Ashley Kircher I build things I design

Leading Research

Enigma Technologies, Inc.

Backstory

At the start of 2017 Enigma's Head of Product approached me about undertaking a company wide effort to improve UX research. Until that point research had been left to the discretion of individual designers. This lead to an uneven amount of research behind product decisions. I had demonstrated an ability and interest in handling research on my own projects, which the Head of Product now wanted extended to other product teams. My goals were to enable user research to happen at every stage of product development on every team while raising awareness company wide about our users and their needs.

Process

I started by surveying the design team and product managers, to gauge their current understanding of our users, how they were using research to inform decisions, and what needed improvement. Based on their input, it was clear there was a need for more informative resources at every stage of product development. I spent several days researching existing resources, and compiled a small library from sources like the New York Times, Google Ventures, and Microsoft.

The library was organized by product stage, and consisted of how–to documents for things like drafting a user interview script, research exercises for group problem solving, and templates for documenting findings. Additionally I created a directory of people that were available for usability testing, along with draft language for outreach and follow up emails.

Having created these resources the next step was to work individually with each product manager—introducing them to the library and working together to find an area where they could begin doing some user research with their team. As a team we agreed on a centralized documentation process that would facilitate cross-team knowledge of users. The developments were presented at an all–hands meeting, and I wrote a post for the company blog.

Outcome

While each product manager worked at their own pace, one in particular took quickly to the new resources. She and I worked very closely on developing a research plan for Enigma's consumer–facing app, and I coached her through executing it. The results were incredibly gratifying, as the findings directly informed her product decisions around priorities, features, and user acquisition for the upcoming launch.

A Strategic Redesign

Enigma Technologies, Inc.

Backstory

From early 2017 through June 2017 I worked as the lead product designer on a relaunch of Enigma's consumer facing app, Public. Public allowed data users to search and browse millions of publicly available datasets in a fast–loading and beautifully designed interface. The goals of the relaunch were to grow the user base and strengthen the company's commitment to the public data community.

Process

I started my work by pulling quantitative user data from Google Analytics and Mixpanel. I specifically looked at how users arrived at the app, how deeply engaged they were once they were there, and what the drop–off rates on our sign up forms were. While the usage and traffic source data were most useful for setting a pre–redesign benchmark, it was clear that the drop–off rate needed to be addressed. Considering that it was triggered before a user could experience any part of the app, it seemed reasonable to assume that by allowing users to use some of the app before requiring them to create an account we could improve sign ups. This change was the most significant proposal I advocated for.

I gathered support and evidence for this decision through stakeholder interviews and extensive user interviews. After presenting the usage data and persuading several stakeholders the team agreed to significantly alter the sign up flow for the relaunch. Based on this strategic change I developed several product design changes that could both address needs uncovered in our user research, and facilitate sign ups. The approved proposal included a gated feature set (like saving and exporting data) to prompt sign ups, self–guided feature tours, and a curated landing page to serve as a welcome to the app. I worked closely with the product owner, senior product marketer, and extended stakeholders to refine the solution, as well as the design manager to perfect the visual execution.

The final step ahead of launch was to plan and implement metrics tracking, so we could gauge the impact of our changes. I lead the creation of the tracking plan, with input from marketing and product, and lead mini–workshops on how to use Mixpanel to interpret the data and make changes in the future.

Outcome

The app relaunched in June 2017 with the completed redesign. It served as significant step forward in the app's evolution, allowing for ongoing iteration to focus more on incremental improvements to the new features. While metrics gathering is ongoing, internally the app has been received positively.

Revamping a Flagship Product

Enigma Technologies, Inc.

Backstory

Enigma's flagship B2B product, Assembly, an interface for finding, viewing, and manipulating tabular data had not been updated for 2 years, and I was tasked with auditing, researching, and designing updates for a beta release in October 2016. I began work in April 2016.

Process

I started with a very basic visual audit of the existing app, to set a baseline for changes. I then began interviewing internal users of the app on the product, engineering, and sales teams. Additionally, I ran a small user persona building exercise to document our prioritized users. Given the information gathered during the interviews and exercise, coupled with input from product stakeholders, I focused my design attention on improving navigation through the app and the search experience.

While navigation proved to be a design problem I could explore through UX and design research, the search experience was complex and technically nuanced. For that reason I opted to run a GV Sprint around search. Taking the findings from my navigation research and the GV Sprint, I proposed an initial redesign that incorporated my findings. To validate the changes I worked with a frontend developer to make a rapid prototype and ran 5 internal usability tests. The findings from those tests allowed me to further refine my designs, leading to the next proposed design.

