User experience is critical to the success and uptake of legal tech tools. Good ideas and new features can fall flat because the end product ignores the person on the other side of the screen who ‘just wants the thing to work’. In this educational think piece, Nick Watson, founder of virtual data room Ruby Datum, gives his top ten tips for making and improving legal tech applications that will result in a successful user experience.
1. Question whether each feature is necessary, and keep digging into it
Imagine you’re a chef placing something new on the menu at a restaurant. Ask your users if this will be of benefit to them: do ‘taste tests’ (show screenshots, wireframes, journeys) and consider whether the feature will be of use to the majority of users or not.
Aim for the majority, always, and learn how to say no with empathy and explanation.
2. Understand the benefit of what you’re building
We were once asked if we could give a report on the number of actions each user was performing. When we sought to understand why this feature was requested, the client revealed that this was so they could assess who the most active users and groups were in a data room by compiling spread sheets and tallying these up. We simply built an algorithm to do this automatically, producing a score so these can be seen at a glance, instantly.
By understanding the business case, we can sometimes suggest an even better approach. It’s important that the actual users of the software do not feel belittled and are involved with design suggestions, (and if you can make them come up with the idea, even better – instant buy-in!)
3. Prioritise, rank and re-visit
If you have multiple features to build, rank them. We prioritise on a level of 1 to 5. Typically, 4 and 5 never get done, 3 sometimes get a look in. It’s still important to have them there, as these may change over time (e.g. a regulation change in the Nordics meant rules around Q&A disclosure saw one of our priority 4 features bumped up the list as our users were requesting it more).
Don’t be afraid of re-approaching old features. If you gather metrics on which features users are using through tracking clicks and activity, you can often wind down unused features as requirements change over time.
4. Don’t make me think
This is one of the golden rules of a good user interface, ‘don’t make me think’. Make every screen self-evident, like a good billboard at the side of the road. A user should know exactly where to navigate in order to perform their desired action.
There is often no need to reinvent the wheel. If a user is familiar with existing software don’t be afraid to use similar layouts or visual hints that they feel comfortable with. Some UX designers feel they need to be clever and bring something new to the table, but this is rarely the case.
5. Instruction is obstruction
You should rarely have to explain to your users how to do something. If they have to ask, revisit the interface.
Instructions rarely get read unless a user has attempted multiple times to use something already.
Where you do have to use instructions keep them simple and at hand. Build them into the interface if you must, but remember: ‘don’t make me think’.
6. Don’t be scared to leave the rabbit hole
All too often professionals get so far down the rabbit hole that they fail to see the light anymore.
Turn around, walk out, go back to the drawing board if you need to, but never feel like you’ve put so much time and effort into something that it’s too much to discard.
We’ve thrown out weeks’ worth of work before because we failed to predict the direction of market change.
7. Make the subtle count
Google just brought out some great guidance on material design, and one of the key takeaways is to use subtleness for hints. Users rarely process these hints consciously, but their subconscious is tuned in.
A good example is when you scroll to the top of a list and it bounces back (something I believe Apple pioneered). Animations add to an enjoyable user experience, providing they do not take too long. It’s easy to show off something by making it more obvious just because you spent a long time building it, but that’s not the objective.
8. Test with Luddites
Test your application with Luddites. They’re the ones likely to be most vocal about the platform if it goes wrong, so get it right with them. If you can please them, you can please anyone. Be patient and empathise, understanding why they’re so resistant to change.
9. Make it personal, but don’t take it personally
It’s important to engage with everyone and bond on a personal level, as they’re more likely to open up about nuances of the platform.
Nobody likes confrontation, so don’t take it personally when they rip apart the design you’ve just poured your heart and soul into (in fact, encourage this!).
Get someone else to obtain the feedback if you need to, but never take offence.
Take your time to encourage users to open up and ask probing questions. It’s their job to educate you, not the other way around. Observe their emotions, tone, and thought processes. Make them feel at ease. Use analogies to communicate more clearly, as not every user will be technical enough to explain things the way they intended.
About the Author
Nick Watson is the lead architect and founder of Ruby Datum, a Virtual Data Room platform. He also recently launched Legal Legends, helping law firms and legal technology companies to grow and integrate their own bespoke platforms.
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