UX Design Innovation and Accessibility

Redesigning UX Research at VMware Explore

VMware offers a wide range of products and services that enable companies to succeed in a multi-cloud world. In past years, VMware Design ran research sessions on up to 90 separate Design Studio topics at the annual VMworld conference. We got a lot of valuable data, but it wasn’t easy to combine the results to form a broader vision of how to provide more seamless experiences across our portfolio.

Watching waves in Hawaii inspired Deanna Shaw to adjust our research approach.

As Deanna Shaw, our Principal Designer, sat on a beach in Hawaii, watching the waves crash on some nearby rocks, she had a realization. Our past approach was too fragmented to drive larger strategic conversations. She sent me a message asking if we could wait until her vacation was over to start this year’s planning process. She had a big idea for a new approach. I happily let her finish her vacation, and upon her return, we excitedly started work together to forge a new path forward. The result was an approach we called Design with Us, set to launch at the newly rebranded 2022 VMware Explore conference.

What do we mean by Design with Us?

Rather than focus on bits and pieces of our portfolio, we wanted attendees to share their broader perspectives, what they were trying to accomplish, and new ideas. What mattered most to us was learning about the people we strive to delight and collecting data that could improve our strategy for the coming year.

We formed teams to focus on major themes we thought would be valuable to us and the participants, including:

  • Their Journey with VMware
  • Multi-Cloud
  • SaaS
  • Building Clouds for Application Developers
  • Partner Experience
  • Accessibility
Zicheng Gu, Yi Zhang, Esther Jan, and Evangeline Hsiao were some of the many team members who welcomed VMware Explore attendees to Design with Us.

We told each team to make their sessions interactive and fun. We wanted anyone who came, whether hands-on users, decision-makers, or others, to contribute and get value from attending. Varsha Jagdale and Bryanne Peterson helped teams craft study plans that were truly unique and effective. For example, we had restaurant-placemat-style pages for people to describe the ups and downs of their experiences with VMware.

A teammate of ours, Dave Christensen designed printouts that looked like placemats in restaurants with activities for sharing feedback.

We also had casino-style sessions with VMware partners and a pirate theme to learn what treasures teams strive for when building clouds for application developers. Our accessibility team met with attendees to gather input on which types of personalization are most desirable. The SaaS team asked about some of the best and worse SaaS experiences people had encountered before. Everyone has opinions on that!

Anin Choudhary and others led casino-style sessions with partners.

Want to learn more about our arts-based research? Read Is Art the Future of UX Research? by VMware User Experience Researcher, Bryanne Peterson.

Fewer topics but more intense collaboration

You might think that dropping from 90 topics to 16 would be much more manageable, but we faced an entirely new set of challenges. Instead of asking team members to research something they knew well (products and features they support), we asked them to think broader and deeper about what we could learn. Each topic team included researchers and designers from across product areas and geographical locations. The fact that our sessions gathered input in many formats meant we had a lot of data processing to do to distill findings and share them across teams.

Nikola Ranguelov and others led pirate-themed sessions on building clouds for application developers.

One thing I love about the culture at VMware is what we call our EPIC2 values. EPIC2 stands for Execution, Passion, Integrity, Customers, and Community. All of those were clearly evident in this process as more than 100 people from various business groups and job functions came together to support our Design with Us activities. It wasn’t easy, but the teams followed through, and I am truly grateful for all their time, effort, and thoughtfulness.

Was this new approach effective?

This approach has helped us on many levels:

  • We collected some great data! We heard from a mix of customers and partners in many roles. We collected valuable qualitative and quantitative results, including first-person narratives about what works and what could be better. To riff off our pirate session theme, there is treasure there that only the bravest could find! We have been combining the VMware Explore findings with other research, and our products will no doubt improve as a result.
  • Attendees had fun, as shown by the smiles on their faces and the post-session surveys (more than 93% of the post-session survey responses included a smiley face). Some attendees even came back for multiple Design with Us sessions.
  • We forged stronger relationships across VMware. We connected people, projects, and research findings in ways we didn’t see before. This will have long-term benefits since building seamless product experiences is easier if people on separate teams know and like each other. As a fully remote employee, I loved seeing so many people and making new friends.
Design with Us team members enjoying the VMware Explore party!

Please join us!

Our work will continue, and we invite you to be part of it.

Are you a VMware customer or partner?

  • We are heading to VMware Explore Europe in Barcelona from November 8-9 for more Design with Us sessions. Please join us if you are going to be there.
  • Join our User Feedback Program to learn more about opportunities throughout the year where you can connect with our team for various research activities and help us build a better future for everyone.

Are you a VMware Employee?

  • Everyone at VMware is welcome to join us on our quest to make better experiences for our customers and partners. Please reach out if you want to connect.

Do you want to work at VMware?

  • We are hiring! Learn more about what we do in VMware Design on Medium. If you like making technology easier for people and want to join our culture of inclusion and innovation, this could be the right place for you.

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