Author: Pooja Menon, Product Design Lead
“Good design is actually a lot harder to notice than poor design, in part because good designs fit our needs so well that the design is invisible”
Don Norman (Design of Everyday Things)
There are several examples of good and bad designs all around us. Everyone remembers the bad designs in our day to day lives like the door that you can’t tell if you should push or pull, or the online shopping website where you can’t figure out how to get to the cart. But you don’t really think about the iconic designs in the everyday things that you use – like Google’s easy to use interface or your Kindle’s e-ink technology to the simple Post-It notes.
So then, when good design is so difficult to spot, how do you quantify the value of design?
The Design Management Institute’s Design Value Index (DVI) in 2015 shows that over the preceding 10 years, design-led companies have maintained the significant stock market advantage, outperforming the S&P by an extraordinary 228%.
Similarly, the British Design Council’s 2020 Design Impact Report showed £20 of increased revenue for every £1 invested in design by businesses on their Designing Demand programme.
There are several other organisations that have done research in recent times to show the value of design. Good design impacts everyone.
1. Lowered investment into features – When a design is good, it lowers the development effort because you are not going back constantly to fix bugs. And with good, detailed designs, there is less uncertainty when it comes to development and testing. It is a lot easier to scrap an idea at the design stage than it is when it is in development or after its been shipped.
2. It increases productivity – With good designs, users are not constantly trying to figure out how to use the application – you are not wasting your time frustrated at being unable to do the task at hand. This is time saved both for the consumers as well as for support staff who must spend less time supporting users.
3. Increases loyalty – Good design comes from good user research – which shows that we care about our users. It shows that we are not designing to just meet a target, we’re designing to be able to meet our user’s needs.
Good design, however, does not come easily. There are several challenges associated with it, especially when working in the area of SupTech. Designing for regulators comes with complex requirements and tighter boundaries within which we need to operate. In addition, designing an enterprise application is very different to designing a more focused consumer application. Consumer applications such as Twitter, Facebook etc. are built for everyone. Enterprise applications such as complex CRM systems, or Vizor Software, on the other hand, have the complexity of maintaining a common product while still being tailor-made for each type of client.
Consequently, enterprise applications need the design team to have expertise across several different areas. The design team at Vizor is not just skilled at UI design – our teams are multi-disciplinary. Our design teams understand the nitty-gritty of our software such as infrastructure, system behaviours, interactions with upstream/downstream components etc., but they also have the skills necessary to empathise with the user to create the best designs and then be able to communicate these effectively to all stakeholders.
There are several challenges when it comes to designing a regulatory product suite such as the one Vizor offers. Below are some of the most pertinent of these challenges faced by our teams at Vizor.
1. Complex Requirements
2. Ensuring a Common Product Platform
3. Consistency & Quality
Regulators everywhere have a complex and vast array of requirements. To meet these needs, Vizor offers a range of products such as Vizor Licensing & Regulatory Transactions (VLRT), Vizor Regulatory Reporting (VRR), Vizor Risk Based Supervision (VRBS), and AEOI Reporting. All of these products have been developed on a common code platform – this was deliberately designed this way to ensure a complete end-to-end experience where you would not need different instances (separately supported and maintained code bases) of Vizor Software for each of the products where a client uses multiple products. Thereby ensuring a “one-stop shop” experience for all their supervisory needs. This also has the added intended benefit of ensuring features developed are reusable across the product suite.
Good software needs to be scalable and reusable. When designed poorly, future extensions to the product can become quite complex, overwhelming, and costly. While every effort can be made to ensure that requirements are complete, this is not always possible. This means that every design needs to cater to missed or future requirements. Designers need to design a solution that does not just solve a problem with the way the product is today, but also anticipate and allow for changes to be accommodated in the future.
The design team at Vizor, to produce good designs, also need to have a very deep understanding of the needs and requirements of the regulator as well as the required cohesive and interdependent architecture and behaviour of a regulatory reporting system. Even the smallest change requires an impact analysis to ensure we are not inconveniencing our clients or having some other unintended consequence. Despite these complexities, our goal is always to create simple easy to use solutions – our features should not have to be accompanied by 50-page manuals.
As stated previously, Vizor Software is enterprise level software and so deliberately has a single product platform that is the core of every product that we sell. Each of our products such as VRR, VLRT, VRBS or the AEOI suite have been built with their own specific use cases – they use the functionalities in Vizor Software in their own different ways. This can pose a significant challenge when designing features. Not only do we have to ensure that the design fits into our vision, but we have to assess the impact of every change as we know that a change in one product could have a significant impact on the other products.
While it may seem to be quite a burden to carry, this has made the design team at Vizor stronger – we do not take any of our designs lightly. We conduct extensive research into each one of our features, we assess the impact of every change we make, and we have been doing it for so long, it has become second nature to us.
Vizor has seen rapid growth over the last few years – we have acquired new clients and created new product offerings. We work in a fast-paced environment, and though some software providers may be tempted to sacrifice quality to meet delivery timelines at Vizor, our core values involve delivering on time and going above and beyond to ensure we are trusted (something key in this high-profile niche) – this means we do not have the luxury of delivering sub-par products or making these types of trade-offs.
