Solar Staff
Interface for professional systems
Short summary of the project:
Team: two managers, analytic, UX designer.

Start: July 2016

Duration: 2.5 months

Work pace:
standard

Workload:
10 interviews, 4 screens

Result: conversion increased by 2 times
Start
Working with freelancers is always difficult. Especially, when there's a dozen of them. You have to do paperwork, transfer money to their cards, sometimes web money or bank accounts, also you need to transfer copyrights and keep in mind a lot of bureaucratic details, so you won't break the law.

Solar Staff is a service to automatize paperwork and payments for remote teams and freelancers. The founders of this service worked in organization of remote personnel for major companies and came up with a solution, which helps businesses to improve this process.
When the trees were great and the Internet was small, programmers provided hosting to other programmers. Old FASTVPS website was great for this kind of situation. However, the hosting market has changed in 10 years. Now not only hard core geeks create sites, but most regular people do it as well.
Problem
Programmers created the interface on their own and they have been making some alterations along with the product development. Even though they tried hard to make it convenient, they made some mistakes. Users deal with them for now, however sometime in the future it may become a serious problem. So, the client came to us for audit: to check the interface, find mistakes and show how to improve them. .
Upsides and downsides
Upside

Engagement of the client. As usual, it's half of the success.
Access to the users. We had a real chance to talk to the current users of the product.

Downside

Uncertainty
— Service is developing, and there are many things under question. It remains to deal with the legal aspects. We didn't know all the technical details, particularly concerning money transfer. For example, how many payment systems will there be?

Let's work
For the audit, we have a standard plan of action. First of all - we talk to the users. But the communication does not start from scratch. To conduct an interview, you need to create a so-called guide - a list of topics and specific questions. And to make a guide ... you need to interview!

Research
This is where the internal expertise can come in handy. Many of "Pavlova's Dog" employees once were freelancers and customers. We discussed our experience and got a general image, "this is how freelancers work" and "this is how customers work". This helped the analyst to dive into the subject. After that he could make a guide for communication with users.
According to this scheme, we had ten interviews: five with managers and five freelancers. At this stage the customer learned something new for itself – and that meant that we are moving in the right direction. We have identified several problems.
1. It is not clear what this service is about. Is it about working together? Or about accounting issues when working with freelancers?
There's an issue of trust – a freelancer gives out his passport information and banking information. People need to be sure that this information is protected and there is no risk.
The financial calculations are not sufficiently transparent both to the customer and to the freelancer. It is not clear, how much time will it take to pay for the work.
And finally, the most important thing. The initial idea was that the system allows you to track the work progress: a breakdown of the project into subtasks, their progress, and the closing stages as well as the payment. But people almost never used this function - all turnover was monitored on their own, without the help of Solar Staff.
The results of the interview were introduced as a list of user portraits.
This helped to understand how users Solar Staff live and the difficulties they encounter. But how to transform this knowledge into a list of specific comments to the interfaces?

Expert rewiew

As you can see, you can not just come and do the audit. The preparation takes the lion's share of time. The evaluation criteria are not taken from nowhere - the expert should base on realistic scenarios.
We tested the freelancer story in the same way. We evaluated private office and the main page. So this is how the results looked like. Look at the example of the main page below.
Let's say a few words about the audit. We can't say that this is our favorite thing to do, because it is always easy to criticize. However, not everybody do that in terms of a coherent proven methodology – so this is something we can brag about. But what does it look like from the point of view of the client? He gets a long list of comments and our recommendation to improve everything as soon as possible. Seems like everything's fine. Now he the client sees the business from a different perspective and understands what to do. But often this is the end. However, the audit is just the beginning, sort of acceleration before the actual work.

In our case, everything worked out much better. The client didn't just thank us for the work and started implementing the improvements. The tasks were divided into two groups.

1
Business tasks. Home page (service positioning), issues of trust.
2
Interface tasks. Or rather, tasks concerning projects and payments.
The client decided to do the first group on its own, and the second group of tasks was assigned to us.
It is very important that the client saw the need to improve some things on its own. That is he realized what pages and sections need to be improved, and asked us for help.
Interaction design
We were ready to get started right away as we already knew the customer, the users, their life situations and scenarios. We only needed to design the solution. And this is what we did.

To add a task, a user needed to fill in a lot of different fields to make the system form the set of documents. It was really inconvenient and hard to do in the first version of the interface. We have simplified the process of the problem setting, broke it down into steps (or rather, in a few branches of scenarios) and provided the field with comments.

Now, when setting the problem user can immediately invite a new (not yet registered in the system) participant. Previously, user would have to go to a different section of the site.
We insisted that a freelancer should not be tied to one company: if a freelancer is working through Solar Staff with several companies, it is not necessary to create multiple accounts. His employers do not know and cannot see each.
Now you can save task as a draft. It is also convenient, for example, to crate a list of task and add specific agents, once the client found a freelancer for that role.

The summary of tasks has become more understandable. This is what it used to look like.
And this is what we proposed. We renamed "groups" into "projects" to make it clearer.
The former page of task description was complicated and inconvenient.
There is also a block called correspondence at the bottom of the page. It was understandable that the agent and the client won't discuss the task here. So what do we do? Remove correspondence at all? But if you need to clarify the financial issues this is the right place. And here we decided to turn this unit from chat into log. The system records the progress of work, displaying automatic notifications. Or you can also type a message and discuss something.
We haven't forgot about accountants – here we showed all the information, statistics and filtering options they require.
Pages for freelancers look a little different. And this difference is in the details. You can have a look at the prototypes.
Result
The client has already updated the homepage according to our recommendations. Now they are working on the personal account page. It is more complicated, as it involves the system kernel. But hopefully they'll finish it soon. And yet we will give the word to the client.
Testimonial
We did a great job! We did not feel "abandoned", we got the result (for both stages) even faster than we expected.

We can evaluate the result only positively. We got interfaces that solve all these problems, and even more – some outstanding new functionality was proposed that perfectly fits into the overall concept and it helps Solar Staff to reach its full potential.

Alexander Nikitin
Director of Technology
Moral
Two useful conclusions can be made from this history. First, one should start the interface improvement before the problem becomes acute. Then you can put everything in order without haste. Second, the audit is only the beginning of the process, thus, it makes sense to take it when you are ready to get right till the end. One huge advantage of the audit is that you save much time for the design: when you have the analytics, you already know what to improve.

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«Sobaka Pavlova» — complex interface design
Saint-Petersburg • Moscow • Russia • Europe • USA

SPb, Arsenalnaya st, 1, b. 2, of. 221, BC «Arsenalniy» (from 10 to 19 on weekdays).
Free parking in front of the building. Bike parking too.
Nearest Metro station — «Ploschad Lenina».
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