During the Summer of 2012, I was a UX design intern at Thomson Reuters working with the UX manager, UX researcher, and developers on their Trial Balance Manager web application. Trial Balance Manger is an application that helps tax professionals process trial balance data.
I was involved in the design process from ideation to implementation. I was responsible for designing the help system, landing page, message center, and contact information page. To communicate my ideas, I used sketches, wireframes and prototypes to explain and demonstrate my proposed design solutions.
By the end of my internship, the application was still at an early stage of the development process so I did not see the final design product. After my internship finished, I still kept in touch with the team members I worked with. And they told me that the product eventually got integrated with another tax suite software. Therefore, I focus more on explaining my design process rather than the design ideas and the prototype itself.
The biggest challenge was I did not have tax related background and it was my first time designing B2B application. To solve this problem, I worked closely with the business analyst and did research on Internet to make myself more familiar with tax domain knowledge. Also, there were some design constraints that I need to be aware of because tax professionals tend to be Windows and Microsoft Excel users. They’re used to see Excel like tables. Help may appear at the right panel if there’s any. One of the things I learned from this internship is how to improve the user experience gradually, especially for professional users. It’s not practical to re-invent the user interaction completely since it may require users to learn the new design.
I started the design process by gathering design ideas from other application. I analyzed other comparable applications to understand the strengths and weakness of their application design.
Besides competitive analysis, I also worked with the UX manager and business analyst to understand the overarching business goals and user goals which also helped inform the design ideas.
With the understanding of user goals and business goals, I began to sketched out user flow and layout of the first time user landing page, help system, and home page.
I documented the first time user landing page interaction with flow charts and used them for the discussion with the UX manager. This helped us to clarify the interaction flow and logics with the developers.
I brainstormed multiple ideas about how to make our help system handy and contextual. Also, I also sketched out ideas of using the landing page to explain the core features to the first time users in an easy and intuitive way. Then I presented these sketches to the UX team, business analyst and technical writer for discussion and feedback.
One of the interesting fact I learned is using sketches rather than polish wireframes can arouse more discussions between the team members. I didn’t get that much feedback when I used relatively polished wireframes to show my ideas. I assumed that people think hand drawn sketches are not final deals, there are still rooms for changes. My team members would even play with my sketches or drew something on the whiteboard to explain their thoughts.
Based on team discussion and feedback, I created wireframes to further flesh out the details of what interaction control elements should be used and where the elements should be positioned on each screen. First, I used static wireframes to validate the layout, control elements and workflow with the UX manager and senior UX designer. Then I presented interactive wireframes using Balsamiq Mockup to the developers and validated these interactions with the developers to make sure that development team’s technology could support the interaction design.
After wireframes review, I proceeded to create clickable prototypes via Adobe Fireworks. I presented the prototypes to the UX manager, business analyst, technology lead and product managers. I received positive feedback from the team, and these prototypes would be tested with target users after I finished my internship. During my internship, the application was still under development so I was not able to publish the prototype and retain the prototype copies.