A graphic of a manager and a technician standing in front of a TV screen mounted to a grey wall. The TV screen is showing an example of a dashboard with pie charts and line graphs. The manager has tan skin, short hair, and a full beard; is wearing a blue green button-up and a yellow coffee cup; and has a face of dismay. The speech bubble above the manager says "I wish I could toggle the filters on dashboards. I can't customize the view." The technician has dark skin, kinky hair tied in a bun, and white glasses; is wearing a black V-neck tee and a blue lab coat; and has a exhausted facial expression. The speech bubble above the technician says "I have no idea what this dashboard is for. Why do I have to see it every day?"

Salvaging $500K: Navigation Revamp

I led a navigation menu redesign for a network of interactive displays to improve the workplace experience for hundreds of employees. The overwhelmingly positive results of the redesign saved a 3 year product investment from being completely shut down.

This project isn't a typical UX case study, but I'll guide you through our design processes and share key technical and personal UX insights. I led this project! I also owned the research, design, and testing phases.

I have omitted & obfuscated confidential information in this case study. All information in this case study is my own and does not necessarily reflect the views of the employer.

Some context

For 3 years, a massive investment was spent on more than 80 interactive displays. Managers loved the screens, but never used them; employees hated the screens, but always had to see them. I inherited these problems when joining the team as the project lead.

Upper management was ready to abandon this project (including the $500K+ investment and over three years of work) but my team and I still believed in its potential. We were given 4 months to prove its business value.

Our team chose to redesign the screen’s navigation menu, the main barrier of entry for our users to engage with the displays.

Our main problem

These TV-sized touch screens were meant to engage employees and communicate important information, but most users were detached and pretty indifferent about what was displayed. One employee even liked to reach behind the monitor to turn it off when walking into work. 😅

Because the screens were placed where individual contributors worked, managers rarely saw the screens. However, they were still the key decision makers for what got shown on them. The managers often requested to display a LOT of dashboards, believing that it would give their team good work insights.

The problem was, their teams often had no clue how to read them and struggled to get any value from the dashboards. So how do we make these displays a useful tool for both the managers and their employees?

Getting lucky with research

Managing this network of displays was my full-time job at my team, so I was already spending every day with the screens and the users. I knew inside and out what our users did in their day-to-day work, how they engaged with the screens and what they felt about them, and what their priorities, problems, and motivations were. I also documented user problems and needs ever since starting the job, so luckily most of the research/discovery was already on hand. (Dream scenario, am I right?)

Breaking down the original design

The navigation menu was the main culprit for limited user interactions, misunderstanding of the screen’s touchscreen capabilities, and lack of access to useful information. 

Working with constraints

Security policies and previous project decisions created three main limitations:

  • Old software = less capabilities: The outdated digital signage software meant our design options were limited. (ie visual shadows, low interactivity, etc)
  • Limited outside access: We couldn’t connect to helpful info like weather and traffic, which unfortunately was a popular request from our users.
  • Poor physical placement: Many screens were placed either too high or above a desk or cabinet. Reorienting the screens was determined a low business priority.

We were battling with with older technology to try to create a modern technology experience.

Finding digital signage best practices

I took the initiative to research best practices for digital displays, and turned the guidelines into requirements for this redesign. 

  1. Text has to be large (min 24pt), legible (sans serif), and simple (keep it short)
  2. Interactive elements have to be within reach (located in the bottom half of the screen, and limited to finger taps and swipes)
  3. Screen elements should be placed relative to a center focal point. When users are interacting at about an arms length away, the far corners of the screen are out of their peripheral.

I also enjoyed capturing digital signage screens to inspire my team and foster creative thinking!

Ideating for our main users

Our team wanted to refocus the screens to prioritize the needs of our main users, the technicians. If our technicians found the screens useful, we could justify the project’s business value and save this $500K investment! 

To guide our designs, we held team brainstorms and frequently challenged each other’s design decisions with questions like, “Would a technician understand what we mean by X?” or “Does this meet the manager’s main needs?”

Litmus testing the menu layout

We narrowed down our design to two potential layouts for the menu. Our management encouraged us to save time by choosing which layout we liked the most. I pushed back and advocated for a small usability test to better determine what layout would be best received by our users.

I got just enough time to interview one technician, one manager, and one engineer individually on their thoughts and feelings towards these two layouts. Given these screens required physical interaction, I did my best to factor for accessibility and chose testers with different physical accommodations. 

The feedback and results (I can’t show it off 🙁) were analyzed based on frequency of mentions and the impact of the user’s problem. After compiling our user feedback in a matrix with these weights, the results supported a bottom navigation bar. This was ultimately the most accessible option for all of our users.

The final design ✅

How did the users react?

  • A proud moment: Prioritizing user-centricity when it wasn’t common practice.
  • We squeezed usability tests into in-person demos to gather feedback.
  • Users went from hating the screens to loving them!

It’s worth noting that the technicians were typically suspicious of new tech because it had often been integrated poorly into their workflows. We wanted to avoid making that mistake, and we wanted to gather as much feedback as possible. 

Holding in-person demos of the new solution tackled two things at once: gently introducing the redesign to users and seeing how they interacted with it in real-time. By having users try the menu on their own, we got to observe their interaction behaviors, answer any of their questions, and take live feedback/suggestions all at once.

We saw a positive attitude shift towards the screens, and got overwhelmed with user participation, feedback, and ideas. Coworkers were excitedly showing the cafe menu and campus map to each other and actively using dashboards to support their work. At best, the users became incredibly excited to start engaging with the new tool. At worst, we got to clear up any confusion with the screens and got the managers and technicians on the same page. 

How did management react? 🥘

  • The survey feature collected 120+ responses in three weeks (breaking survey records) with over 80% in favor of the redesign.
  • We saved the screens! We proved how a user-centric navigation menu solution improved our users’ work experience and increased user engagement tenfold.
  • Thanks to the new menu, company directors ate chicken tikka masala for lunch.

The new survey feature was an early indicator of increased user satisfaction. In three weeks, our navigation menu satisfaction survey gathered over 120 responses, with 80% satisfaction. It broke our team record for feedback—we had never gotten this many responses in our past paper survey attempts! We had enough quantifiable data to convince management of the business value of the digital signage project, and won the budget for a project renewal

Not long after the launch, our management invited us to demo our project to several high-ranking directors. I later ran into them at the campus cafe, and they thanked me for showing the cafeteria menu because it helped them decide where and what to eat! They enjoyed the chicken tikka masala for lunch. 

Thinking about the next iteration

  • We didn’t solve the problem of content quality.
  • The redesign mistakenly led people to think that the screens were like customizable personal tablets.‍

Despite its success, the new menu was a band-aid solution that didn’t address larger, long-term roadblocks to user engagement. One of these challenges was content management. In some cases, the same graphics and PSAs were displayed for weeks, and people grew tired of seeing the same content over and over again. Feel free to reach out so I could tell you how we eventually solved this problem! (I got to develop a new standard of including users in decision-making processes!)

The solution also unintentionally added complexity to this already short-staffed project. Some managers started to treat the 55” screens like massive iPads, and expected a plethora of bespoke dashboards and content. Upon reflection, the team recognized that fewer features would have helped adjust stakeholder expectations to the limitations of our team’s capabilities. 

Closing thoughts

I found this project to be a valuable lesson on how focused effort and user-centric design can drive incredible results and long-term impact. In just four months, we proved to our leadership that the key to making a useful tool for technicians and managers was to simply design with a focus on their needs

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