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Need: Adaptive’s decades-old products were loved by IT professionals tasked with managing customer datastores, yet alien and unapproachable to everyone else in customer organizations. Competitors got their game on, and after years of indifference to market losses customer attrition mandated a radical turnaround.

Approach: The consultancy I was working with had to act fast to prepare their client for an industry event in 3 months, yet also needed to produce enough evidence to ensure the right problems were being solved for, in the first place. The team was myself, another hybrid designer/researcher, our project’s developer, and the consultancy’s owner.

Collaborative distillation of value
We worked with Adaptive’s customer support and sales staff to identify users at customer sites whose needs spanned the breadth of metadata management and consumption. We later worked with Adaptive SMEs and stakeholders in a 3-day harvesting workshop to synthesize what success for Adaptive could look like.

Putting the ASAP brakes on customer attrition
With a new understanding of user needs to weigh against early stakeholder ideas, the team regrouped to design and build the showcase demo. The data mapping that Adaptive’s tools executed was impressive, but a self-evident wow that could quickly resonate with a few thousand conference attendees—and an experience they could trust to be real, deliverable code—needed to come from a public experience with live data.

The Financial Industry Business Ontology (FIBO) is an open-source, public datastore the team pulled from to build the simplified search experience. Clicking through the final product (since stripped of all re-branded styles and sans-serif typography) reveals a powerful experience to guide regulatory compliance by policy writers.

I highly encourage a click-through, but warn it can be very slow to load.

Demonstrating quick, user-centric value in practice
After design had completed our work on the FIBO Search experience, Adaptive’s management asked for some guidance on their existing products. They could afford a slight extension of the current engagement, but needed to secure funding to cover more significant efforts. They had also just wrapped with a different agency on an overhaul of their brand, so we trusted they were serious—and went to work.

We studied the existing product abreast what we’d already learned about customer needs and crafted some immediately actionable low-effort/high-impact recommendations. Regaining trust from customers fatigued by a history of broken promises was an urgent need, and visually-evident changes to just the front-end was an inexpensive way to persuade investors that new management was on the move in the right direction.

Finally, we created a scrappy “Future State” proposal by assembling a handful of rough screens to demonstrate how key functionality that meets the needs of a majority of users could be reshaped to fit within a modern application framework. Our goal was to simply open management’s eyes to possibilities—while also arming them with a user-centric vision towards the future, rooted in the evidence of our research efforts.