Investing in user research

  • Software company
  • Devbridge Group
  • Client
  • Encore Event Technologies
  • Role
  • Senior Product Designer
  • Focus
  • Product design
  • User interface design
  • User experience design
  • User research
  • Front-end development (prototyping)

Research

The leading provider of audiovisual services for hotels, conference centers and resorts throughout North America, Asia and Australia is known for supporting massive events like the International Consumer Electronics Show which is attended annually by over 170,000 people.

As the company grew it acquired many smaller, regional brands. Each region had their own software and their own unique way of doing business. We standardized both and created one software platform to replace all legacy systems.

It's a challenge many companies face: How do you combine multiple outdated systems into one experience? How do you know that you're building the right thing? How do you figure it out without the process taking years?

Design strategy

To create a platform that supported the business instead of one the business was required to support, we started with the people who would ultimately rely on what we design. And to better understand the complexities of their operations we traveled to their largest market, Las Vegas.

We were able to quickly identify areas for improvement, shedding light on what at times could be an overwhelming and confusing experience. Based on what we found, we developed a plan for moving forward:

  • A schedule for small, incremental improvements of new features while removing old ones
  • Smarter equipment selections to increase profitability
  • Visibility into labor costs
  • Reduce time spent on administrative work

We streamlined data-heavy pages by focusing on manageable tasks, gave the user more meaningful feedback and prioritized the most commonly used fields. To validate our design strategy we created prototypes. It increased alignment between teams and helped us all make more informed design decisions.

Once everyone was aligned on what we were building, we introduced a schedule for continuous user testing. The acceptance feedback after each round ensured that we were building the right feature before we started development.

Automating inventories

One of the more complex operational procedures we solved ultimately had one of the largest impacts on the business. There had been three methods for sourcing equipment before any given event:

  • Use equipment that was already purchased by the company (no cost)
  • Rent equipment from a vendor in the area (moderate cost)
  • Buy equipment from a supplier (most expensive)

The obvious preference for the business is the first option. When a venue used their own equipment instead of renting or buying, it drastically increased profit margins. The only constraint was a single venue's inventory so we developed software to swap equipment between multiple locations. This created a much larger available inventory without any additional rental or purchasing costs.

Borrowing and returning equipment between two locations was a simple concept to design. What happens when equipment breaks? If equipment is returned late, how does it affect every subsequent event relying on it? Those were some of the more complicated scenarios we solved. Testing prototypes with the people managing those inventories was essential to getting it right.

Results

Thousands of employees were fully migrated to the new platform when it was released. User feedback and page performance reinforced the qualitative and quantitative value of our work. Tasks were being completed faster than ever before. People were finding the right information in the right place at the right time. Executives had a birds-eye view of the entire thing.

By making the small up-front investment of researching with users we avoided building something people didn't need or want. And in turn, we designed a product that vastly increased the value of the business.