The Avatar Experience
It was late September, and the leading event in enterprise mobility was quickly approaching.
Every year Connect, presented by VMware AirWatch, brings together thousands of mobility enthusiasts, partners and customers to focus on the future of the digital workspace. It’s the perfect opportunity for our user experience (UX) team to not only engage with customers and gather valuable feedback, but also see firsthand how they interact with the AirWatch unified endpoint management console.
Our primary goal during the 2016 conference was to gather qualitative data across multiple persona groups. As such, we followed an iterative process to conceive, develop and execute an effective way of obtaining as much insightful data as possible.
At first, we explored several approaches, including a physical index card system that would allow product users to select questions and answers that best represented their real-world challenges and overall impressions. However, due to the physical nature of index cards and our limited booth space, we decided that this approach would be too cumbersome, and going digital was simply the best way to go. We already had server space, an available URL and the skills to build a small dedicated site, so the solution made perfect sense.
We decided to build a feedback site that would enable Connect attendees to provide us with rich feedback and insight on their experience within our console. But, how could we engage attendees to participate? What incentives could we offer them that would be enticing enough to take part during this busy, fast-paced event?
We tossed around several ideas, but nothing seemed to stick. We knew it had to be something that we could easily deliver, and we wanted it to mesh well with the digital nature of the survey. We also wanted something that would effectively grab attention and spark interest, but it couldn’t cost us anything more than our time.
Recently, we had begun an effort to humanize the console experience by introducing a new, persona-based illustration style that highlighted new features and functionality. The illustrations were widely embraced by employees and product managers, so much so, that we started receiving requests to create custom avatars for personal and professional use. This demand was a clear indicator that our custom avatars would not only serve as a great incentive at the conference, but also cost us nothing to produce other than our time.
The process started by converting our avatar approach within the console into a framework for the survey. First, we conducted an audit of all our illustrations to date to gauge the viability of our approach. We determined that our existing pattern library would serve as a solid foundation for an “on-the-fly” avatar creation process.
Next, we had to assess whether or not our illustration assets were adaptable enough to create avatars with unique attributes that represented a diverse range of individuals. We compiled all of our console illustrations into a single repository and took a holistic look at everything we had created.
We broke each illustration down into the individual shapes that we used to create them. Each component was added to our library to serve as our palette. We grouped the pieces into body, face, hair and accessory categories to provide a range of base shapes and sizes that we could easily pull from. Skin tones and hair colors were researched to build a comprehensive set of hues that would be readily used and tweaked as needed.
Once our base library of components was built, we continuously added to it as we fleshed out new designs, evolving our palette and, in turn, the avatars we built along the way. Before the conference began, however, we wanted to test how our framework would hold up given the time constraints and hectic nature of the event.
To test our new avatar creation process, I enlisted my fellow colleagues, asking them to send me images to base their avatar off of. The images were compiled, and the avatar creation process began.
During the pilot run, it was obvious that we would need to keep a close eye on the time spent to avoid getting bogged down by the details. Ultimately, the trial run worked out well, and the feedback was resoundingly positive, evidenced by the near immediate adoption of the avatars into our team’s Slack profile images. Our template was good to go, and we were ready to begin handling submissions from attendees at Connect Atlanta 2016!
During the conference, we determined that we would need no more than two designers actively working on avatar illustrations as participants submitted their feedback. The framework and the comprehensive illustration library played a critical role in our success.
With a dynamic palette that was readily available, our designers could be nimble and efficient without sacrificing quality or creativity throughout the entire conference. As we created each asset, we fed them back into our illustration library that our team could then leverage when developing new experiences down the road.
In the end, we developed a fun, unique incentive that attendees truly wanted while engaging customers. This provided a medium for customers to provide candid feedback, which granted us insight into how they interact with our product.
Through a few refinements, we also leveraged our framework to create a simplified version that even non-visual team members could use to successfully build their own avatars without sacrificing consistency or quality. It was a true testament to the adaptability of our illustration library and how easily it could be applied across a product ecosystem involving many designers and other disciplines across the company.