If you think of the way that traditional IT software is bought, sold, and implemented, the end user has precious little to do with the decision-making process or the implemented result. When SolarWinds came along, we turned a lot of this process on its head:
|Traditional IT Management Software||SolarWinds IT Management Software|
|Purchase process||Powerful, expensive software purchased by C-level personnel/upper management||Powerful, affordable software purchased by the practitioner/end user|
|Evaluation||Proof of concept, including heavy vendor involvement (and perhaps having the vendor onsite)||Free trial, downloaded and implemented by the customer|
|Implementation||Requires a project and professional services||Requires one person with an hour or so to spend|
|Often does not even require the manual|
To achieve this model, SolarWinds software has to be different by nature. Our software must be easy to download, install, configure, and use, or the end user will not have a positive evaluation experience and will not want to use the software. And, in direct opposition to the world of traditional software, where the end-user’s opinion has very little to do with the actual purchase, with SolarWinds, what the end user thinks makes all the difference in the world.
A Different Worldview
Because we look at the world differently, SolarWinds also looks at our investment in UX differently. Far from a “nice to have,” a good user experience is vital to the whole way we develop, distribute, and market our software. As a result, we invest heavily in UX, and have a great department staffed with top people whose whole focus is on making SolarWinds products easier to evaluate and use. From the start of every dev cycle, and in longer ongoing projects, the UX team works to bring the SolarWinds products to a higher level with every new release.
How is this done? One important way is to focus on creating UIs that follow a SolarWinds “standard.” Two examples of well-known SolarWinds UI standards are Getting Started flows in Orion products, and dashboards that provide immediate what’s good/what’s bad feedback with the ability to drill down for more details.
Two “Getting Started” screens from the Orion product family.
SolarWinds software provides out-of-the-box dashboards to fit common use cases.
Standards allow the user to quickly establish “product knowledge” and recognize how things will function elsewhere in the current product, or in another SolarWinds product. This can help reduce the time it takes the user to learn something new—reducing time to value and support costs--and no one has to crack open the manual.
Another principle is to give UX attention to the product components every user will encounter: these include areas like the “getting started” and initial configuration screens. We’re also focused on streamlining the setup process by doing things like ensuring products have good initial defaults, creating instantly useful dashboards for the 80% case, and ensuring advanced features are accessible to power users but more hidden from novices.
A Virtuous Circle
We found a really easy way to determine the best user experience for SolarWinds customers: we ask them directly. Usability research is a cornerstone of our product development process, and we take it very seriously. We depend on our customers and prospects to tell us what works best, what’s not working, and why. Without this input – we would be losing a vital source of data regarding our customers’ requirements.
Regardless of what type of project the UX team is working on, their goal is to engage end users to make sure we are headed down the right path. This usually happens in 60-90 minute sessions using remote meeting software. In these meetings the UX team will share designs and ask the users to walk through key flows, giving their thoughts on each step along the way. We also do a lot of informal “show us how you use it” sessions, where we just follow along in a remote meeting as you walk and talk us through how you do things on your software, in your own environment. This second technique is especially useful for products SolarWinds acquires, where we really want to learn how the newest members of the SolarWinds family are using a given product.
Participants in user research benefit, too. They get to see sneak peeks of new products or new features before anyone else, and they walk away with the knowledge that the comments and feedback they’ve given will impact SolarWinds software. They also get goodies like our famous “usabili-buddy” t-shirts, SolarWinds baseball caps, and other swag.
Interested in Participating? Please Do!
So, how can you be part of this process?—Easy! Just email firstname.lastname@example.org with the following information and you’ll get put into our UX database to be contacted for upcoming research (the database is not shared with anyone outside of the UX department).
o your name
o a short description of your role and responsibilities
o the product(s) you use, if any OR if you are a non-user of SolarWinds products
o any special interests or considerations you think we need to know about you.
Tune in next week where we’ll look at some real life changes that were made to SolarWinds software as a result of user feedback.
Have you ever participated in a user experience study? Did you find it useful? What did you like or not like about it? We’d love to hear your thoughts either in the comments or email us directly.