“It was a pleasure working with Anna, Alexis, and Aysesu for our recent design efforts. Our company is in a niche B2B industry, and they quickly grasped the nuances of our business. They absorbed a large amount of customer feedback in a short period of time, effectively separated the signal from the noise, and applied their findings through interesting product development designs we hadn’t yet thought of. What may be the ultimate measure of the good work they did is that we’re now using their designs to test out new features with our clients. It was a clear ‘win’ to have worked with Anna, Alexis, and Aysesu. We highly recommend them for future projects.” -Richard P. Perrott, CoFounder of WatchTower

WatchTower Benefits

WatchTower Benefits is an insurance broker SaaS web platform used to streamline the request-for-proposal (RFP) process. The company launched in October 2015 and is currently in beta.

watchicon

Role

UX Designer

watchicon

Client

WatchTower Benefits

 

watchicon

Time Frame

2.5 weeks

watchicon

Tools

UXPin /Sketch

 

Deliverables

Usability test results / UX strategy / heuristic evaluation results / persona /consumer journey map / design principles /wireframes /prototype

Getting acquainted with WatchTower

WatchTower approached us with the main objective of validating their current product through testing and researching problems they had identified but didn’t have the expertise to solve. Our clients had already interviewed nearly 40 brokers while building WatchTower and this information was valuable as a starting point in our research. However, the questions asked to users did not dig into motivations and emotions. These interviews didn’t allow us to get into the mind of the users and see the product from their perspective. As we had no prior experience working with brokers, this was quite a blocker. We kept the client’s objectives in mind, but wanted to talk to the users ourselves and find out where their needs actually lay.

 

Our goal was also to analyze the validity of the current products. We accomplished this with usability tests and exploratory user interviews, a heuristic evaluation, and card sorting exercises.

What WatchTower does

WatchTower beta platform is an SaaS tool that:

1. Takes uploaded proposals submitted by carriers.

2. Extracts key data from each proposal.

3. Displays the proposals of each carrier side by side for easier comparison.

What does a broker do all day anyway?

We interviewed 4 brokers and a subject matter expert to validate results from the previous interviews and to further explore how brokers are managing the RFP process. It was incredibly important to me to be able to understand the mind of a broker and put myself in their shoes as they went about a typical day. I’m no insurance expert, but talking to these users and finding out about their very relatable frustrations was very enlightening.  

Key insights from interviews

  • The current RFP process is archaic, depending solely on email and excel.
  • The most frustrating part of the RFP process is the back-and-forth with insurance carriers.
  • Reviewing insurance proposals and creating comparison spreadsheets is the most time consuming aspect and often results in human errors.
  • Due to the back-and-forth, client presentations are usually edited up until the deadline.

Gaining empathy for our user

We distilled the insights gathered from the interviews into the persona of George Tillman. George is a broker who cares most about using his expertise to compress all the granular details he gets from carriers into an easily digestible story for his clients. He has many frustrations during this process, and keeping these in mind helped us when working on WatchTower.

We created a consumer journey map to illustrate the George’s thoughts and emotions throughout the RFP process. The map was also extremely helpful in simplifying a complicated RFP process into just 5 steps. As the map below indicates, a broker’s frustrations are throughout the RFP process, not just when reviewing and comparing proposals, which was WatchTower’s original focus as a product.

To assess if WatchTower’s organization of data fell in line with the user’s mental model, we conducted an online card sorting exercise. We found that each broker had their own way of organizing their workflow that was a very different process from one broker to the next. This indicated to us a need for flexibility and editability within the platform.

Before moving on to next steps, we wanted to evaluate the current version of WatchTower against eight of Nielsen’s heuristics. We found that two categories: user control and freedom and error prevention were extremely lacking and in need of improvement. Some heuristics, such as aesthetics, were not given much emphasis because we valued function above anything else. Designing WatchTower to look similar to Excel also made sense to us given that Excel was the main tool of our users. Giving the user control of the platform and freedom to edit was very important given that our our research indicated that compiling and editing information was a big part of the broker’s workflow. Finding solutions for these problems in a business that revolves around numbers and compliance was a challenge that we were ready and excited to face.

The main problem to be solved

Overall, our research indicated that users’ biggest frustrations with the RFP process originated from the back and forth discussion with carriers. There is almost always miscommunication between brokers and carriers, which leads to ongoing proposal edits, delays in the RFP process, and missed expectations.

