I have just spent half an hour tuning in to a Social Business Engine (SBE) podcast on being overwhelmed by your email inbox. One of my favourite topics! SBE’s host, Berne Borges, chats to IBM’s M.E. (Mary Elizabeth) Miller and Duncan Hopkins about how they leveraged IBM Design Thinking to drive alignment across global teams and develop accessible enterprise applications at scale.
Much of the discussion centres on the IBM Verse approach to email. lBM Verse has been designed to simplify email and collaboration with an interface that "understands you” and results in a better user experience.
The key tenet running through the podcast is that the traditional workplace doesn’t really exist anymore. The explosion of social, mobile and cloud technologies has changed everything and more changes are coming. Traditional communication and collaboration processes are being challenged as more and more employees work remotely. In addition, it is posited that in five years’ time, millennials will make up as much as 50% of the workforce.
Design has become much more important in all aspects of the applications that we use in the workplace. People go home and use all kinds of different things on their computers, laptops, phones and become accustomed to an experience they’re often not getting at work. Employees want to have a similar experience in a corporate setting to the one they have as consumers. That really influences how the enterprise is adapting and designing software.
How you design a product can strongly impact people’s ability to be able to do their job and be more efficient. Designing for accessibility is extremely important as well. If you don’t design for accessibility, and you don’t design inclusively for varying user disabilities, the tool that you create could actually prevent people from being able to do their job. As such, accessibility is integral to the foundation of IBM Design Thinking: the goal is to have one interface that functions for all users, and creates a better experience for all.
M.E. Miller says that IBM Design’s motto is “works the same, works together and works for me.” With technology being so pervasive, and across all of our devices, people expect things to work similarly and together. They expect great experiences across all devices.
Duncan Hopkins added that “it shouldn’t be a different experience when you’re going from your home to your car, to your work.” That was the goal when designing the IBM Verse user interface. “It’s not just a mail application. It’s a software application that brings together mail and social analytics into a single collaborative environment. It has some built-in analytics that we use to bring to the surface what is important to you, as a user. We can talk about this being cognitive, but at a high level it is really about knowing what is important to you as a user and what do you need to focus on during the day to get your work done.” As such rather than being overwhelmed with dozens of emails in your inbox and trying to decide what needs your attention and what doesn’t, what’s urgent and what can be parked, IBM Verse helps you filter and plan. In a way your IBM inbox really becomes your personal assistant – it’s not really email as we knew it.
Image 1: IBM Verse combines email, social and analytics in to a single collaborative environment.
For example, what needs action, what meetings are you going to attend, what is important to that meeting, who are the right people to invite, what are the files that you need for that meeting? All these questions can be answered without leaving Verse. According to M.E. Miller, the feedback about Verse is that it is a much simpler UI and easy to use. A particularly useful feature is “faceted search” which helps people to find their email within seconds. Apparently, out of all of the email that you get, only 14% are urgent. So there’s a lot of noise out there that we get on a day to day basis.
Image 2: IBM Designers using low-vision goggles to better understand what users with vision impairments experience.
Understanding the user is a first step in designing for accessibility. That means user testing includes working only with a keyboard. A keyboard user may have impaired vision or a physical disability which negates the option of using a mouse. Accessibility has to be built in from the start, not bolted on at the end of the process.
This is an interesting podcast and this short blog post doesn’t do justice to what’s involved in IBM Design thinking. I’d encourage you to listen in yourself, or read the written transcript. You can access the podcast it here.
M.E. (Mary Elizabeth) Miller is IBM Verse UX Designer, and Duncan Hopkins is Senior Design Team Lead, IBM Design, Enterprise Social Solutions.