DEI / Design

7 times a design change made things better

Listening to users, making small shifts in customer path or just rethinking entire products. Here are some stories of design iteration.

A nod to those times a click changed everything. (Video by YouTube user Moxie Flagship, used under a Creative Commons license)’s Editorial Calendar explores a different topic each month. The June 2018 topic is designers. These stories explore best practices in design and those who are creating new and interesting things, be they digital or not.

The properties of design can make or break products or services — both digital an physical. Just ask people with disabilities how tech features prevent them from having access to the things they need (or want).

Whether it took going back to the drawing board or simply streamlining a process with the click of a mouse, design changes are frequently helping companies serve their users better.

As part of our coverage of design topics for our Editorial Calendar, we spoke to designers from companies — as large as Fortune 50 enterprises and as small as nascent startups — to hear some stories of how a design alteration made their technology be more efficient, user friendly or even aesthetically attractive.

Responses have been edited for length and clarity.

The wrong sensor

Tozuda CEO Jessie Garcia:

  • Our original sensor had a magnet-based mechanism that tested great in lab. However, once we did a field trial it failed side blow tests. We were really discouraged at first but it lead us to our patent pending spring based mechanism, which can now do both linear and rotational impacts which the magnet couldn’t! Our failure lead us to a much better solution for our product. Also, our product was actually originally a mouthguard, but I quickly learned that people hate mouthguards and don’t use them properly so we added the technology to the helmet itself.

Flip the rules

Alex Hillman, founder of Indy Hall

  • One of my fav examples of this came after we moved into our new new coworking space in 2016. We put a ton of research and discussion into so many aspects, one of the biggest being the lighting. So I was pretty frustrated when everything was installed and we realized that many of the track lights were shining directly into the eyes of our members. Ugh. The best solution came from one of our members. Jess Mason (PhillyGraphDB, Cypher Philly) suggested that we try flipping the track completely upside down and point the lights at the ceiling, creating a much softer and yet brighter lighting effect, and nobody got lights in their eyes.

Gradual data gathering

Chad Kaufman, senior director at Think Company

  • We redesigned the website for a national energy supplier whose goal was to increase new customer sign ups through their site. It was a complex challenge to solve because plans and promotions vary between each state and regionally within each state.  We changed the workflow to progressively reveal plan information based on information gathered incrementally. We used broad location detection that was accurate enough to show regional plan and promotion information, compelling enough to get potential customers to explore, but not accurate enough to show prices. Designing the rest of the shopping experience by only asking for follow-up information—utility company and / or ZIP code—in context reduced friction points and helped potential customers understand the factors that affect cost of their plans.

Listen to the user

Adriana Vazquez, cofounder of Lilu

  • There’s a lot going on when pumping already so we wanted an easy interface, 3 buttons. On/off, up/plus for stronger massage, down/less for gentler massage. But we had limited options of where to place the buttons. We first went with the front because during user testing, that was one of the most ergonomically accessible areas. But it was hard for users to see the controls from the top, and it made the bra design much more complex. So we simplified it and moved it to the top, which aesthetically was also the better choice.

Observe, observe, observe

Vidur Bhatnagar, founder of Keriton

  • A whole lot of our product is driven by design thinking, end-user interviews and observations. What else would you expect if a male Masters in Robotics student at Penn was to create a breastmilk management system, right? A lot of mom-facing features were driven by direct feedback from our moms. For e.g. in our 350 NICU mom survey, all 350 moms unanimously reported that the hardest task is to stick to a schedule. Based on that, the Keriton Kare Mom App has “reminders”.

Rethinking priorities

Tom Loretan, senior VP and creative director at Comcast

  • We introduced the voice remote in 2015, and it quickly became one of our most popular products. In the first version of the voice remote, the blue voice button was tucked in among other important buttons, like “play/pause”, “guide” and “record”. It also didn’t reflect how central voice commands would become to our customers’ TV viewing experience. In 2017, we redesigned the voice remote, and we were laser focused on the voice button. We enlarged it, moved it to the center of the device, exactly where the thumb falls, and made it out of a unique material so that customers could immediately recognize it by touch. The concave shape of the button and the unique feel of the click further set it apart.

Remove a click

Ankit Mathur, CTO of RoundTrip

  • One feature we released in the first version of our app allowed the user to select common addresses when booking a trip. Each time they booked a trip for a patient, they would click a box which would open up a model, they would make their selection, click confirm, and the box would close. We studied our users fumbling through these clicks and knew there had to be a better solution so we simply removed the confirmation button. We literally saved over 10,000 clicks as soon as we launched the feature. [The change] decreased the time it takes for users to book a trip by several seconds.

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