At this point we were two months from our intended beta launch date. As a team we agreed to lock in the feature set, and complete visual design. I worked closely with our senior visual designer to complete the UI. We launched the redesigned app in October, and working with the sales team I orchestrated several user interviews to get feedback on our work. Pairing with another designer I designed and ran 5 interviews, collated the transcripts, and analyzed for trends and takeaways.

Outcome

The work done for the beta release introduced important new paradigms to the app, setting us up for more gradual improvements in the following months. The app was generally well–received by the stakeholders and clients, and the feedback we received during our interviews helped inform the future product roadmap.

Running a GV Sprint

Enigma Technologies, Inc.

Backstory

Enigma was revisiting the design of a major product, and specifically looking to improve upon the search experience. After conducting user interviews it became clear that resolving the issues at hand would require significant input from multiple teams. It was also clear that a handful of decisions remained to be made around our prioritized user and their use case. In an effort to efficiently address these things I proposed that we run a Google Ventures style sprint, in which we chose a prioritized user, and built a prototype to test ideas around one aspect of their experience with search.

Process

Having been the one to propose the sprint, I acted as the facilitator throughout the process. This entailed recruiting members from the company to participate, leading discussions and exercises, and generally making sure that as a group we were productive and efficient. Additionally I took on the responsibility of scheduling users to come onsite to test the resultant prototype, and conducted each of the usability tests.

After the sprint was completed I prepared a presentation for the rest of the company to share an overview of the work we had done and the feedback we had received on our prototype. Additionally I wrote an internal blog post detailing the process and included recommendations for others who were interested in running sprints of their own.

Outcome

This endeavor was successful on many levels. For a product team new to user testing, seeing what could be accomplished through a simple prototype was very powerful. The ideas tested and user feedback were immediately helpful in guiding the redesign. The presentation and accompanying blog post were well–received, and will serve as beneficial resources for those outside this particular sprint.

Runtime Optimization

Enigma Technologies, Inc.

Backstory

Enigma had developed a domain specific language for parsing and ingesting data. As a complement to the language, users were offered a visual interface for debugging and monitoring the runs of their team's parsers. A key component of this were the performance metrics, through which developers could easily pinpoint inefficiencies in their code.

Process

The original design of this particular piece of the interface was a heavily nested tree, with previous and following steps hidden from view when looking at a single step. A dynamic donut chart next to the tree would show the percentage breakdown of each step on hover. In general, key labels and information were hidden behind hover states, and removed the context necessary to find inefficiencies quickly.

As a solution to this the proposed design was to break the debugging process into two complementary but independent views. Users could choose to view the parser steps in a tree map visualization, with a right-hand legend that would update to whichever step was being hovered over. Or they could choose to view the steps in a table view, whose colors corresponded to those of the tree map.

Outcome

Ultimately this solution was well–received by the developers using the tool internally, who found the tree map view much closer to industry standard depictions (as well as pleasant to view) and was adopted in the recent redesign and relaunch of the product.

Historical Reporting

Chartbeat, Inc.

Backstory

Nearly all of Chartbeat's products focused around real-time use cases, or fixed snapshots of previous time periods. After a sales-driven foray into more robust historical reporting limited to a domain's authors, the product team decided to tackle full–fledged, flexible historical analytics. As the designer of the author reports, I was given the opportunity to lead the design of the historical product.

Research

With a strong and loyal user base, there was generally a good understanding of broadly what our users needed from an historical product. To build up a more in–depth understanding of their current needs the product manager and myself conducted a series of interviews specifically around the use of historical data in editors' day–to–day decision making.

Our interviews confirmed our assumption that an historical product would be largely about seeing comparative performance, and about quickly getting a sense of whether or not things were going normally.

One of the most revealing things to come from this research was the realization that goal–setting — something we had been conceptualizing on a quarterly or yearly time scale — was a nearly hourly activity. We found that editors frequently planned milestones for audience growth, which could be estimated down to the day. Therefore editors would check in multiple times per day to course–correct based on how closely they were tracking to their goal for that day.

Result

After structural explorations the proposed design was broken into two pages — one set up as a dashboard for quickly understanding if things were generally on track, the second set up as a granular record of performance.

Contained on the dashboard page were the nuanced visualizations of data over time, that specifically displayed past performance against the current performance, as well as the general range of performance. Also on the dashboard were highlighted 'best in category' items, such as the most read story, the highest performer for social audiences, and the most engaging story.

