Last year, we wrote a post about the Orion User Interface (UI) Refresh in which we shared with you some changes to the look and feel of Orion you could expect to see in upcoming releases, such as reducing the visual noise and clutter to better help you focus on ‘the big red things’ that should draw your attention.


As part of that effort, we in the SolarWinds User Experience (UX) team have relied heavily on input from you, our users, to help us identify where we were on track, and where we needed to course-correct. Come take a tour with us and learn about some of the changes that were made based on feedback from hundreds of users like you over the past year and a half!


Baselining the old UI

A basic tenet of our process is to really understand what’s working for users and what isn’t before we make any changes. We knew the UI was tired and dated, and we knew there were many underlying problems to solve, but we wanted to better understand what problems we should solve for and what use cases we should support. We interviewed users and took tours of real environments ‘in the wild’, ran focus groups over the phone, and met with key internal stakeholders like sales engineers, support and others who engage with users every day to ask for their input on what we should focus on. Out of that came this:


Solving the problems

Once we had our marching orders, we began investigating solutions. Visual design ideas had been percolating in our heads for a while, so we tackled that problem first. We mocked up a few key pages into an interactive prototype and asked users to take a look, and then take a survey to let us know their thoughts. Initial feedback let us know we were on the right track, but that we had some readability and contrast issues to solve. More changes were made, and more surveys went out until we felt confident that the new design would reduce visual noise, still allow good information density, and ensure easy readability.


Navigation took longer to solve for. We did card sorting activities where we asked users to group pages and name each group. We came up with four fully-coded navigation prototypes and watched users do tasks on each one. Then, we compared the time it took users to complete tasks on each one, and we collected comments on preference on each as well. We updated each navigation prototype and ran the same activity again. Lastly (or so we thought), we ran internal focus groups with sales, support, and other key audiences to fine-tune the chosen navigation scheme so we could finalize it.


Ta-da! (or not?)



Our new visual design and navigation scheme (above) addressed many of the problems we set out to solve. The visual design frees up space and allows the design to breathe, making it less intimidating for new or evaluation users, while preserving good data density for existing users.


In all activities with users, the most common word we heard to describe the new visual design was “sleek.” We successfully reduced the space that the navigation bar took, made navigation task-based and not product-based (notice Alerts, Reports, and Settings are right there in the top level navigation!), and got rid of that annoying problem of having second level navigation targets disappear when users scrolled off the appropriate first-level navigation. Users can still find everything they used to find under product tabs by clicking the My Dashboards menu (see screenshot below).


Were we done?—As it turns out, no. Late feature walkthroughs of the whole enchilada (navigation and design) exposed a problem. We had focused navigation efforts on targeting the far more prevalent use case of users with 3 or fewer Orion-based products. But users who had more than 3 products felt overwhelmed by what one called “the wall of black” that they saw when mousing over My Dashboards.


The solution? –Give users a choice of menu style. For users with 4 or fewer tabs in their primary navigation in Orion Platform version 2015.1.2 or earlier, the My Dashboards navigation defaults to show all menu items expanded (like the image above). For users with more than 4 tabs, we default to show each menu item individually expanded when moused over (like the screenshot below). Users can switch to whatever version they prefer, by selecting Expand or Collapse in the blue link at the bottom of My Dashboards.



Moving forward

We’ve done lots of work with users to validate the changes we made, but we know there is always room for improvement.  And, we have big plans moving forward!  When you get a chance to experience the new changes in any of the Orion products in June 2016, feel free to let us know what you think.  And if you’d like to take part in feedback sessions where you too can help shape the future of Orion products, sign up below!