Improving The Slack Experience

A UX Case Study
Purpose
Due to the pandemic, companies are increasingly looking towards digital solutions for employees to communicate. Personally, I have used Slack daily for work purposes, and have come to love and dislike it simultaneously. I hope to improve the Slack experience to maximise its fullest potential and further help users in their work. As such, I have embarked on this project with the aim to evaluate Slack as an IM tool and propose design changes to help make the Slack experience more wholesome.
Deliverables
Heuristics Evaluation report, Product Requirement Document, Literature Review, Med-fidelity Wireframes, Lo-fi and Hi-fi Prototypes
Context & Duration
This project is a deliverable for the COMM255: Interaction Design Communication module offered by Singapore Management University (taught by Assoc. Prof Tamas Makany). It consisted 10 weekly lessons across ~4 months.
Methodologies & Tools used
My team and I have analysed Slack communications in the context of large, cross-regional and -functional teams on a daily basis, with a focus on instant messaging (IM) for work purposes.
  • UX Research: Heuristics Evaluation (Nielsen's 10), User Reviews
  • Product Requirement Document: User Story, Prioritised Features Task List, User Journey Map, User Pain Points & Needs, Persona, Scenario-Writing
  • Rapid wireframing & prototyping: Balsamiq, Figma
My role
UX / Interaction Designer
Meet my team!
Nicole Ng, Kan Wei Mun, Santhosh Watson, Nigel Fernandez

Desk Research

USER REVIEWS  •  LITERATURE REVIEWS
User Reviews
User Blogs, Article Reviews
Team effort
My team and I have chosen to collate feedback from online user reviews, as we did not have suitable live interviewees and it was the most efficient method.

We have found 11 relevant sources of user reviews from blogs and articles, and narrowed down on 36 pieces of user feedback that gave us insight into the problems users are facing. After categorising the data according to similarities, we have found 3 common pain points that users have experienced.

1. Slack is a management surveillance cam.
2. Messages are disorganised - it's difficult to separate formal and informal conversations.
3. Remote working pressure is real - manifested into a culture of constant work.

Hit the button below to check out our full research!
VIEW ALL USER REVIEWS ➜
Literature Review
Peer-reviewed articles
| A Summary
Personal work
Recent events showed us the rising importance of adopting work from home (WFH) arrangements in our workplaces. Kurland and Cooper (2002) have found that WFH is not a perfect alternative to traditional work arrangements.

Face to face (F2F) arrangements foster trust and builds relationships, and the lack thereof could hinder healthy workplace bonds. Professional mentorship could also be difficult as mentors are not able to physically observe the work practices of the mentees.

Furthermore, it is harder to coordinate communication among WFH staff. Traditional methods of information transfer (emails and memos) are too lean to transmit complex knowledge (Quan-Haase et al, 2005, p.3). Instant messaging (IM) is richer than emails and memos, and could be viable as the default mode of workplace communication.

However, IM communication tends to be voluminous, and fosters an unhealthy expectation to give immediate replies (Quan-Haase et al, 2005). This could lead to undesirable workaholic cultures. Olson and Pimps (1984) have long noted the importance of keeping work and leisure areas separate. IM could blur that boundary for WFH staff. IM was designed for common communications, and not workplace communications.

This personal review of mine is an attempt to explore the possible design changes that could smoothen the WFH process.

Product Requirement Document

USER STORY  •  PRIORITISED TASKS LIST  •  PERSONA  •  USER JOURNEY MAPPING  •  SCENARIO  THE KEY PROBLEMS TO RESOLVE
Initial User Need & Story
(Refer to 'Persona' for details on Irene Lam)
Team effort
Based on our desk research, we have found the most pressing issue to be 'an exhausting culture of constant (or pure) work due to the instant messaging feature'.
As a regional team manager (managing remotely), Irene wants to develop failsafes to ensure adequate and necessary disengagement from Slack, so that she and her colleagues are not in danger of burning out, whilst still maximising workplace productivity.
Prioritised Task List
What needs to be done to tackle the key user need?
Team effort
Tasks have been prioritized (from 1 being the most important) based on three factors: (A) impact the feature will have, (B) the frequency of usage and the (C) ease of implementation.
Persona
Irene Lam
Team effort
We have chosen 'Irene Lam', a 38 year old regional manager in a multinational FMCG company, to be our persona. She would embody our users' needs and wants, and she wants her team to "work with purpose and focus - to know when to rest and when to grind".
Scenario
How did Irene adopt and use Slack for work on a daily basis?
Team effort
When Irene’s office first adopted Slack (when COVID-19 struck), she thought it was the perfect supplementary tool to remote office work. It made interacting with her co-workers more dynamic; she could easily reach out to her colleagues without much delay, and kept her team notified with timely updates throughout the day.
Use of Slack gradually increased, the ease of typing and sending began to pry co-workers away from Email and onto Slack as a more convenient and informal alternative. In fact, it allowed like her team to
constantly interact and stay connected - be it through team discussions, a quick 30-second question or even informal office banter.
However these conversations started becoming
extensive, diluted and unproductive. Conversation she would have once had casually at a co-worker’s table now flooded her with pings. She was able to mute conversations, but then she might also miss some interwoven work conversation.  
The constant pinging, as the only form of communication between her team members, was a
distraction. How was she to know what was necessary for her to look at right then, what she could wait on and what she never had to see? She couldn’t resist constantly checking her various channels regardless, worried she’d miss something vital.
Irene would love a platform that retained all the efficiency tools like message organisation and threads that Slack currently has, while allowing her to
disengage from work when she needed to. The platform that wouldn’t exhaust her to use with constant bombardment, but rather make work simpler and more efficient.
User Journey Mapping
What was Irene's user behaviour, emotions and pain points when using Slack?
Team effort
1. “Let’s shift to Slack”: Irene and team shifted to Slack to continue office-communication, are not familiar with Slack but determined to make the most out of it.
2. Open & Honest Team Communication: Enthusiastic Team = Communicates a lot. Irene is relieved that she is able to toggle between conversations with all her team members and communicate with them easily.
3. Everything has shifted to Slack: However, things start to get out of hand when these conversations seem never-ending.
4. Overwhelming Conversations: Work conversation, informal banter, project management and weekly “meetings” flood Irene's day - she can barely get her individual work done.
5. Has work ended? She has no way to disengage from work without feeling guilty. 
The Key Problems To Solve
What problems does Irene truly face?
Team effort
After many rounds of refining the user needs and issues with a holistic perspective, we came to the consensus that Irene has two underlying user problems.

