For a big box retailer I worked on a project to completely rebuild their vendor portal onto a new platform. The legacy system faced multiple serious usability and accessibly issues. It’s main purpose was to act as a portal where users could locate applications, training and content that they needed in order to work with the retailer. After interviewing vendors and reading past user surveys the most egregious issues were 1) the slowness of the system – page loads were taking 15-17 seconds or longer on average, and 2) the inability to locate content on the website.
For issue #1, the slowness of the system, I took a quick look using the developer tools on Chrome and saw that images weren’t being cached. This was part of the reason for slow page loads however the primary reasons were Java related so I turned it over to an engineer to research. It was determined that the new platform would provide page loads in the 2-5 second range. While this was still not ideal, it would be perceived by the users as a major improvement, at least for the initial release.
The inability to locate content and training was a more complex problem. Vendors and the Product Team felt that the integrated search on the website returned too many and poor results. Through user interviews and interviews with the user support team, I determined that there were multiple causes:
- There were 50+ applications on the portal. All had very different user interfaces and some required the use of different web browsers. Users found themselves having to search for training documents to perform unfamiliar tasks and didn’t always know what to look for.
- Content wasn’t labeled and tagged the same way that it was being referred to in the applications. Users were unable to find content because they didn’t know what to search for.
- Content was split up into multiple confusing sections on the website.
- Users found the extensive use of acronyms and internal jargon confusing.
- The website and almost all of the content was in English. While the portal was used in 88 countries worldwide.
For the first issue of having multiple applications with very different user interfaces, we identified the top applications being used and reached out to their respective teams to code to the same web browser standards. We also began working with the larger UX team and asked them to begin looking into a common pattern library for Enterprise applications so that they could begin to have commonalities, which would eventually aid users in understanding how to use applications as they switched between them.
For the second issue where content wasn’t being labeled correctly, we reached out to the content team and enlisted their help. Although they didn’t create the content they were responsibility for being the hub that all content was submitted through. We worked with them to tag content based on industry standards so that it could be more easily searched for regardless of what was in the actual content.
The third issue involved a confusing menu in the legacy system.
Vendors did not understand the difference between the Library and Help and when they would need to use one over the other. They also did not understand the difference between Applications and Reports, as many Reports were in fact applications. I proposed combining all library and help content into one page – Help.
We wanted to encourage the Vendor to self service instead of calling the support team. Our metric was to reduce call center volume by 25%. To accomplish this I placed the search field front and center (it is additionally available on all pages in the header). I also exposed the existing library structure, which had been buried in the legacy website under a badly laid out and hidden menu. Instead of having a static page, we empowered the Content team to manage the categories and sub-categories of the library and our website would remain in sync. This way the library could evolve quickly as needs changed rather than remaining static because developer time wasn’t available.
The fourth issue was the use of internal jargon and confusing acronyms. We began by removing all unnecessary acronyms from the website and also providing a glossary of terms as there were thousands of pieces of content that would have to be updated. We also changed the language on the site to be more brand standard – more friendly and less technical when possible. I proposed designing it to be more like a consumer facing website – promoting and reinforcing the brand so that our vendors could understand our message.
Here is a low res wireframe that I put together in order to communicate to Creative what we wanted the feel to be:
I proposed to start translating specific content into localized languages to set up the vendors for success. If that turned out to be successful we would look at translating more of the website with the long term goal of translating 100% of the website and content into 4-5 languages, which would be identified through research.
As of this writing, the project is still under development and it is too early to say how successful the redesign has been. However, future research and usage statistics will aid in our understanding.