Familiar is Good

Nolan, who’s been leading a lot of our product design decisions, shared this idea in our Slack channel the other day as we reviewed our next product design iteration:

Familiar is good.

This couldn’t be more true.

One of the typical challenges that first-time entrepreneurs and especially first-time product developers / designers struggle with is trying to create, at the exact same time, an innovative solution within and/or through an innovative delivery system.

Or, in other words, they try to recreate the wheel twice when doing it once is hard enough! Simply put, you don’t have to come up with an innovative new design layer for your SaaS product to make the product relevant, useful, or impactful.

But it’s tough, to be honest, to not want and desire to come up with a new UI and resulting UX for your new (and if you’re early-stage, non-existent) customer base.

We’ve been reminded of this powerful principle as we’ve continued to iterate on our own product (and we’ve shared a few lessons-learned here and here) which is particularly heavy with data.

As we showcase the value of the product we’ve wanted to also pair this with a creative and visceral experience but we have been, arguably, over-optimizing in areas that are non-essential.

If we go back to eating a bit of Humble Pie you’ll remember that we had many of our early users completely miss an important feature in our product based on design and UI.

Contribution by Date

Consequently, we iterated and made the drop-down appear in a much more obvious location. In fact, the pendulum probably swung a bit too far to the other side.

Here’s one of the iterations that Nolan and the team batted around:

A “pill” design.

As you can see, we made the drop-down that was missed in the previous iteration almost impossible to miss on this iteration. But, to make a long story short, it wasn’t quite right and it didn’t flow with the rest of the way that we presented our data and design.

So, we continued to iterate:

Filtered views, options.

Now we’ve got three layers of menus, which is a bit closer to the design aesthetic that we had created historically, but, this iteration took up way too much real estate on the screen. Sure, we could do some “magic” when it comes to collapsing menus, but, it just didn’t hit the mark either (but at least it was much more obvious than the original design).

Then, we hit upon a design that really resonated and, gasp it’s completely unoriginal. The small, sidebar / side-menu. Take a look:

A new side-menu look.

This, of course, isn’t the final iteration but it does the job and saves our top menu bar area in a massive way. We keep the “date” level options at the top so that we don’t lose any of our users but we move an entire layer to the left.

And if this design feels vaguely familiar, then, that’s probably because it looks like Slack:

Slack’s sidebar design.

And so we come full-circle: Our goal as a product company is to create unique value through the data that we have and the unique and actionable insights that can drive real behavioral change for our customers and their teams.

We don’t have to redesign or recreate the wheel, so to speak, in the way in which we display and showcase that data and the insights. Familiar is good.

This sidebar, as you can imagine, is infinitely scalable for any content type or page or sub-page, etc. Here’s another look at the “People” page or “Team” page that we’re experimenting with.

Team / People page

Again, a working sidebar that just… works.

At some point we may have the time and inclination and be inspired to design something that no one has ever seen before but until that time we’re going to stick to what really makes our product special and impactful.

We want folks to know what to do with our system as quickly as humanly possible, bringing value with speed and without much educational overhead.

A metaphor that I’ve been kicking around in my head that really works is this: It’s like handing someone a video game controller and telling them to go have fun. No education required.

Also published on Medium.

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