Designing Switch: from idea to launched product

A brief overview of our journey so far

 

Update: as of January 14, 2015 Switch launched out of beta to the public. 

The Switch design journey started a little over one year ago, with an idea and vision of creating a better phone service for businesses. With tons of room for innovation in this space, one of our first priorities was finding the right starting point.

The Switch.co design team

Discovery

We began by brainstorming and getting some of our initial ideas down in sketch form. Sometimes, those original (and obvious) ideas end up being the most worthwhile. In design, it’s not uncommon for a final solution to resemble one of the initial concepts, but this doesn’t make the design process itself any less valuable. It’s crucial to have a solid handle on the process to explore alternatives, inject new ideas, and constantly learn through iteration.

Capturing these early ideas helped us better frame our discovery research and create some discussion guides. Our research involved meeting with various members of our target audience (IT professionals, office managers, executives) across a multitude of industries to learn about specific needs and communication habits (both through audio communication tools and face-to-face) in the workplace. We saw a lot of great examples of people finding hacks to get current systems to work for them, like creating fake accounts for conference rooms, using multiple services simultaneously for audio and visual, and using IM to notify someone of a “parked call” instead of transferring it.

At that point, we began designing some basic interactive flows (e.g. making and receiving calls, sending messages). By introducing some of the flows back into our research discussions, we could get a better idea of what our participants were expecting from a digital alternative to the desk phone. The outcome for us was a clear understanding of what communication tools someone would need and actually use in a modern workplace.


Exploration

The following months were filled with iteration and prioritization of features. We constructed several hundred rough mockups in Keynote, which were constantly tested and refined. By March of 2014, we had narrowed our concepts down to three very different directions for the desktop experience. Despite the differences in form factor and usability, all three concepts had the same features and functionality. You could make calls, view someone’s contact info, and send them messages, just to name a few. Conducting a thorough round of user studies was going to be crucial in moving forward with something we felt confident about.

The "drawer" concept. The panel on the right slides out to reveal conversations. The main weakness was that it made it difficult to multi-task and have simultaneous conversations.

The "3 panel" concept. The main idea here is that everything would be visible at once, to reduce the amount of digging and looking around. This concept was too obtrusive and didn't feel like a seamless integration into a person's workflow.

The "launcher" concept. This would be a small window with contacts, from where you could launch any conversation. The main weakness with this one was the lack of call history.

Our design partners at Google Ventures were instrumental in helping us advance the design. They helped us prepare our design directions, recruited participants and even conducted the user studies for us. (A big thank you!) At the end of an intense week, we set up a live stream in our office and watched our designs being put to the test. It was also a great opportunity to get everyone on the design and product team involved.

The outcomes of the user studies were very clear: two concepts in particular each had their strengths, but each had some serious weaknesses. We decided we’d try to combine the strengths of the two designs, to end up with what would be our final design direction moving forward.

 

Build

We spent the following months building out detailed flows, and refining the Switch desktop experience. Little by little, we started carrying over that experience to mobile platforms, making sure that whenever we make a design update on one platform, it gets reflected in the others. We want to provide our users with a truly cross-platform experience.

Our goal was to maintain aspects of a phone that are familiar to people, while dramatically simplifying the more complex actions.

We began exploring visual design concepts, and how branding might apply, along with animations and transitions to see how it would feel. As we continued to do all of this, we made sure our designs matched our intended values. The desk phone is something that people are familiar with, but don’t often know how to use because it’s not obvious. Our goal was to maintain aspects of a phone that are familiar to people, while dramatically simplifying the more complex actions. This created some interesting UX challenges, which often resulted in fairly large structural solutions for our service: defining the hierarchy of departments and groups, rules and settings for when numbers get rung, and a simplified pricing model, just to name a few.

 

We wanted to give people a chance to update their workplace with a tool that is more appropriate for the way we work today. Our amazing engineering team (we’re hiring!) has helped us achieve that by building Switch.co from the ground up. The design team’s relationship with our engineers has grown to the point where we can collaborate closely and create some amazing things together.

The launch of our product two weeks ago felt like the end of our design project, but in reality it’s just the beginning. We’ve built a great platform, upon which we’ll continue to learn and refine our process to design more creatively and efficiently. We look forward to embarking on this adventure with you and sharing along the way. Follow our blog for more updates from the design team and @switchco on Twitter.

You can also follow us on Dribbble. Lots of great content coming soon!

Jerome, Jon, Whitney, Jason, and Micael.


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