I can’t believe I forgot to mention this. Zimbra v8 is now available! It’s got a whole lot of new awesomeness, but most near and dear to my heart is that the front-end has gotten a complete makeover.
The Zimbra team approached me soon after I joined and asked if I could give them a hand. They had a new user experience design team. They actually didn’t know about my expertise with email clients and servers when they reached out to me, so I don’t think that they were quite prepared for how enthusiastically I agreed to help them out. So we sat down and talked.
That team had a lot of input streams, like their Bugzilla and internal feedback that they got from us at VMware, not to mention their own opinions. But, essentially, they had a lot of anecdotes. They didn’t have a lot of data to help them prioritize the changes that they should make to the user experience. Ultimately, we decided to do a baseline usability study: take the most current version of Zimbra, look at the most common workflows, and see how we fare.
When we’re talking about Zimbra, my research questions were … well, obvious. Can users find their inbox, sent mail, and trash? Can they create a new meeting, add people to that meeting, and schedule a conference room for it? Can people set up their out-of-office message? When I presented this as the questions that we were going to answer, some people asked why I was looking for such basic information. The answer is that we needed that basic information before we could move on to more in-depth questions. We have to understand how well we’re doing on the most basic tasks first. If we’re getting something truly basic wrong, then it doesn’t matter how awesome we are on the subsequent stuff, because no-one will ever get to it.
So I did the study: I spent a week in the usability lab with users, the Zimbra design team, and other members of the Zimbra development team. I learned a lot. I learned way more than I anticipated that I would learn.
I have to admit, I was cocky when I went into that study — I thought that all of my experience with email clients and servers meant that I knew all of the answers to the questions that I had. I was wrong. I was so totally wrong. I did correctly identify some of the places where people would stumble. But there was one task that I threw in to make the study flow better. It was only there to make the end-to-end story behind the usability study more complete, and to make a transition from one set of tasks to another less obvious. And nearly every user stumbled on it, revealing a problem that we didn’t know about (I didn’t anticipate it, there were no bugs filed on it, we’d never heard a complaint about it) and never would have found otherwise.
I presented my results to the team. As with any usability study, there was good news, and there was bad news. We went through it all, to make sure that we understood where we were getting things right, and where we needed to make improvements. I was cocky when I went into the study, and I was nervous when I went into this team presentation. After all, user experience design and research were new to them, and so I wasn’t sure whether the message that I had to deliver was one that they were ready to hear.
And just like I shouldn’t’ve been so cocky when I went into the study, I shouldn’t’ve been so nervous when we were talking about the results of the study. The team had been there throughout the whole thing, so they had seen people struggle firsthand. We spent most of the time focusing not on the research, but rather on how we would go about addressing the issues that were surfaced in the research in time for Zimbra v8.
And so I see that Josh Johnson, one of the members of the Zimbra design team, has just posted about all of the changes that were made to the user experience. I’ve been following their progress for awhile, and the changes that they’ve made between v7 and v8 are awesome. Overall, the UI so much cleaner, and (near and dear to my heart) the calendar is a lot easier to use. Go read Josh’s posts, it’s got screenshots of the awesome new v8 and even kindly gives a shoutout to my research. The team has done some amazing work, and I’m proud to have helped them along their way.