We recently wrapped up a company offsite; Kaleidoscope is a remote team, so these in-person weeks are a great opportunity to address key learnings from the previous month or two, sync on company strategy, and start executing against our most pressing goals. Below are some reflections from our most recent week of co-working, which focused on user experience. As always, if anything here resonates, please reach out!
- Your newest team members are in a unique position to expose areas of potential product improvement. As new joiners, these individuals aren't yet super comfortable with the product, meaning their "Why does this work like this?" questions are a great way to get a fresh perspective.
- There are many ways to build and maintain customer empathy. Focusing on the problems that your end users have, and the constraints under which they operate, is critical. We're always striving to find complementary ways to keep our 'empathy muscle' active.
- Building snappy, responsive, and reliable software requires explicit emphasis on these things. This includes both maintaining a high internal bar of what good looks like, and baking in periods of work explicitly focused on polish and usability.
Fresh perspectives are incredibly valuable.
We had two new people join the team recently, which was a unique opportunity to share what we’ve built so far and hear what does or doesn’t immediately make sense.
The more time you spend building a solution, the more you get accustomed to things working a certain way. Often, this is a good thing: more time thinking about a problem means a better and more efficient operating model, which translates to a more powerful product. However, being in the weeds for a prolonged time also means that you can develop blind spots.
As daily builders, testers, and demoers of our own app, certain things become second nature. For example, we have perfect knowledge and understanding of our product vocabulary – what specific terms mean or refer to. While a significant portion of our decisions are informed by our customers and their use of the product, not every customer is the same and there are always decisions that we make internally because they make sense at the time.
In addition to new employees bringing their own unique and valuable perspectives to the table more generally, having a fresh pair of eyes go through a product flow and ask “Why do we do things in this way?” is a great way to challenge assumptions and refresh core aspects of the user experience. Communicating to new team members that nothing is set in stone and encouraging them to immediately start writing down or asking questions, has been a really fruitful exercise for us.
Customer empathy is not a one-time achievement – it requires ongoing, active work.
Something we’re really bullish on at Kaleidoscope is ensuring that our app works the way scientific teams need it to work (we've previously talked about the importance of software intentionally designed for science). There are a number of ways we try and achieve this.
One thing we do fairly regularly is customer on-site visits. This allows us to observe how users interact with the software, and also helps build trust with customers (people like knowing you're an actual human and not just a name behind a screen). We also actively hire former scientists across a range of roles – from engineering all the way through business development. This imbues a deeper sense of familiarity of the problem space across our company, gives us more shared language and experience with our customers, and shortens our problem-product-solution iterations (it's also why we introduced a Chief Scientific Officer role).
At our recent NYC week, we ran through a “Day 0 at Kaleidoscope” activity. Each person on the team was invited to a new Kaleidoscope workspace and given a checklist of tasks to complete. The tasks mimicked what a brand new user might want to do the first time they open Kaleidoscope for work, but before their entire workspace has been set up and fine-tuned for a specific flow. As we worked through our assigned tasks, we each made notes on anything that was even a little confusing or not immediately obvious, to inform our next round of product usability improvements. By starting from a clean/empty slate and assigning people specific roles or user personas, we were able to easily pinpoint concrete points of friction, however small, that might get in the way of someone having a flawless in-app experience.
Maintaining a high level of app usability, polish, and snappiness takes concerted effort.
This probably sounds obvious, but building a robust, intuitive, and elegant product requires regularly setting time aside to work on these things. Part of this is ingrained into our daily efforts — everyone at Kaleidoscope has a high bar for what good product looks like, so everyone applies this lens to the work they do. And part of this is achieved by intentionally setting time aside to focus on this specific category of things. This means periodically pausing new feature development or new customer onboarding, so that the team has time and space carved out to revamp the existing app experience.
The great thing here is that many of these areas are interrelated. For example, polishing the Kaleidoscope 'workspace configuration' experience not only benefits existing customers, but also allows us to more effectively scale new customer onboarding (and makes the process more seamless for these new users). The challenge is knowing when to prioritize what, and how to manage expectations. It can be tempting to always find new things to add or to jump at the opportunity to bring new users on (after all, every company obsesses about growth), but there's value in being thoughtful about this, as well as periodically taking the time to smooth out a core set of in-app experiences.
Ultimately, both current and future customers will thank you for it, and their trust in your ability to deliver powerful and reliable features will deepen.
If you want to chat more about anything we wrote, or you’re interested in finding a way to work together, let us know!