Ideation

LO-FI PROTOTYPES
Low Fidelity Prototypes
Balsamiq
Group effort
In the initial ideation stage, we came up with two ideas to tackle each of Irene's concerns:
1. The 'On A Break' feature provides the user an avenue to effectively 'switch off/away' from work and its related communications, hence tackling the user's first key problem - the inability to effectively disengage from work.
2. 'Work Hacks 101' is a goal-setting and tracking feature that allows the user to monitor his/her and the team's time spent on activities. This tackles the second user problem by measuring productivity and allowing user work activities to become more intentional and visible.

Additionally, my role included ensuring a smooth, fuss-free and logical interaction flow in the ideation and prototyping process; taking note of the details and making changes accordingly; and the video recording and walk-through of the prototype for submission.

Check out the video below for a quick walk-through of our lo-fi prototype!

Design & Iterations

HI-FI PROTOTYPES  •  ITERATIONS  •  FINAL SOLUTIONS
High Fidelity Prototypes
Figma
Group effort
In the high fidelity ideation and design stage, we have considered the existing design and user interactions on the Slack desktop app, and tweaked our designs to incorporate them.
Solution 1: 'Take A Break'
Iterations
True to the double diamond design process, we have scaled down on our previous (adventurous) design and tailored the 'On A Break' interface to be more Slack-like as compared to the initial Balsamiq wireframes.
We changed it to be a personal chat interface, removed redundant functions (such as 'Today's Schedule' and other calendar functions) to free up real estate, and included a new 'Whitelist' function to allow for urgent messages. The feature has since been renamed as 'Take A Break'.
VIEW CLICKABLE PROTOTYPE ➜
Solution 2: 'My Progress'
Iterations
Since Slack is a communication platform, it does not have 'forms' on its main chat platform, unlike those in our lo-fi 'Works Hacks 101' design. Hence, we had to iterate that design.
We chose to incorporate the goal setting feature into a 'Set Goal' button that opens a pop-up settings page, instead of hosting that feature on the main chat interface. This ensures that our design makes sense according to existing Slack interactions and possibly better fulfils the back-end development requirements.
This feature has also been renamed to 'My Progress' that might be a more intuitive call-to-action (CTA) for the user.
VIEW CLICKABLE PROTOTYPE ➜

Conclusion

Product Vision  •  WHAT DOES SUCCESS LOOK LIKE?
Product Vision
What does success look like?
Group effort
With the pandemic, it is inevitable that digital communications will continue to prevail in our daily work and lives. Below is what we imagine success of our proposed features would look like.

With the “Take A Break” feature, we are taking our users from a currently chaotic and all-consuming platform into one that encourages a healthy work-life balance.
Our progress and goal-setting feature allows managers like Irene to ensure her team is working not just hard, but smart - while building a healthy work culture in the process.

We’re hoping to fix problems, but also help Slack be true to its name, streamlining work instead of overloading employees.

Reflections

The UX Iterative Process  •  User-Obsessed  •  Better Communicator
This is my first UX design project and UX-related module after deciding to delve into the field. When I embarked on the coursework, my goals were to become more attuned to user perspectives and get my hands dirty learning the whole UX process. I'm glad to say that I've been there and done that! :)

As a business and marketing undergrad who used to be results- and numbers-obsessed, I am grateful to have hustled through this project together with my A-team, from whom I have learnt so much about storytelling and communication skills!

The project has re-framed my thinking of user experience - giving me the theoretical basis of evaluating digital interactions, as well as real-world applications and implications of design (under the amazing guidance of Prof Tamas - a professional UX researcher).

It played a huge role in honing my articulation of ideas and qualitative analysis skills. I have also realised that the key in UX lies in its iterative process, as compared to other fields that focuses heavily on the outcome being 'correct' and 'making business sense'. Ultimately, this project has taught me to be critically user-obsessed and a better communicator.

Slack is also a work tool that my teammates and I had used extensively in the past, hence I am glad for this opportunity to work on something that is close to our hearts. 😊

Thank you for reading!

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