Ansys UX Internship

Improving experience of the engineering simulation and 3D design product
OVERVIEW
Summary

Background: This summer, I worked at Ansys as a UX design intern at their Design Business Unit. Ansys is a fifty years old, global tech giant that builds multi-physics engineering simulation softwares for 3D product design, testing and operations. I was responsible for evaluating and designing the features of newly launched Discovery product. It is a 3D design software to help engineers explore ideas, iterate and innovate with unprecedented speed and better account for real-world behaviors.

In this three month internship, I collaborated with several product managers, designers, developers and two other interns to improve the experience of the emerging Discovery platform. I am briefly describing four major projects that I worked on — 1. Style guide, 2. Workflow improvements, 3. Message box re-design, and 4. Usability study. Some other small projects I took care of were: creating icons, localizing software by editing onboarding videos and Discovery branding. Each of the small projects required different approach and process.

Achievement: Based on my internship performance, Ansys offered a one-year sponsored capstone project to me. Currently I'm exploring how AR/VR/MR technologies can be employed to improve the productivity of Discovery.

PROJECT #1

It is difficult to keep internal designers and developers aligned with the design paradigms of Discovery. Also, how might we establish a shared knowledge resource to guide other Ansys teams in their product design and development?

THE SOLUTION

A standardized, interactive and online Discovery Style Guide to easily document, learn, replicate and update the information about innovative design paradigms of Discovery.

THE DELIVERABLE
Discovery Style Guide
RESEARCH AND EXPLORATIONS
What's the process?

I collaborated with two other UX interns—Lai Jiang and Lawrence Liu on this challenge. After receiving the brief, we laid out the content that needed to be addressed in the document. Because of the time limitations we decided to focus on three areas as a starting point: Buttons, Typography and Colors. Out of these, I worked on the Buttons page. Also, from the two user segments, we focused only on the designers side.

Taking inspiration
The most challenging part was to determine the structure and hierarchy of the information while simultaneously finalizing the content. We analyzed 20+ style guides and design systems built by other companies to get a better understanding of what works and what doesn't. We also considered the existing relevant resource: The Toolkit, that is currently being used by both designers and developers.

Ansys Discovery Toolkit

Setting some rules
We spoke with our stakeholders—designers in the UX team, who were also providing feedback on our work. We asked them many clarifying questions, solicited their feedback and translated the answers to clear goals. In our initial discussions, we unanimously decided to create a separate website for the style guide. We considered other format options such as PDF, Microsoft Sharepoint webpages, etc. but they are not easy to maintain and update in the long run, hence were discarded.

Fleshing out ideas
I thoroughly examined the software UI and gathered various buttons and their interaction states in a Figma document. I classified them into several categories: Button states, tabs, toggles/radio buttons, slideshow buttons, buttons with icons, buttons with dropdown menu and selection buttons. I created the Information Architecture diagram to understand the structure and relationship between the data points of the website (I am unable to share the IA details due to NDA). Based on this research, I created medium-fidelity wireframes for home page and buttons page, and presented them to the stakeholders.

DESIGN DECISIONS
The rationale

To help users achieve their primary goal i.e. to discover information quickly, I highlighted search bar at the top before the navigation bar. I provided an option to download the style guide PDF if users prefer that. I separated the navigation menu based on the audience to keep the layout clean and straightforward. I did the illustration for cover image to metaphorically represent how Discovery is built. I wanted to design for the F-shaped reading pattern so I kept index at the left which can easily be related to the information on the right side of the page. Index provides better visibility for all levels of information and navigation. I explored another design alternative with horizontal index. Content area on the right side is independently scrollable in both options. Each button can be quickly viewed in dark, medium and light UI themes. Also, I provided the use cases for each button type to quickly visualize the implementation in the current product. Moreover, users can view interactions of a specific button in the Toolkit.

Design alternative 1
Design alternative 2
NEXT STEPS
Laid the foundation

This is an ongoing project. We could work on it only for 2 weeks. Style Guide hasn't reached the development stage yet. However, I'm honored that my design was adopted as the new initiative and picked up by the UX team for further development.

PROJECT #2

There are multiple ways to access a certain feature in the current software UI. It can affect the mental model and learnability of the product. Suggest some ways to optimize them.

