Using social software to design social software
Since social software is useful for collaboration and gathering feedback, the user experience team for Lotus Connections used these tools in a variety of ways during the design process. They gathered feedback from end users by inviting them to post comments in discussion forums. Reviewing the blogs of the most active users was another way they learned about people's reactions to real-world experience with the beta version of the product. Some members of the team found that posting questions using the personal status micro blogging updates on their profiles was a good way to request input on some key design decisions. The design team is distributed across five different locations including Massachusetts, North Carolina and Dublin, Ireland. They relied heavily on the Activities component of Connections to organize their design activities. This let them easily exchange design sketches and comments on each others work from across multiple locations. With the new wiki component added to Lotus Connections 2.5, they have also begun to organize requirements for future releases using pages that are edited through collaboration.
Engaging with customers
In addition to getting feedback via social software, the Connections design team engaged with customers using a variety of more traditional user experience and usability techniques. They held sessions to discuss the priority of various features that were being considered for the new release. They also held detailed design reviews with customers during the early stages of the design process, and then held usability tests on some early implementations of the user interface. They worked with the coordinators of the beta program to gather the feedback from customers as they deployed the beta version on their own internal networks. With a constant stream of reviews and feedback, they were able to refine the user experience while maintaining a log of improvements that will be considered for future releases.
Looking to the future
As the use of social software continues to explode in the consumer space, there are signs of increasing value for enterprises to collaborate in this same way. New employees coming into the work force expect this approach to communicating for their work just as they do for personal use. Existing employees looking to gather feedback from across their organization, raise awareness of new initiatives, and identify innovative approaches to their work, are finding that in many cases, using social software can be a smarter way to work.
If you'd like to meet the Lotus Connections design team and read more about the challenges they tackled in building Lotus Connections 2.5, go here.