Spotlight – Huddle

Posted 2 years ago by Naomi Francis

The process behind successful UX design is made up of so many more variables than one would imagine. Producing an effective product, app or website requires an incredible amount of research and a strong understanding of the sectors or professions you’re designing for. The UX team at Huddle talk to us about the principles the company is founded on, their design methods and how the team has established themselves as a function.

The world we work in has changed furiously over the last decade. New technologies have pushed businesses into tackling communication and collaboration as distinct and important problems. Today the challenge for businesses is managing all of the different tools they maintain, across a large variety of very new devices. Huddle Co-Founder, Alastair Mitchell, saw that these changes were going to happen nine years ago. He had a vision that the way we work would change. Managing and sharing content online made sense for personal files like photos, but he thought, “If I can do this at home, why can’t I do this when I go to work?” And that’s where the idea of Huddle was born.

“A challenge for businesses is managing the different tools they maintain, across a variety of very new devices.”

Today, Huddle is a secure, collaborative, cloud based platform with a strong focus on the knowledge worker space. Founded by Alastair Mitchell and Andy McLoughlin in 2006 and built with the purpose of providing people with more accessible tools in the workplace, it makes it easier to manage content and collaborate with their colleagues and customers. Sectors which rely on security and reliability such as the Government, professional services and corporations like NASA reside happily with Huddle.

“Huddle very much started up around the era of digital transformation in enterprise business. This was quite a few years back now, but businesses are quite slow to move through this transformation. We showcase the benefits of working collaboratively in a digital way and providing solutions to the problems that people have, which as a result helps them through this transition.”

Huddle’s product has bridged the gap in communication and content management in enterprise business by creating a product which people actually enjoy using. So last week we visited their UX design team; Bauke van Gameren, Alex Rose, Rosana Castano and Mayuri Patel at their headquarters in London. They tell me that as a team of four they work in fairly generalist UX roles but each have areas of specialism. Between them they execute on a broad spectrum of UX disciplines and draw on each other, utilising all of their qualities as best they can.

How do you approach designing for your target audience?

Alex: Some of the core verticals that we target such as professional services and government, are often times a little behind the curve in terms of digital transformation, leaning heavily on email and non centralised ways of working. We spend a lot of time researching and increasing our domain knowledge around these core industries so that we can really try to work out what problems we should be solving for these guys.

“We’re tackling collaboration across businesses and trying to revolutionise how they work together.”

Mayuri: We’re tackling collaboration across businesses and trying to revolutionise how they work together. “Collaboration” – it’s a hot word but what does it mean? It’s different in every company, so it’s about figuring out what that means for each client.

What stands out with Huddle’s product is that their clients really enjoy using it, it’s become a core tool which their employees are excited to use and take a real interest in. “This is because it looks and feels like a personal app”, Rosana explains, “It’s easy to use, scales for enterprise businesses and handles complex interactions, both internal and external.”

What is the structure of your team and how do you work together?

Alex: Our UX Design team at Huddle is organised in a ‘hub and spoke’ setup. We are a central team of four UX Designers and we self manage, but as spokes we are distributed across various agile teams which represent different parts of the product. In the past we tended to take individual ownership of different parts of the product. For example, I was working a lot with Android, with Bauke on the desktop platform, Rosana on iOS etc. Now we work both individually on parts of the product and as a team on others – reviewing work collectively and sharing via design critiques.

“We’ve also been trialling paired designing for a while and are finding it very productive. It’s great for due diligence around design, great for critiquing and for short cycle feedback loops. We’re a really collaborative team and don’t design in silo anymore. We design collectively.”

We hold regular tactical design critiques (TDCs), where we demonstrate and talk through how we’re moving through our design concepts. In these sessions we critically analyse them. It’s the most difficult part of our role but also the most fun and the best way of learning whilst also challenging one another. As a result, the product’s design often comes from collective agreement.

Mayuri: We’ve grown a lot as a function, the company is nine years old but the team is still quite young. UX as a practice isn’t new to the business, but we have worked hard to really grow the team into the function it is today.

“You read articles on online and they only ever talk about how you should work and why, but the way you grow as a function and profession is from the little things that noone really talks about.”

Bauke tells me that, “We don’t have a legacy in the way we do UX. We formed a team and are finding out as a group how we’re going to work together. Over the years we’ve trialled a lot of structures and strategies. We’ve grown a lot and are still changing now as we continue to get more mature in the company. For example, in the beginning, we did daily standups to keep up with what everyone was working on. Now it’s more about the content of your designs, like the critiques.”