Due to this miscommunication, brokers often spend an unnecessary amount of time correcting errors and feel frustrated keeping track of these changes. WatchTower solves the problem of standardizing language, which alleviates some of the back and forth communication, but this only part of the larger issue.

Our evaluation of the current product in addition to our user research led to the following design principles. We felt that the existing version of the product didn’t solve the main problem identified through user research, so these principles represented our vision for the future of WatchTower, a platform that manages the entire RFP process, not just a small part.

Design principles

  • Customizable & flexible – The platform is a tool that can be edited and tailored depending on a users’ needs.
  • Easy to share & collaborate – Edits should be easy to communicate with an internal team.
  • Correlating with user’s workflow – The platform should not create extra steps for users outside of their normal workflow.
  • Minimal external interaction – The platform should make the user more efficient, regardless of external factors.

These principles helped us keep the user in mind moving into the ideation stage. They are a distillation of key insights we gained from talking to the people who ideally would be using our product, so we want to make sure we fulfill their needs while thinking of solutions.

Ideating some solutions

Although our vision was to create a more inclusive tool that went beyond the current scope of WatchTower, we chose to focus our ideation on three main concepts that were most in need of reinvisioning:

  • Creating customized views of information
  • Editing proposals in the system
  • Client history

We saw emerging patterns in each of our sketches, but still needed identify the most effective concepts.  As several of our broker contacts were remote or unavailable, we realized that paper prototyping would not be be feasible. We needed another way to test ideas against each other.

Getting our clients involved

We decided to conduct a weighted voting session with our clients, as they had expertise in the field and could better speak to the technical details each concept required. We were also eager to involve our clients in the process to ensure that business goals and user goals aligned. With a short time frame, this exercise allowed us to cut down the number of request for iterations by collaborating with our clients from the beginning. They were able to identify the pieces of our concepts that made the most sense to them. From that we were able to puzzle our concepts together into something we could test with actual users. Our clients also loved feeling involved in the decision making process, and going forward it is my hope that this activity will enforce in them an empathy for the user as they work on WatchTower in the future. 

Testing our concept

We worked fast and created a clickable prototype in InVision so we could fit in as much usability testing with possible. We provided 3 main tasks and asked each of our participants to think aloud while navigating through the platform. Beyond the main goal of seeing how usable our prototype was, we also wanted to identify key areas that our clients could explore with future testing.

The first round of testing revealed some very important insights for us moving into our next iteration

Users were confused by how to edit and save views

editing views

Users were expecting to see different information displayed in the client history section.

unlock view

Users view each RFP process in terms of their client because they are always foremost in their minds.

carrierclienthistory

We worked fast and created a clickable prototype in InVision so we could fit in as much usability testing with possible. We provided 3 main tasks and asked each of our participants to think aloud while navigating through the platform. Beyond the main goal of seeing how usable our prototype was, we also wanted to identify key areas that our clients could explore with future testing.

The final results

We took the results of our usability testing to create another prototype. The project time frame prohibited us from testing this prototype ourselves, but we wanted to provide as many resources as possible to our client so they could start thinking about expanding the scope of their product to better fit the user needs we identified.

We solved the problem of editing information with a project by adding an icon that allows the user to lock or unlock a column. Once a column is unlocked it can be edited. The edits must then be reviewed to be submitted. We paid attention to detail here because we wanted to cut down on compliance issues and mistakes.

We solved the problem of editing and saving views by creating a drawer that slides out and allows the user control over what information is displayed in their project. As many of our users seemed to want to drag and drop the information around the screen, we saw this as a feature that could also be implemented if feasible.

Annotated wireframes

Click images to enlarge.

Final thoughts moving forward

We wanted to set WatchTower up for future success, so we included UX strategy as a deliverable 

In addition to the assets listed above, we also provided our client with:

  • A test script and test plan in order to further test the prototype.
  • A use case for how to run through the product with potential customers from a user perspective (rather than feature perspective).
  • A list of additional usability testing and design resources.
  • Prioritized product features based on our research.

We also conducted a word mapping exercise with WatchTower.  They had previously mentioned that they were looking for a new sub-brand that better represented WatchTower’s offerings.

Seeing what inspires and motivates others is part of what brought me onto this project in the first place, and this exercise really lit that fire in my clients. We not only explored various concepts with the WatchTower team, but also learned more about what led them to create this product in the first place.

Working with WatchTower reaffirmed my excitement at being able to step into the shoes of users in order to better understand them.  By talking with brokers and account managers and understanding not just what their job titles were, but who they were as people,  I looked forward to working with them each day of the project.