Act! Essentials

Creative Direction, Project Management, UX Design, Research, Usability Testing

Overview

Built from the ground up, Act! Essentials is a fully-responsive, cloud-based CRM tool for Swiftpage’s product portfolio. The new SaaS-based product was built to fuel small business growth by helping users get and stay organized, digitally market like a professional, and automatically know the best next step to increase sales by fusing together contact management with emarketing. The business vision was the belief in which everyone strives to be the master of their craft because they love to do their job, and Act! Essentials will help do this.

Whiteboarding and storyboarding
Whiteboarding and empathy map for "Jane", and a storyboard excerpt from "Jane's Day".
Empathy exercises.

Research and Information Gathering

I worked alongside the team to lead user-centered design thinking in building a mobile-first product to capture a younger, digitally native audience. Our scenarios surrounded statements such as “search and find contacts easily” and “what should I do today”.

We did a lot of exploration around who these people might be, what they think, worry about, do, and more. Excercises like empathy maps, storyboarding, surveying existing micro-business owners and stakeholders, and asking more questions helped us begin to understand what having a meaningful relationship with contacts fundamentally means to our target audience. When constructing task flows and scenarios we continuously asked, “what problem are we solving, and how is the user currently dealing with it?” to help inform our design decisions.

Early sketches of what Act! Essentials could become.
Our first persona, Jane.
Sketches, flows, and layouts around a multi-user model
Sketches, flows, and layouts around a multi-user model.
User flow for contact management
Early user flow for contact management.

Sketching and Discovering Patterns

Development started immediately following project kickoff in the fall of 2013 so as designers, we were challenged to work in cadence with delivering the interface while considering what the product experience might be a couple months ahead. I made sure development had what they needed to keep moving forward while merging both the short- and long-term visions so the product’s UI wouldn’t need a major overhaul down the road. During this phase we also started putting together patterns using the Atomic Model methodology for the interface.

Sketches around predictive analytic functions.
User flows for a couple diferent features.
Mobile patterns and flow for groups and webforms.
Paper wireframe, and examples of functional prototypes built in Axure.
Paper wireframe, and examples of functional prototypes built in Axure.

Testing, Validating, and Iterating

Initially, lot of our validation came through as feedback from colleagues and stakeholders in-house due to time constraints and resources. The design team sat next to the largest conference room in the office so I would tape mocks to the windows next to the entrance and gather feedback quickly and on the fly for various features - account managers gave valuable advice in building the Activities feature of the product, and sales and finance brought insight to the billing and purchase flows.

Another method we used was rapid prototyping to see if a design would make sense, even if it meant breaking a pattern for a better user experience. Running these exercises within our very own company started to expose the design team in a way it had not been before. A constant challenge we faced was even if an design that deviated from current patterns would be more useful, existing ones would often be followed in order to deliver the MVP within the business timeline. UX improvements would be visited in the future.

Axure workspace of some working prototypes.
UX audits from talking with users.
Keeping track of UX debt in Trello.

Outcome

Act! Essentials was originally released in September 2014 as Act! Cloud Beta, and later rebranded to the current name in July 2015. I oversaw the product’s UI refresh in September 2015.

We continued to listen to the community on UserVoice and through the support ticketing system ZenDesk, as well as one-on-one nurture relationships I developed with customers which guided us in continuing to improve the product with the best possible experience through the rest of my tenure at the company.

See it in action at mycloud.act.com
See it in action at mycloud.act.com