Half Design is Asking Questions

Half of design is about figuring out the right question to ask. Each design iteration is inspired by a new question. Where we start off may be very different from where we end up.

My assignment: Design a data management tool used for industrial data visualization. 


Iteration 1

How might we design a tool where users can access data related to all their assets?
— Initial question


A tree-structure directory that represents all assets the a user has. By traversing up and down the tree, the user can locate any asset they have. Then they can click on that asset and see all the data related to it. This is the design sketch I came up with:



After showing the design to some users, we quickly realized the problem: most of the data is not useful for a user's task at hand. Ans since a typical user has tens of thousands of assets, it takes a long time to find the specific piece of data the user actually needs.


Iteration 2

How might we design a tool where users can quickly locate the relevant asset data they need?
— Revised Question


Let's try to infer what the user wants from the context. If they are looking at Asset X, do they most likely want data about Asset X? Bingo! Based on this idea, I simplified the asset directory to displaying only the current asset by default. If the user wants more assets, they have the option to add them into the directory. I sketched out a new design:



I tested the new design with some users, and they were able to locate data a lot faster. An improvement from the last iteration! However, during testing, I learned that there were other types of data the user need for charting. These data are not related to specific assets and therefore cannot be found using the asset directory. In legacy tools, a user would go to a different part of the app to locate such data. It would be nice to have all the data in one place.


Iteration 3

How might we design a place where people can find all they need to plot charts?

— Re-revised question


Maybe that's not too hard. We already give users the option to add additional assets to the directory. Can we use the same interaction pattern for adding more types of things to the directory? Yes, we surely can. So here comes a new design:



Iteration 3 received the best results in usability testing. We ended up adopting iteration 3 as the final design. Here is the high-fidelity prototype. Credit to the wonderful Wade Fong for visual design.