One major aspect of how the UX team works effectively at Huddle is the way that they collaborate with the rest of company, including the engineering team and the commercial side of the business. “It’s important to engage with all functions within the business”, Bauke explains. “In the end they are marketing and selling what we design, so we involve them right from the beginning of the project journey.”

How do you tackle communicating across the business?

Bauke: We hold UX forms on a monthly basis. Where the whole company comes together to provide valuable feedback and find out about what problems we’re working on and why they’re important.It’s crucial to have the whole company involved in our design process, as it allows us to have a shared understanding. At Huddle, UX is a team sport.

“At Huddle, UX is a team sport.”

Alex: Marvel prototypes make appearances at our UX Forums all the time. They play a crucial role in how we communicate our progress with everyone across the business. Being able to demo prototypes with Marvel is powerful way to communicate the design intent and gauge response and feedback from attendees around how it works and feels.

Mayuri: We make sure we communicate all of this with our users as well. A big part of our role is making sure that everyone feels involved with the product. The great thing about these forums is that people join them knowing it’s a safe space. Hierarchy is dissolved and they know when they join these discussions they can give their own input without being judged. Any challenges to their suggestions or ideas are constructive and perceived positively.”

It speaks for itself that Huddle’s key value is teamwork. In the dawn of the company’s creation, one of the founders said, “We should eat our own dog food”. Meaning that they should use their own product and always make collective decisions. Alex says this still goes on, making it a very agile environment, with a startup mentality.

Huddle discovered Marvel at the time when there was a lot of noise in the prototyping space. The team trialled a lot of different tools but fell in love with Marvel’s simplicity and intuitive design. Mayuri explains that, “One of the biggest things that stand out to me, is Marvel’s personal touch. The speed at which Murat and the team respond to us if we have a question has made a huge difference.”

“I also wanted to support a company that was British and local and that responded and care about people. That’s what stands out.”

Marvel is used across the tech side of the company, by the Product Managers when they are presenting and by Quality Assurance when they’re creating test plans and referencing for the dev team. Huddle have also created an opportunity for their commercial teams to start using Marvel in their upcoming Hackathon. This Hackathon invites employees across the business to pitch new feature ideas to the rest of the company. The developers are always at an advantage because they can code their ideas but now the commercial side of the business can take part by creating realistic prototypes in Marvel.

To ensure that everyone gains a basic understanding of how Marvel works, the UX team at Huddle hosted a Lunch and Learn for the non-tech employees. We went along to visit them during the session, feeling both flattered and inspired. Whilst everyone enjoyed a feast of burgers and salads in Huddle’s custom made auditorium, Bauke covered the basics of building a concept into an interactive prototype. From coming up with an idea for a new feature, considering how the user would experience it, supporting the idea with a scenario and lastly designing the screens needed to tell the story.

What are some of the biggest challenges you face?

Alex: There are different scales of challenges we face. As a business, some of our biggest challenges are around encouraging people to work in a different way. As a product, our biggest competitor is email, with the biggest challenge being ‘how do we stop people reverting to email and work in a centralised way?’. We are also constantly challenged to solve problems that come out of unique silos but also address the needs of our wider user base.

“UX Design at Huddle is comprised of a broad spectrum of disciplines, from research through to refined design and everything in between. As a small team we’ve been doing a lot of challenging work on continuing to define ourselves as an Enterprise UX Design function and understand what our UX maturity level is.”

Mayuri: Consumer products have different challenges to those of enterprise products. How do you make sure you can provide a need and a solution for a business with restrictions and security whilst ensuring this doesn’t get in the way of people being able to use the product?

Rosana: That’s a design challenge that we face. Our buyers are not always our users, and what matters to them often doesn’t matter to those who use Huddle. Which is different to consumer products where the buyer and user are one. The challenge we embrace is to bring those two parallel worlds together.

You can really feel the connection this team has which stems from their collaborative efforts and passion to design a product that users love. They thrive on the challenges which come with working on an enterprise product, where the team really have to research and understand the industries their customers come from. For inspiration they find it imperative to stay connected to the UX community, by reading blogs and going to meetups, but mostly by spending time with their users. Identifying problems or testing with them and walking away seeing the huge smiles on their faces because they’ve solved a problem and know that they’ve made a difference.

Writing for Marvel. Writing for fun. Eating everywhere, all the time.

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