This project was an assignment for Designlab’s UX Academy. The brief was to add a feature to an existing product. I chose to extend Google Drive’s commenting system with an asset versioning tool aimed at small design studios.
You can access the clickable prototype by clicking the link at the left. It's designed to test the following tasks, so not every affordance is clickable:
Get up to speed on the product landscape and understand potential users.
Based on insights in research data, get clear on the problems to solve and who to solve for.
Quickly build a prototype to test whether users can accomplish core tasks. Visual design fidelity relates to project needs.
Test prototype with users representing target demographic. Come up with insights from this data to spotlight usability issues and reframe design questions.
I used affinity mapping to find insights in the interview data I gathered. Two general patterns of purchasing behavior, motivations, frustrations and needs emerged, corresponding with the personas shown below.
I looked at tools that addressed the unique challenges of creative projects, like maintaining fast-moving chains of feedback associated with video deliverables. I found several developed for larger postproduction and VFX companies, as well as smaller ones. On the smallest end of the scale, Dropbox and Google Drive have also added collaborative features like image-based annotation and comment threads.
These tools all exist to support the way that different creative companies work together, which means that detailed information about how feedback and versioning process can help illuminate possible opportunities. To get this, I conducted interviews with designers and creative directors.
How do different people currently manage different versions of assets?
How can asset/deliverable versioning help project organization?
How should versioning integrate with other deliverable tracking?
How does the feedback process vary by role?
What possibilities are there to work with existing collaborative tools?
Synthesis of the interview data yielded a detailed picture of how prospective users were already managing versions and feedback and where we might be able to help them. It also revealed that cloud storage tools were popular and currently in use for remote work.
From my interviews, I uncovered two important user categories: directors and designers. Although many participants found themselves in roles that blended these goals and responsibilities, they were each distinct moments of user goals, motivation, and pain points. One gave feedback, the other received it.
The director persona needs to manage communication first and foremost. Her responsibilities include overseeing a number of artists and deliverables, and of communicating questions and status updates to clients and staff. For the director, top-down views help her keep track of many ongoing processes. Annotations with image and timeline locations also help her communicate clearly with artists.
Designers are mostly concerned with one or a few deliverables, and only communicate with a few senior creative staff. They need clarity about their next steps, usually communicated through creative feedback. For designers, the deliverable level is the most important level of organization rather than the overall project.
Interviews revealed that small teams or studios are already using some combination of email, messaging and office suite to manage projects. A tool that would fit well into this ecosystem would have to be lean and light to help these users work well. Larger, feature-rich products hadn’t taken root here, where project management staff are often lacking, and job size doesn’t quite necessitate the complexity of a solution like FTrack. Currently, users manage versions of files by hand using primarily file names and manually created folders, making it difficult to cross-reference old versions when using cloud storage.
Google’s Material design system emphasizes clean, simple, elegant solutions. Drive and the associated Google Suite office products also evince this commitment to keeping user journeys efficient.
Working with a robust, existing design system meant that I could start prototyping immediately at high fidelity.
I started by comparing approaches to versioning and comments in other software with Google Suite. I looked at how the addition of versioning could be done in a simple and lightweight way that added features to only two screens.
Adding a version status column to the Google Drive browser spreadsheet view and displaying only files identified as assets with multiple versions allows it to begin providing the kind of project-based top-down view that other software offers. It shows the multiple different active assets, the designers working on them, and the completion status of the asset (approved, needs review).
This provides more information more quickly than looking through files uploaded to dailies folders.
Two spreadsheet format views from creative project management software using an asset/version system
Sketches of versions implemented in spreadsheet view or as tiles. Although the tiles provide a nice contrast to the normal files, the spreadsheet allows for a better overall picture of several projects.
I changed the default view for the Drive interface to accommodate the different needs of the director and designer personas.
For directors, it offers a very minimal and quick heads-up display of recent files that need their attention. They can also use it to keep track of how many assets have been approved or need review, a rough metric of overall project status.
For artists, this page functions as a feed where they can keep up to date with shots that need their attention, providing a quick replacement for a to-do list.
I also added features to the viewer page. Based on interviews, I found that timecoded comments and image-located comments were important in video review, so I added these features. I also made sure that finding older versions of a file was easy, as was clearly seeing and being able to change version status.
I created a clickable prototype and tested it with participants in the target demographic. The product overall performed very well, but users offered helpful feedback on interface details.
I included “upload new version” under the approval indicator since conceptually uploading a new version is the next step to take when a new version is available. However, this was not intuitive for users. Adding an upload button next to download was an easy change.
Google Drive’s comment features include a “resolve” button, and allow users to reply by clicking on the comment. In testing, half of users hesitated and had to figure out how to reply to comments, with some pressing “resolve” by accident.
I recommended changing “resolve”, which does not appear in other comment thread UI design for similar apps, to a checkbox and including the word “reply” underneath the comment.
In this prototype, I set up a system with a two-level asset status: approved or pending approval. From initial interviews, this seemed like an elegant solution. In user testing, some users discussed situations where multiple people would need to know who had reviewed an item already, and keep track of multiple review phases. Further product development could better take on this challenge with a more complex system to add reviewers and review status.
The ability to leverage other Google Suite software like Hangouts, Sheets, Calendar, Slides, Docs, and Gmail gives a lot of potential for hooking into existing project documentation or planning. From notes referencing client deliverables, to easy integration of email notifications, to calendar views that automatically include deliverables, there is a great deal more here to be discovered.