Forging a Better User Experience: Q&A with SDS2 UX Product Owner Aditya Krishnan
As a leading provider of steel detailing software, SDS2 has been honing its powerful design engine and integrated connection design intelligence for over 30 years. Now SDS2 2021, our latest software release, is bringing our user interface and user experience up to speed with our modeling capabilities.
Featuring a fresh, modern look, the new interface in 2021 marks a major step forward in accessibility, intuitive interaction, and ease-of-use for SDS2.
New and experienced users alike are being won over by over by things like the simplified home screen, searchable project settings and tools, role-based and contextual ribbons, and the quick access sidebar for pinned and recently used tools.
“The old timer in me is fighting it,” said Cary Grant of the Cives Steel Company, “but I kind of like it. It takes a little getting used to, but the Lightning Mode layout style is intuitive. Once you figure it out, it is kind of slick. I do think this will improve speed.”
To give you an inside look at the UI/UX development, I talked with SDS2 UX product owner Aditya Krishnan, who helped devise the long-term plan for SDS2’s UI/UX transformation and managed the teams and user groups who made the 2021 release possible.
UI - User Interface. The visual elements, such as layout, design, and branding, through which a user interacts with a digital program.
UX - User Experience. The end-user interaction with a digital program, encompassing a myriad of factors such as their enjoyment, ease-of-use, and engagement.
What prompted SDS2 to make such a radical change in their software?
What most of our customers don’t know is that we’ve been planning on a UX update for several years. We’ve been listening to feedback from our customers from our annual Users’ Group conferences (now called SDS2 Summit), as well as support and sales calls.
We also recognized that, in an age where brand identity and looks play an increasingly significant role alongside functionality, modernization was going to be a business necessity. We have to adapt to stand out in a crowded market.
Behind the scenes, we are investing in more advanced UI toolkits, which will result in better performance speeds in SDS2 for our users and more efficient development times for our teams in house.
Our multi-year UX modernization initiative aims to address these issues head-on and help propel SDS2 in its mission to drive customer-driven innovation and collaboration.
What about factors in the industry at large?
SDS2 is just one of many platforms used by our customers in their BIM workflows. It is necessary to adopt well-established CAD UX patterns to ensure that our customers do not experience a loss in productivity as they switch between applications.
The overwhelming trend today is to model these CAD UX patterns after web-based, phone and/or tablet interactions that today’s digital consumers—and the next generation of steel detailers and engineers—are most familiar with. A lot of elements within our new home screen, including searchable project settings and tools were built with these UX patterns in mind.
At the same time, our existing customers have decades of experience using SDS2 and largely rely on muscle memory. Their workflows have been largely maintained in SDS2 2021 and will continue to serve as a guiding framework as we modernize the UX.
So you have to find a balance between existing user familiarity and modern consumer standards. What other priorities do you have to balance when designing the new UI/UX?
We identified our priorities by identifying trends within user feedback and analyzing our software according to industry standards in UI/UX design. For example: the infamous UX honeycomb, which illustrates the interrelationship between common UX factors and the ultimate value of a software application.
Our findings came together to help us determine our top focus areas for the project:
- SDS2’s UI aesthetic and UX were markedly different from current style and UX patterns. (Desirable, Accessible)
- As a powerful and robust software, SDS2 previously had a longer learning curve, and our support staff reported spending 10-15% of their time helping users find tools and commands within the software. (Findable, Usable)
We continued to test and adapt our development plan leading up to the 2021 release with regular involvement from a wide range of stakeholders, from SDS2 staff to customers, running the gamut from inexperienced to very experienced with the software. They’ll continue to engage in consistent feedback sessions to ensure we are working toward a common vision for the software.
Aesthetics or desirability might seem superfluous to users who just need to get their jobs done. Why should they care about that aspect of the UX design?
For many reasons. Aesthetics go beyond simple “window dressing” to appeal to new users. Updated icons reduce clutter and make them easier to understand. Color and other cues create a visual hierarchy and guide users’ attention. It’s all designed to be intuitive and enhance productivity while reducing eye strain. And, as mentioned earlier, having a comparable visual standard to other software in end users’ BIM workflow minimizes disruption during production work.
The new interface adds a lot of customization options. How does that fit in to enhancing the user experience?
Customization touches on multiple pieces of the honeycomb, but the bottom line—the ultimate value for our users—is productivity. In SDS2 2021’s “Lightning Mode,” we’ve added customization features such as role-based ribbons, pinnable tools and tool history, and fine-grained control over modeling window colors. All these changes were designed to keep you focused on the task at hand, with the right tools at your fingertips. Your productivity is our top priority.
What advice do you have for users as they approach this interface for the first time?
Whether you are an existing customer or new, our goal with this update was to reduce user adoption time as much as possible. Tools and settings have never been easier to find, and we are confident that you will quickly recognize savings in overall delivery time.
My top advice, then? Just try it out. We do have our “Classic Mode” still available this year for users who don’t immediately have time to learn the new interface, but the sooner you learn it, the sooner you can take advantage of all it has to offer.
So try it out. Use the search functions. Use the ribbon that fits your role or customize it until you’re satisfied. Follow your intuition, and check out the webinars, videos, help documentation, our amazing support staff, and other sources we have available to get familiar with the software.
I would also say, keep the feedback coming! Collaboration is one of SDS2’s core values, and this release was the culmination of feedback received over several years. Let us know your thoughts so that we can continue to grow in a direction that benefits customers and the company alike.
About the Authors
Aditya Krishnan began his career with SDS2 as a developer for the engineering team in 2012. He has always been driven to incorporate quality-of-life improvements into his projects, from developer productivity to customer-facing deliverables. He now serves as a Product Owner, UX, and has been leading SDS2 teams on UI/UX redesign and optimization.
Lacey Brummer came to SDS2 in 2020 with a background in creative and technical writing and graphic design. She produces a variety of content and has collaborated across the company on projects such as the 2021 UI redesign.