MX | part 4 | Designing Experience
The Lighthaus project was very compelling for Allplan, and as a result Peter asked me to join the team in Munich in order to help make these new ideas a reality. So I asked to him, “make me an offer I cannot refuse.” He did, offering me the position of Chief Design Officer (CDO) at Allplan. Kevan Hollenback came along with me as my design director, and we spent the next 3.5 years in Munich: building a new UX team, along with Berit Leiking as the newly formed UX team leader. Together we worked diligently to raise the level of customer experience significantly throughout the company.
We made many more prototypes designed to explore and validate our strategic UX plans. Meanwhile Allplan’s developers worked from the inside out to modernize the core AEC (architecture, engineering, and construction) software offering. Rome was not built in a day, neither is rebuilding a 25 year old CAD software from Allplan. In the end, it was as much about making the best compromises as it was about re-inventing the wheel. The product complexity could not be tackled all at once, we had to break it down our UX plans into bite size chunks. Its graphic user interface was old and tired, generic in appearance with many inconsistencies – It needed a good cleaning, and so we set our sites on a stealth project to rework the GUI for 2013. The result you can see in the side by side comparison above, the change seems more about aesthetics than anything else – but we strongly believe that thus purpose and beauty are intertwined, and that refreshing Allplan’s graphic user interface refreshes the entire customer experience.
Code named SnoWhite, we set out to capture the light and clean feeling of fresh fallen snow. The feeling is cool and calm – the interface steps back, so that your work steps forward. The optimized color pallet, stripping away all that is not necessary, decreasing distraction, leave the user with only what is essential and meaningful. The result of this consistency is a remarkably clean and clear interface, which translates to power – making the product more pleasurable to use is the new standard in high-performance.
In 2011, I decided to stepped back form my leadership role at Allplan, but there was still lots of UX design work with the SnoWhite program still needing lots of attention (in fact, attention that we could not address adequately from within the organization). So Kevan Hollenback and I moved back into a design consultancy relationship with Allplan. We formally partnered up forming our new company UX-FLO B.V. – our office location in the heart of Amsterdam. With our independent organization, we could scale up quickly to meet huge amount of graphic design needed to implement the design language for SnoWhite.
Making SnoWhite work meant coordinating over 6 different interface programing technologies within one product (Winforms, MFC, .NET, WPF, among others) – to get them all to look and act the same was no easy task. Our time was also extremely limited, but with the highly motivated development teams in Munich and Bratislava, together we were able to do impossible – to create a consistent new look and feel for Allplan across all of its technical inner workings. This effort significantly cleaned up the user experience, helping to meet our goal of focusing on the work. It bares mentioning, Martin Auer (head of the GUI development at Allplan) was instrumental in making SnoWhite happen so consistently throughout the program – working diligently with scarce resources and impossible deadlines.
The freedom and flexibility at UX-FLO gave us new found vigor and energy, tapping into the vast talent of local graphic designers, we were able to tackle the huge project in front of us. The biggest part of this project was to rework over 1750 icons, in three different sizes, and in a less than five months (in order to meet the strenuous schedule). We added the graphic design team of Cody Andresen & Laura Haertling to join UX-FLO’s efforts to build this huge number of icons. Kevan balanced both designing as well as managing the GD team. The result, Allplan 2013 was released to much fan fair – this new interface being the first change of its kind to the user experience in over a decade.
During my tenure as CDO and UX-FLO (2009 through 2012), we helped Allplan to modernize a majority of its customer touch-points: Starting with the brand itself, including all the packaging and peripheral digital assets (splash screens, desktop icons, OS branding, etc), we even tackled customer invoicing. We formed strategic plans, envisioned next generation development, built lots of prototypes and rigorously tested them with real customers. We re-invented Allplan’s customer online communication with the community platform called Connect. And we helped to design many of new core features for version 2013, like the Exchange and Reinforcement Robot, all the time practicing our iterative creative process (design, prototype, test, > repeat). We worked throughout aiming to improve the User, Customer, and Brand Experience across the board (see diagram below) – and thus, the quality of life of the Allplan customer (as well as Allplan’s bottom line).
We also worked on many aspects of Allplan’s next generation product, which is currently in its first alpha testing release. We cannot share this work at this time, but needless to say we continued to strive to practice our over arching UX philosophy: to REDUCE – to only the essential; to UNIFY – consistent interactions & interfaces; and to create FLOW – streamlined optimal performance.As we evolve as an experience design consultancy, we are building more and more tools of understanding. These tools are designed to help establish context, both for the application of our work and its value within our clients’ organizations. One such tool that is becoming very useful is our Experience Cycle diagram, which helps to map specific customer touch points and gain insights into how we can best design and deliver positive experiences. These tools have been helpful building consensus of design direction with our resent clients.
I look forward to sharing more of our latest innovative user experiences soon. Thanks for taking all this time to read this series of posts! Please forgive me and let me know I got any of this creative history wrong – my memory is not what it once was…