During my time at Microsoft, I had the unique opportunity to be the Design Lead for My Workspace, a macOS menu bar application that allows for quick access to relevant information from Office365.
I helped build My Workspace as a design intern within Microsoft’s innovative Garage program; a 4-month intensive work placement where teams rapidly prototype, validate, and launch new ideas. The program puts together small groups of engineers, PMs, and designers to take an idea all the way from ideation to implementation to production.
The program begins by having senior Microsoft employees pitch high level ideas and key areas that have potential. The problem presented to my team was very open ended; our sponsors wanted us to create a product that helped increase engagement with the Office 365 suite on macOS and to help gain deeper insight into usage behaviours.
Our first major task as a team was to narrow our focus. We were given a very broad, general problem that could’ve been approached in any number of ways. Through my own research and data provided by our sponsors, I was able narrow our focus to to 4 main features that the research indicated would provide the most value: Outlook Calendar events, OneDrive recent files, an Office 365 app launcher, and access to Office 365 account settings. However, we still needed a way to consolidate these key features in a way that would increase engagement.
After further discussion and research, we realized that the biggest opportunity among our chosen areas of focus would be to offer something that allowed users to have quick access to their content for these apps. Our users used these apps heavily but the process to launch each and dive straight into their content wasn’t streamlined.
Our solution was to create a menu bar app for macOS that brings together key aspects of of the Office 365 suite in one quick and convenient area. The key features of this app included a quick overview of your upcoming Outlook Calendar meeting, access to most recent OneDrive files, an app launcher for all your Office 365 apps, and easy access to managing Office 365 account/subscriptions.
While quick access was key we also realized that we shouldn’t replace the functionality of the apps themselves but instead surface enough information to get users started in each app.
The Garage program is a fast paced environment and each week we had to make significant progress towards our final product. To succeed in this high intensity environment, we had to establish effective processes and ensure we all communicated well with each other.
With the fast approaching deadlines in mind, my process through the development of the app followed these three steps: 1. Idea generation, 2. Hypothesis testing, and 3. Rapid iteration. This mirrored my regular design process in some ways but with so many tight deadlines there was much more overlap between each stage and required many more cycles of the process. The experience allowed me to focus on key aspects of each stage and prioritize when to come back to smaller details.
After we had decided our focus and laid out an initial approach, I began my first round of user testing where I quickly learned that our proposed feature set did not address the needs two major user groups: students and personal users. I had to take a step back and completely re-examine the research and conduct additional interviews. We pivoted our product’s target audience to business and enterprise users realizing that the greatest opportunity for our product was with them. This new target audience helped our team focus on specific use cases rather than trying to build a one-size-fits-all solution. As the project progressed there were several more constraints that needed to be considered and we continued to adapt them as needed.
After many months of iterations, user interviews, team discussions, and late nights, we were able to produce a production quality application. My Workspace was publically launched on September 7, 2017 and is available for download here:
It has since received very positive reception from technology reviewers including websites such as Forbes and The Verge:
I had the opportunity to be the UX Design Lead for My Workspace which was both a rewarding and challenging experience that helped me grow significantly as a designer and as a leader. I needed to make informed design and product decisions for our team and since the environment was so fast paced I needed to do so quickly. This taught me to be resourceful, a better communicator, and made me understand in detail the entire development process needed up until a successful launch.
I also needed to contribute to the scope of our features and often needed to recommend which aspects to simplify or remove that weren’t proving to be worth the effort. To do so, I had to have a constant stream of communication with our coaches, program managers, and developers to ensure we were always making the most timely decisions and focusing our efforts on the most critical tasks.
I enjoyed my time working at Microsoft on the My Workspace app and have grown as a designer from the experience. I valued learning how to best interact with developers, managing a complex product, and taking an idea fully from ideation to development to launch.