At Soracom, we pride ourselves on giving our users the tools to solve any IoT problem they may encounter. As such we are always looking forward, trying to provide what our customers will need next.
However, if you have read our leadership statement, you will also know that one of our guiding principles is Kaizen, or continuous improvement. We often take some time to look back on what we have done, and how we can improve things.
Recently the focus was the user console.
Although constantly updated with new features and bug fixes, it was a prime candidate for some general usability improvements.
Identifying Potential Console Users
When looking for improvement opportunities, we thought it would be best to first identify the different levels of user, and try to experience each one’s perspective. We broke them down into the following simple types:
- Well-informed user. The ideal user isup to date with Soracom’s services and has read enough of the documentation to set up exactly what they want.
- Slightly-informed user. This user knows that particular Soracom service can help solve their problem, but isn’t exactly sure how to set things up.
- Uninformed user. Perhaps this user knows that Soracom is good for IoT, but doesn’t know anything about the services we offer.
Ideally, every user would be well informed. Soracom is well known in the Japanese IoT community, so we have been fortunate that a lot of our customers here are well versed in the services we offer. But as we expand globally to areas where Soracom isn’t so well known, we need to cater to newer customers that are unlikely to know much about the services we offer.
After identifying these user types, our next objective was to improve the console such that uninformed, or slightly informed users naturally progress to informed. Following the principle of the path of least resistance, we wanted to make sure that any useful information or potential next steps were completely obvious to them.
With this in mind, we immediately discovered a few areas we could improve.
- Discoverability: If you came to the web console, knowing only that Soracom was the data communications provider of the SIM you just purchased, it wasn’t clear that we provided anything beyond that scope.
- Usability: Even if you did know about a particular service we offered, entry points to the settings were not obvious.
- Explorability: Despite Soracom having comprehensive documentation, it was not directly accessible from the various settings screens, meaning general exploration was tedious.
We really wanted to solve these issues but needed to be mindful of two things.
The first is that we have a large number of experienced console customers, so we needed to be careful any changes we made to improve things for new users would not get in their way.
Second is that we are a multilingual company, so any help/documentation linking needs to be either native to the customer’s chosen language.
The first problem is a user education issue, so we needed to find a way to teach our users about our other services. We already had a few coaching tips appear for new users, but didn’t want to distract from the most common task of registering a SIM, by bombarding them with more text prompts.
We decided to go with a more passive approach, using the empty space below the device table to offer potential solutions or tasks the user may want to try. We already have a lot of great tutorials on how to solve different IoT problems, so linking them to the console was a logical step.
The groups page of the user console displayed this issue clearly. Despite being the gateway to most of our services, the default state offered no explanation, nor call to action. This meant that even users who knew what they wanted to do would often get stuck, not knowing where to go next.
No real indication of how important this page was.
As well as adding a clear call to action, we also thought that this would be another good opportunity to let a new user know about the services they could access. To the default state, we added a clear description of the lack of content, but then also described the benefits should a user decide to create a group. Combine this with links to the various services and the all-important call to action button, the results are an obvious improvement.
As mentioned earlier, Soracom has excellent documentation. But if you look at the screenshot below you can see there was no real integration between it and the actual user interface.
Most of these settings/features would be completely alien to the uninitiated. Without contextual help links or any kind of description, a new user might not even know that there is a service they may be interested in. Even if a user was interested, they would need to go to the documentation link at the top, then navigate their way to hopefully locate a description of the service.
An easy fix was determined by the team to be short category descriptions of each service/setting to the accordion headers, then direct documentation link boxes inside each setting.
As programmers often our number one priority is making sure that something works. Building new feature makes us implicitly an expert in its operation. We need to remind ourselves to take the view of a naive user in order to create the most usable experience.
Hopefully, these changes will help our new users, and introduce our more experienced customers to services they may not have known about. We are, of course, not finished improving things, so if you have any feedback it would be greatly appreciated!