The second, 'deep dive' page was a data rich table of all the stories within the set time period, showing keys metrics contextualized by relative past performance. Users could apply a variety of filters to further contextualize performance by traffic type, section of the site, and author.

Future plans included an intelligent system for applying callouts to items that were outliers for certain high–value metrics, as well as a system for entering and tracking audience growth milestones.

Designing with Real Data

Chartbeat, Inc.

Part One: Graph coloring system and usage

Despite being an analytics and data company our products visualized data sparingly, often opting to stick with numbers and lists. In the course of designing a new product our design team was confronted with unprecedented complexity to visualize. Our established coloring system accommodated visualizing up to 5 distinct entities, or 1 entity with 5 levels of gradation. What was needed in the new product was up to 10 entities and 10 gradations.

Over the course of a couple weeks I worked through various combinations and systems, the outcome of which was a bit of a compromise between mathematical logic and visual aesthetics. The proposed system outlined 6 hues, and 10 levels of gradation for each. As opposed to simply using gradations 1-2-3 for a three part graph, and 1-2-3-4 for a four part graph and so on, the levels of gradation were outlined such that each combination remained legible.

While working my way through the coloring system I outlined usage guidelines for different types of data — for example volume over time versus total volume.

Part Two: Make designing with real data easy

Having a system for colors and usage guidelines was helpful to the team, but mocking up data was still incredibly inefficient. Spurred by a workflow-tool themed Hackweek a frontend developer and I worked to created a Sketch plugin that could help us design with real data. As a template we used the Content Generator plugin. During the week I modified the plugin to include various text-based data for filing in tables with our most frequently displayed metrics. Concurrently my teammate was working to implement a graphing capability, that would allow you to specify the type of graph, size of organization being mocked, and number of points to include. An additional feature was the ability to upload a new .csv file.

The resulting plugin was a huge step forward in enabling the design team to test their mocks with realistic data. As an added bonus, my teammate and I got the most votes and 'won' Hackweek!

Rethinking navigation

Chartbeat, Inc.

Backstory

In the beginning of 2016 Chartbeat's design director laid out a plan to unify the UX of our product suite. At the time the leadership of the company had released a plan that outlined a new sales structure that grouped offerings into tiers. One of the major challenges for both of these was cross-product navigation. Products were vastly inconsistent visually and there were multiple navigation structures. From a brand and design standpoint this was a sore spot. From a sales perspective, this disjointedness represented a missed opportunity to facilitate upsells from the basic offering to a more premium group of products. Over the course of several weeks I worked closely with the design director to put together a proposal for a new unified navigation system.

Process

The first step was to establish a baseline and make our case to the executive team. To do so I performed an audit of the existing navigation structures, and pulled inspiration from other companies with tiered product systems for guidance on how we might indicate upsell opportunities to users.

One of our major considerations was incremental implementation, so we decided on a navigation system that could be broken up into smaller pieces. After defining all the necessary elements — global versus product specific, primary versus secondary in the hierarchy — I explored different modular structures and visual treatments.

Result

The resulting proposed design was anchored by a colored header, the color of which could expand into a sub-brand for the particular product. Within the header would be displayed a logo lock-up with the user's current tier, as well as the title of the currently viewed product and subsection if applicable. Each product would have 3 global secondary functions: switching between products, switching between domains, and accessing global settings. The list of products to switch between would contain products not yet purchased, labeled as 'premium,' and allow the user to navigate to pages containing more information.

Each product had different levels of filtering available, some not at all, and some could be filtered by multiple facets. To accommodate this variation filters (by tag, section, date range, etc.) would be contained in a bar beneath the global header in products where they were available. An additional navigational piece that varied between products was internal navigation. Some products contained multiple internal pages, while others were a single dashboard. In cases where it was needed, an internal navigation menu would be displayed on the same z–index as the product content itself.

Other things about me

I'm a New York-based digital product designer, previously at Enigma and Chartbeat. I graduated from the Rhode Island School of Design in 2010 with a BFA in Illustration. Key skills: a knack for turning jargon-y copy into plain friendly English, opinion sharing, question asking, and general good humor.

In November 2016 I also co-founded the virtual reality startup Minda with my husband to tackle workplace bias and sexism. During the summer of 2017 we were a part of the Play Labs Accelerator at MIT. You can see coverage of our demo day here. I'm open to full time, contract, and freelance work, so if you've got something cool brewing drop me a line :)