THE SOLUTION

Improved the workflows for two features: 
1. online help search
2. Driving Dimensions table by designing new interactions

THE OUTCOME
Workflow improvements


1. Online help search

We studied how users are using online help feature through multiple access points. To make it easily discoverable and accessible, we provided an in-context search bar at the top right corner of the software. I prototyped the workflow which was approved by the senior designers.

Current interaction
New interaction prototype


2. Driving dimensions table

We found out that the current placement of Driving Dimensions under the advanced selection feature is not very intuitive. Also, two separate tables showing groups and parameters were a little disconnected with their location and were confusing to use. We optimized the interaction by combining the groups and parameters table, making it more seamless, context-based and easy-to-use.

Current interaction
New interaction prototype
PROJECT #3

How might we make the software feedback modern, standardized and inviting for users?

THE SOLUTION

Redesigned the message box for the information, warning and error message types to make it look edgy without losing the ability to provide clear feedback to users

THE DELIVERABLE
Message box re-design
RESEARCH AND EXPLORATIONS
The Process

We interns collaborated on this task and started our work by studying the current message box design and themes in the Discovery Toolkit. Our goal was to create a modern looking message box that is consistent in visual style with the current software UI.

Current design


Initial sketches

After understanding the requirements and constraints, I brainstormed some initial ideas and explored some layouts.


Ideation

I translated those sketches into medium-fidelity Adobe XD designs to get a better understanding of colors, UI themes and dimensions. At this stage, we presented our concepts to manager and other senior teammates, and sought feedback.

DESIGN ALTERNATIVES
Narrowing it down

Based on the feedback received from our team, we focused on key attributes of the Discovery visual style and made our designs even more aligned with it. We enlisted outline, gradient, colored bar, background pattern and icon style as our focus areas. We finalized total 6 alternatives by providing critiques and taking votes for it.

IMPACT
Final hand-off

Our team decided to go ahead with the second concept in the first row shown in the above image. Per manager's instructions, we iterated on it and created multiple versions of message boxes for different text lengths and heights, themes, message types and button states.  

Long text with scroll
Long text without scroll
Medium text
Short text
Finally, we provided design specification guidelines to clearly communicate our decisions to the developers.
PROJECT #4

Validate the concerns raised by stakeholders about Discovery user experience before the product launch.

THE SOLUTION

A 3-week long remote usability study examining 8 focus areas culminated with numerous valuable insights and design recommendations

THE EXECUTION
Usability Study

Participants
Along with two fellow interns, I assisted our lead UX designer in planning and executing the remote usability study. Since this was a pre-launch usability study, we tested the beta version of the software. We recruited 12 participants located in five countries: US, Japan, Italy, Ukraine, Germany, who represented our end users i.e. design engineers and analysts.

Method
We conducted the study in 3 levels where only the first level was open-ended and other two were task-based. Each test session consisted of 1.25 hour observation and 15 minutes follow-up interview with the user. We asked users to complete tasks while thinking aloud. We used Microsoft Teams to conduct the observations and interviews. Each of us used Microsoft OneNote to take notes. Our emphasis was to capture the pain points associated with the interactions and usability of 8 key areas of Discovery. At the end of each test session, we provided a 1-question questionnaire asking users to pick as many words as they want that defined their experience. After each session, we four designers conducted a debrief meeting where we discussed our insights.

Deliverable
Finally, we analyzed our notes from 47 testing hours by conducting digital affinity diagraming using OneNote's tagging and search feature. We extracted the patterns that emerged from the information, synthesized our results and presented a long list of learnings and actionable design recommendations to the leadership team.

LEARNING AND TAKEAWAYS
Practice collaboration
To be a good leader, you have to be the best team player first. Ensure that everyone is heard, involved and valued equally. Soft skills including facilitation, organizing and planning, maintaining the positive energy and communication are extremely important.
Understand product goals
Ask questions to understand the product from business and user's standpoint. In-depth understanding of the context will help in framing and exploring the problem space in a better manner. Asking 'why' is important and necessary to scope out the work early on.
Balance trade-offs
Every design decision comes with consequences, both good and bad. Anticipating tradeoffs and striking the right balance between them provides clear direction to move forward. Support every design decision with a solid rationale and evidence.
Be a quick learner
Every problem brings new opportunities. It demands new approaches, tools and methods to be employed. Be ready to pick up new things quickly and adapt to the environment. Strong foundation of UX design makes it easier to embrace new challenges.
TEAM PHOTO
Thank you for reading!
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