Defining The Challenge
When I co-founded Elegant Solutions, one of the first problems we ran into was project management. Because we were working with virtual teams and multiple freelancers and contractors simultaneously, collaboration was a challenge that we had to solve. After trying out several techniques, we decided to build our own platform. Thus, insEYEte was born. insEYEte combined the visual style of a mind map with several project management tools such as task, file, contact, and calendar management.Our main goal was to create a tool that allowed us to efficiently move from brainstorming to implementation, and keep the various parties involved at different stages in the process on track. We wanted to build a platform that was robust, aesthetically pleasing, and intuitive so that we could on-board clients and contractors seamlessly.
insEYEte was a long-term project, and I was involved with every step of the process from initial idea conception to implementation and iteration from the projects beginning in April 2013 to my departure from Elegant Solutions in June 2015. My primary responsibilities were as a product manager and the user experience strategist. To learn more about my work with the other tasks including brand management, marketing strategy creation, and drafting the patent, please check out my project entitled “insEYEte Identity Management”.
insEYEte was initially built for internal use by Elegant Solutions. When a client mentioned that they were interested in using the platform, we made the decision to spin insEYEte out as a standalone product. Transitioning the product out of the “silo” and into the real world took a great deal of planning and testing. To drive feature development, I began conducting implicit market research by listening to the complaints about project management voiced by other members of the incubator community in which ES was housed at the time. This gave me a baseline of understanding regarding the pain points felt by other teams.
I also investigated several academic publications regarding the psychology of visual learning, and how different user interface aesthetics can affect efficiency. This helped Mike and I design front ends that were more intentional and focused on the end-user.
Laying Out The Plan
insEYEte was a very complex product to manage, and was constrained both by budget (we bootstrapped the entire development) and time available (remember: ES was still serving clients at this time). Technical development was initially maintained through JIRA, but later transitioned to Asana for budgetary reasons. File transfers were handled through a shared Dropbox folder, and payments were scheduled and logged using a Google Sheet.
Defining the target audience for insEYEte was tricky and involved several iterations of testing and refining. Initially with version 1.0, we took a shotgun approach and tested the product with individuals from various industries included legal, consulting, engineering, manufacturing, development, architecture, and so on. After several months of testing, we found that individuals in creative fields working for small agencies were most receptive to the product. Therefore, we established that our target end-user was an employee working at a small agency (smaller than 50 people) in a client-facing creative industry (such as product design, web design, or marketing) who valued aesthetics and good design. As a result, the target customers were the small agencies themselves.
Note: I will be focusing on my involvement with the creation of the platform itself. To learn more about my work with managing the branding, marketing, and other miscellaneous tasks, please see the project “insEYEte Identity Management”.
The hierarchy of data and interaction was organized based on atomic structure. This taxonomy was generated by me as a nod to my background in material science. While 99% of this was changed thanks to cooler heads prevailing, the base unit is still called an “Atom”. Atoms represent a collaborative space where users can share resources and collaborate on a project.
Balancing our grander vision to see an entire network with our immediate need for a project management platform, the first version of insEYEte limited users to viewing 2 degrees from a chosen Atom. The interface was also much more rigid, and the user flow from one Atom to another was linear.
Version 1 was launched in July 2013, and served two purposes: market testing and product validation. While we labelled this initial release “V1.0”, it was much more of a “V0.5” or “beta” in actual practice.
From August 2013 until January 2014, V1.0 was maintained and improved, while continuously putting the product in front of different audiences. The official “testing” period lasted from October 2013 to December 2014. I developed a survey which was administered to the 80 “first users” (i.e. beta testers) to establish demographic data and a baseline regarding project management behavior. During the testing period, the service UserVoice was used to collect on-the-fly user feedback, as well as bug reports. Once the formal test concluded, I administered a second survey. The results of this survey were compared against the results from the first survey, leading us to choose “small businesses in creative spaces” as our target customer, and “creative professionals” as our target end user.
Evolution (V1.0 – V2.0)
In addition to defining our target audience, the beta test gave us insights into what features could be improved or developed. The major feedback received showed us that users wanted to view more than 2 degrees from a selected Atom. Additionally, many users requested a geographic component be added.
Showing Atoms on a map was a feature Mike and I had discussed during insEYEte’s inception. When user feedback validated this feature, we were happy to tackle the challenge of implementing it. With some tweaks, we “soft” released a "version 1.5" of the product in March 2014 to select users. After ironing out some bugs and factoring in their feedback, we released Version 2.0 in June 2014. This version would serve as a stable platform through which we increased our user base over the next 6 months.
Continuous Iteration (V2.0 – V3.0)
As we started scoring more enterprise clients and performing customizations of the platform, we realized that we needed to use a framework that was better optimized for the collaborative features of insEYEte. Working with our primary developer to research available platforms, I decided that Laravel (a very robust PHP framework) would be our best bet. The need to rewrite our base code in Laravel opened up some new opportunities to add features that were requested by some of our enterprise clients.
Our original intention with limiting users to one canvas was to drive user behavior to place all of their projects on one canvas so users could find unexpected intersections between all projects. However, users requested multiple canvases so they could group projects by category (e.g. personal, professional, marketing, etc.) so we decided to implement the ability to create multiple Canvases. This also gave rise to a second interface, the Canvas Toolbar. The Canvas Toolbar contained all of the interactions that applied to the entire Canvas.
Simply put, users wanted a better temporal view of their tasks. Mike and I iterated on multiple concepts, finally settling on a simple calendar view that used a color ribbon to visually communicate a user’s commitments from various Atoms on a given day, week, or month.
Finally, we decided to implement a “metrics” feature to give users a better look into how they were working. I worked with the team to identify a library called "Charts.js" to build Metrics. Also, based off of user feedback and industry research, I chose which metrics to display.
insEYEte has been one of the greatest learning experiences of my professional career. insEYEte forced me to grow as a user experience strategist and product thinker, and really apply my knowledge regarding project management, data visualization, UI design, UX design, and interaction design. One of my proudest moments was watching users play with insEYEte on a large touch screen during an ES holiday party, and watching them have the same “ah-ha” moment Mike and I shared as we built the product.
The platform attracted a lot of attention within local creative circles. The future looks bright and vast for a product as visually compelling as insEYEte, with a variety of applications from the “Dashboard for the Internet of Things” to a smarthome interface system. Imagine insEYEte helping you monitor all the systems in your house from anywhere in the world!
After my departure from Elegant Solutions in June 2015, Mike licensed the platform to one of our enterprise customers and closed new sales operations. The platform continues to be used by several core users (including myself) on private installations.