For a design team, this poses several challenges – how do you give each design the attention it needs while also delivering on time? How do you ensure consistency across multiple products by assessing the impact on each of them?
The Vizor product suite has evolved considerably over the years. There are new challenges in the industry that did not exist a few years ago. At Vizor, we need to be constantly moving with the times to accommodate changes not just in this digital era, but also with the way our regulators work. We must innovate constantly to be able to deliver products that meet today’s standards.
Several years ago, Vizor was one of the first enterprise software providers in Ireland to identify that we needed to have a design-centric approach to producing software. We saw the value of design, found the right people for this job and we upskilled them to do their job effectively – we needed to learn the best tools and methodologies to use to allow for a human-centred design process.
Our design team evolved over time to meet the needs of the changing times. We identified the need for design teams to be aligned with the product vision and to make sure they had their own standards and processes. The designers, or rather the design duties, were previously unknowingly scattered among engineering teams or BAs were then moved into a dedicated Product Design function that now operated along with Product Management, while collaborating closely with the engineering teams. The idea behind this was to have Product Designers working closely with the Product Managers to define the product roadmap and bring standardised skills, practices and most of all specific focus to that area of the product pipeline.
IMAGE: Vizor Design Team structure - Old Vs New
The design team’s job is not just to produce designs, but to also advocate for design as a discipline. The design team is a highly cross-functional team comprised of designers from across the business. It would not have added much value to having an isolated design team that churns out designs and follows these standards – we wanted widespread adoption of our processes.
To ensure consistency, we have to get everyone on board – engineering teams, professional services teams and even support. Every area of our business contributes to the product in some way or the other which makes it even more important to have the same design principles adopted throughout the company.
A design function cannot drive change throughout an organisation by working in isolation. Design is a collaborative process that needs buy-in from everyone involved – our clients are of course our priority, but we also need everyone within our organisation to be on-board with the decisions we make to ensure the right outcomes, support, etc.
When designing a feature, there are several constraints that we need to operate within – technical feasibility, budget, performance, security concerns etc. While having these restrictions can feel limiting, we focus on delivering value within these constraints. Our design principles are focussed on providing simple, clean designs that deliver value to our customers. We want our users to love our products and for our products to help our users to do their job in the most efficient manner.
IMAGE: Value Complexity Matrix
Within the product team, we aim to prioritise the features based on the impact that they will have on the customer. When ranking features on a Value vs Complexity matrix (as shown in the figure), the goal is not to pick the features that are low in complexity– the goal is to prioritize the features that strike the perfect balance between effort and value. We want to design features that make our user’s jobs easier, but we also do not want to do it at the cost of adding high amounts of complexity to the software.
Over the years, we have refined the parameters that determine a feature score, in addition to a tried and tested estimation process that aims to stay as close to actual effort as possible.
There is no design without collaboration – designers cannot work on their own. Good design comes from asking the right questions and being able to give and receive feedback. Without collaboration, designers are just working off assumptions, which when untested produce designs that may not really be of benefit to anyone. At any good Product company, putting the user is at the centre of the design is paramount. Collaboration is built into every stage of the process – this is not limited to just our clients, but also includes our internal users as well as our engineering teams.
Bringing people together who have different skillsets allows us to tackle tougher challenges and have a stronger impact. When you have people in a room that bring in different sets of expertise, we can look at the problem from different angles. These different perspectives are critical for a designer – they provide the designer with the information needed to be able to make the right decisions that impact not just the feature as we design it today, but also designs and development down the road.
For example, involving engineers early in the process allows us to cater for technical limitations or indeed possibilities as well as leverage our existing capabilities, ensuring we are not met with roadblocks further down the process.
IMAGE: Collaboration Matrix in Vizor
Collaborating with our clients is most important to us. We want our customers involved in these designs. We take the time to explain the available options to our customers and understand the impact it would have on their ability to do their job. This allows us to make informed decisions and avoid a big reveal at the end of the delivery cycle – we want early buy-ins from our clients and to have clear and transparent goals as to what we are hoping to achieve.
One of our initiatives to further this cause is to involve our customers in our development sprints to get early feedback. We have been working on initiatives such as that which exposes a test environment to our customers with features being deployed that are currently within the delivery pipeline.
This helps us get feedback and fix issues at an early stage in the delivery lifecycle when they are much more cost-effective to incorporate or fix. It reduces the inconvenience of doing the same after a product has been shipped to a client.
The value of a design team cannot be understated – research has shown time and again that design-led companies always perform better. But a good design team takes time and patience to nurture and develop the skills and expertise necessary to build a product that truly meets our customer’s needs.
The world of financial regulation is a fast-paced environment with complex requirements and demands that make this a challenging ecosystem to design within. Vizor has always risen to this challenge - we have constantly evolved and improved our ways of working to stay current with the times.
Vizor Software was built from the ground up specifically for Financial Regulators – our users have always been at the heart of our software. The evolution of the design team has only strengthened and standardized our approach to becoming a design-centric company that delivers the best quality software.
We recognise the value of design and also understand that designing for regulators is a complex challenge that requires a deliberate, collaborative approach and expertise. But the world is constantly evolving and there will be new challenges in the future, and one must continue to evolve as needed to meet those demands.