Anatomy of a project:
The Each&Other
way of working

A successful project is about more than writing a great brief
and handing it to an external agency.
Here’s why collaboration and co-design leads to great outcomes.

Authors

Ciarán HarrisPrincipal UX Designer

T

here’s an old African proverb that says: if you want to go fast, go alone but if you want to go far, go together. That sums up how we feel about working with our customers, and it’s something that probably doesn’t get talked about enough. When some organisations engage with an external consultancy, they expect it’s enough to write a quick brief, send it to the service provider, and the magic will happen.

In our experience, it rarely works that way.

The concept of co-design is critical to how we work. I can’t think of a single project where we didn’t work hand in glove with customers. Having those regular check-ins and leveraging expertise means you’re not going to stray off the path.

We expect this from the customers we work with, and the projects we deliver successfully.

More than money: investing in success

It comes back to this core idea: if you want a good return on investment, the investment is about more than just money. It’s an investment of the organisation’s own time and resources: bringing their skills and expertise into the design process, and we’ve found over and over again that it’s got a multiplier effect in delivering great outcomes.

We come from the perspective that it’s their business, customers, products, expertise that we’re trying to build on. We marry their innate knowledge of their product and their customers with our experience in UX and UI: we absorb their knowledge to build something incredible.

Let’s look at an example of this in action, on a recent project we completed. FlowForma is a SaaS product that helps businesses to digitalise, automate, and transform their processes, no matter how complex.

A lot of other software products in the digital process automation (DPA) space tend to be for IT specialists or developers, but FlowForma has been able to attract customers through its no-code vision. The idea is, anybody in an organisation can use it.

As competitors gained ground and with new entrants arriving into the market, the FlowForma team wanted to stay ahead of the game. To do this, they realised they needed to remove complexity from the product and make it more user-centric.

The product was built on the SharePoint platform which led to constraints in fully achieving FlowForma’s no-code vision. By decoupling the front end from the back end, and removing those restrictions, we were able to design the best no-code experience for FlowForma’s customers.

Doubling down on UI

The vision for the next-generation product was that its interface would quickly build the user’s confidence in automating, making them feel assured, secure, and ready to adopt. The product needs to be sold at a glance, with a beautiful, user-friendly UI – characteristics that would establish FlowForma as industry leaders in UX.

Another part of the brief was that the product needed to be backwards compatible. FlowForma is an established enterprise solution whose users already have a mental model of how it works. So not only did it need a top-class UI to deliver the user experience FlowForma wanted, we had the challenge of evolving the product without alienating existing customers.

The development needed to retain the best parts of the original but also show the value of moving forward which included moving to a solution that’s technology agnostic – thereby opening up an even wider market to FlowForma.

With any product redesign, you’re looking for opportunities, and FlowForma’s team were eager for us to explore options. We started by researching how current customers used the product and uncover where they found challenges with it.

The project was run across two streams: design, run by us – which consisted of research, concepts, and design – plus development, run by FlowForma in parallel to the design stream.

Uncovering customer insights

Because user centricity was at the core of the project, we kicked off the project by getting to know FlowForma users. We held interviews with internal stakeholders and potential and current customers, as well as conducting our own analysis.

We talked in depth to customers who were heavy users of the product who were effectively champions because they often talked to their networks about FlowForma and ultimately brought in new business for FlowForma. We needed to know what was blocking them now and to understand how we could go beyond their expectations of what a no-code experience could be.

Through this research, we outlined a customer-centred product vision in order to drive growth for FlowForma. The next phase was blue sky thinking, where we imagined what the product could be in a two- to five-year timeframe if there were no constraints. We developed multiple scenarios and we went back to some of those customers to validate the concepts.

A collective design

Through the various phases of research, concepts and design, we collectively designed a user-centred solution that was grounded in customer needs while considering new concepts to help users work smarter.

This project provided an opportunity for FlowForma to re-architect its backend systems and move over to a technology-agnostic platform. This opened up the technology to a much wider base of customers with different tech stacks. This also catered for a more scalable product, one that can grow as the user base does.

The key points in the project were:

  • User research and requirements gathering
  • Identifying pain points and opportunities; prioritising needs
  • Redesigning the core interface to build out processes intuitively and rapidly
  • Develop a consistent, scalable and component-based design system
  • Integrated reporting.

We broke up the work into a series of sprints. We met bi-weekly to review, share knowledge, and progress the design work.

The FlowForma team would show us the product’s functionality as it was at the time, and we figured out where the points that we could optimise were. At the end of every sprint, when we presented, they were making sure that what we designed was technically feasible to build.

Making UX key to success

FlowForma fully committed to great UX for the business user, confident in the knowledge this was the key to ensuring the product’s success. Another commitment FlowForma made was to really involve the team and actively engage in the project.

It’s been our experience that projects work best when you have multiple stakeholders on board – both the core team and a wider group – who are really invested in the process. That leads to much better internal buy-in for what we’re looking to do. When stakeholders get bought in, then they become champions. They tell their colleagues about this great thing they’re doing and they boost the visibility of the project, without being told to.

The bi-weekly meetings were particularly important because they continually brought in the FlowForma team’s tacit knowledge and ensured we accounted for specific features expected for DPA. The senior team who were involved included one member who knew the product inside out. That person was available in all our sessions and that level of customer expertise and design expertise was vital to the success of the project.

Close collaboration: why the customer is the expert

We pride ourselves on working very closely with our customers and in taking their expertise on board. At the risk of repeating myself, we need to talk about this more. As designers, we can’t stay above the fray or aloof to the client’s needs. We always tailor our solutions for what best fits the customer and you only achieve that by collaboration.

Of course, we challenge the customer where we think we need to challenge, to understand what’s behind a reluctance to change. In almost all cases there are good reasons behind certain restrictions and constraints. But in uncovering those reasons, we tend to find an even better way forward.

Gerard Newman, FlowForma’s CTO, feels the same. He said:

“The Each & Other team quickly developed a great understanding of our core offering and continually added value with their innovation ideas and probing questions. The proposition, the iterative design process and the engagement between our two teams resulted in a comprehensive, distinct and innovative design.”

This project is a classic example of making the complex simple. And the work hasn’t stopped there. This is a multi-year project to continually evolve the product. At Each&Other, we’re supporting this phased rollout, integrating future feedback from users and building out the full application experience.

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