a direction for the new Prioritization feature.
Leveraging Consumer Experiences
One of the biggest blocks to user adoption is the time and effort it takes to learn how to use a new feature. With this in mind, in the ideation phase we explored and tested multiple models and interactions, from simple idea selection to forced ranking; we also borrowed interaction models from consumer products. After multiple rounds of ideation and and even more time spent getting community validation, we had a winner.
The winning concept is modeled on interactions from e-commerce and gamification. Users are given 100 coins to allocate toward any of the top viable ideas in a Prioritization List, in increments of 5, 20, or 50. As a user allocates coins to a given idea, their “shopping cart” updates to show all selected ideas. The option to dedicate varying numbers of coins helped us pinpoint the ideas most important to users — and showed how important each idea was in relation to the others.
Functionality was modeled largely on consumer products, greatly reducing the need for onboarding or training. When you’re designing enterprise experiences, the benefits of looking to consumer desktop and mobile design for inspiration are many. For users, familiar interactions and behaviors feel intuitive and easy to learn.
Improving Usability with Visual Design
Visual design, as every designer knows, is about far more than aesthetics. You have to consider branding, usability, hierarchy, and visual relationships. Using the Salesforce Lightning Design System (SLDS) made it possible for the IdeaExchange design team to deliver more quickly, while ensuring consistency of both design and development. And when it came time to enhance the visual style further, we saw an opportunity to build around existing SLDS patterns. For example, all the ideas in Prioritization belong to specific product categories, so we used existing category colors for the background throughout the mobile experience. Not only did it add visual interest, but it reinforced the connection between each idea and its category.
We also carried the coin imagery into the visual design. Each idea in the Prioritization list has an indicator showing how many coins have been allocated to it; we used a coin icon here. Announcements of winning ideas are celebrated on cards that combine the category color and a trophy icon.
Astro & Friends is a cast of characters designed to make the Salesforce experience friendly and approachable, while reminding users us that Salesforce thinks differently and aspires to innovate. Astro & Friends fit the bill perfectly for the IdeaExchange, which is all about collaboration and community. We’re lucky to be able to use these characters at Salesforce; few such brand assets are found in enterprise software, though you might be able to find other ways to include a personal touch.
One more tip: When you look for opportunities to visually enhance the user experience, ensure that you’re also improving usability and storytelling, and not sacrificing efficiency or overwhelming the user. Be mindful of how much visual information you include in any given design, and how that relates to how users interact with your product. No one spends multiple hours a day on IdeaExchange, so the visuals could be more expressive. A spreadsheet application, in contrast, would be better served by a visually simple design.
Completing the Story with Animation and Motion
Though animation and motion are often overlooked by designers, at Salesforce we see them as part of the core experience. But never add motion just for the “wow factor”; it must be applied with both purpose and intent. For example, a subtle animated transition can call attention to an element’s state change — and inspire a moment of user delight.
We wanted to introduce animation into the IdeaExchange experience, but first needed to determine where it would best reinforce key interactions — not everything can, or should, be animated. We reviewed all possible places for animation, then prioritized that list, seeking to ensure that those key areas could help us tell a more complete story.
One of the primary interactions in IdeaExchange, in both the mobile and desktop versions, is when a user allocates coins to an idea. At this point, we added a coin burst animation, in which coins fly out of the coin total counter. Another key action, submitting entries once a user has spent all their coins, features an animated transition of the Review button from secondary to primary, highlighting the next main action in the flow. Both of these animations have a purpose, communicating to the user a change in state or status. In that vein, think through how you can incorporate animation and motion to improve user interaction feedback and add value to both usability and the overall story.
Make It Extraordinary
Today, many product designers are highly proficient in the technical aspects of design. In relaunching Salesforce IdeaExchange, we also focused on functionality and delivery (did someone say MVP?), both critical when shipping digital products. And we had the luxury of a design system, which brings greater efficiency and consistency to the design process. But we worked hard to go beyond those expectations, paying attention to the finer points of design that can take an experience to the next level through the intricacies of visual design and the subtle kinetics of animation and motion.
On your next product or feature, take some time to find out who is engaging with your design, how often, and with what intent. This will help guide your interaction, visual design, and motion strategy. Then strive to find opportunities that add familiar and meaningful moments of fun and delight. Then put it all together to create an extraordinary experience that will both fulfill and fascinate users.
Thanks to Rebecca Yukelson and Carly Berman for your partnership, Yijing Zhang and Pravithra Ramamruthy for beautiful, effective visual design and motion, the IdeaExchange team for all the input and collaboration, Jenny Sacks and Nalini Kotamraju for the support, Tommy Dale and Scott Allan for the feedback, Lisa Gluskin Stonestreet for even more feedback, and Justin Maguire for challenging me to take the experience to the next level.