Tuesday morning; 10 am; Warsaw office. The sky is cloudy; the smell of coffee is coming from the kitchen. The scenery may seem like a lazy morning, but nothing could be further from the truth. A heated discussion has just started in our team, and it is about the position of UX in the company — we are wondering what the work of UX designers looks like in long-lasting and complex products. Our own tool, BigPicture, is one of Jira Apps designed to meet the needs of Project Portfolio Managers. The product has been running for four years now, and it seems to be a never-ending story.
We checked the Medium, obviously, but to our surprise, we have not found anything that could help or inspire us. There are tons of words describing good practices or typical UX processes. Everything looks simple: start from scratch, name the problem, and meet future users. Then, take a pencil and a piece of paper, put colourful stickers on the wall, and… find a solution. In the end, go to the streets to check your ideas. Repeat the process – easy, right? Well, not always so…
This was when we decided to start our writing career and share insights from the perspective of UX designers’ developing complex, long-lasting projects. Here, you can’t just start from scratch but you have to take into account everything that has already been created.
In our case, the product is still developing — here is no beginning and no end in sight. We can’t just go repeating the process of completing the tool over and over again… Of course, we iterate the UX process for small features, but at the same time, due to the complexity of the product, we often have to jump between topics. Therefore, we have time to check the solution adequacy quite late. Once we have done this, however, we feel great satisfaction with the improvement of the product.
The longer the users use your product, the stronger their habits become. This remains true also for products which are not easy to use. When we want to make changes to the system or redesign the flow, it is never through launching a revolution, but rather through gradual evolution. Having to take it step-by-step can sometimes be tiring and frustrating, especially when you want to introduce a better solution quickly, but it is also quite useful when you want to gain some time for improving each new feature.
In products with repeatable features, it is good practice to create a design system. Treat it as a system of finished ‘bricks’ from which you assemble your product. Thanks to this approach, you will speed up the decision-making process in your project. The obvious benefit is not having developers reiterate questions about colours, sizes, and fonts, as the answers are already there in the system design. After a while, relying on the system can become monotonous and boring and you may find yourself wanting something a bit crazier, but it must not be at the expense of product consistency.
Being an independent company developing a product differs rather profoundly from working at an agency, where the client is the boss and has the final say about the project, even if it contradicts the underlying assumptions of UX or UI. When designing your company’s own solution, you are the primary person responsible for the product, and it is up to you what it will look like and how the users will benefit from it. That’s a huge responsibility. It can, however, be matched by a huge sense of achievement when you realise that what you’ve helped to bring to life is appreciated by your end-users!
With a product that has existed on the market for a longer time and has had regular users, you can always benefit from the user feedback and suggestions for new features. Sometimes there are more requests than you could possibly fit into the limited space on your product roadmap. However, nothing beats the feeling when your users come forward to share their experiences allowing you to learn how your application is utilized in their day-to-day routine. To take full advantage of this invaluable opportunity afforded by our users, we have, for instance, created BigPicture Lab, which focuses on UX research.
These are some of the characteristics of the product similar to ours. In the following articles, we will describe in more detail how we deal with these challenges. We are curious to know what insights and lessons you have learned from working with complex products. Let’s learn from each other!