Timeframe: 2015 - 2017
Role: (2015 - 2017) UX designer in a design team of 6; (2017) UX lead following previous lead's departure
Timeframe: 2015 - 2017
Type: Transformation across digital touchpoints
Role: UX designer in a team of 7 (2015 - 2017); Interim UX lead (2017)
⏱ project overview
In 2015, Singtel started an organization-wide digital transformation process. As the biggest telco operating in Singapore, Singtel serves 4.1 million subscribers across mobile, broadband, and television services.
As all digital transformation programs go, ours was a long and challenging journey. Amidst these challenges, we ran our user-centred approach and process through an 8-week discovery phase, where the team was allowed the luxury of time to set up the foundational design principles, run research, and gear up for the development phase.
The team then worked with product owners to gather requirements and designed the baseline digital design framework for the organization on a new billing and CRM system. Alongside translating the new brand style guide, Release 1 took place across 15 sprints of our collective hard work.
portals into 1 unified site, including bringing TV onboard for the first time since 2004
individual pages with differing styles into 20 standardized key templates
improvement on Customer Satisfaction Score
Key learning #1
I know. Isn't this obvious, you ask?
Picture this: an aura of pomp for this individual contributor, two projects in with her "proper" UX role at Singtel, having shipped out an e-commerce product and a refresh of one of the most used utility apps in Singapore in the months prior.
She's read everything (narrator's note: not everything) on the internet about the magic of design thinking, and how design is going to change the world, and why design deserves a seat at the table!
I think we all can see where this story is leading.
To say that being on this digital transformation also pushed me (some might say shove) into maturing as a designer would be an understatement. It wasn't just the craft that I was learning — if not every day, then at least something new every week — but also maturing into a more thoughtful designer and person.
I can confidently say that I work at the intersection of the user, the business, and technology, but the confidence has definitely built over the years. There was definitely grumbling about the rigid and ridiculous requirements the business came up with, or how annoying it was that the developers couldn't do something we wanted in the time that we had.
I understand — now — that keeping everyone aligned is our job, but to that brash, idealistic designer back in 2015, there was a sense of frustration where every pushback seemed like a massive roadblock.
Governance. What governance? Each page, site, and portal was outsourced to external agencies to manage, with requirements driven by each individual team with no real overarching view of what the other is doing.
Here were the product stakeholders we collaborated with:
Pictured: A massive, sprawling ecosystem of websites, pages, and systems that don't talk to each other
In a word... messy.
Portals and microsites users have to visit to get their needs fulfilled
Levels of hierarchy to navigate to view information on products and services
Lack of unified information architecture and content structure that makes it difficult for users
The pitfalls of operating in silos were always apparent. We've heard stories - lots of them. Here's a sample:
Of course, the digital transformation wasn't going to solve all of these problems on Day 1, but it would be the first step in the right direction.
Or: the activities I ran:
Discovery is definitely an area I wish we could've spent more time in, though not too much — there is always a delicate balance between diving too deep into a hole, and being able to come up with usable and actionable insights for the development phase.
The power of foresight to ask someone to take photos of me running a workshop was never my strongest suit!
I went from supporting my team lead in conducting discovery and prioritization workshops for stakeholders across the different departments of the consumer business, to leading them by the time the program reached its subsequent releases.
A sample of the deeper IA, which feeds into the navigation and site map
We did a content inventory of the existing site, before coming up with two options for the IA: Shallow and wide, with all products and services surfaced on the first levels, or one that is slightly deeper, with an umbrella called "Products" to house said products and services.
Pictured: An abysmal success rate for what is arguably the most important line of business
With the two IA options, we ran a reverse card sorting with ~200 users on Optimal Workshop. The results were humbling, seeing our hypothesis — that the shallow and wide one would be the easier option to navigate — being invalidated almost instantly.
There were also people who breezed by all the tasks in 2 minutes, and not surprisingly, got a near 0% success rate — was it a lapse in recruitment? The test setup? I wish we could've captured more insights from these participants through a later round of user testing, but alas.
An initial set of "design attributes" were identified at the start of the project, which were then used to facilitate 2 activities: concept testing with 300+ users, as well as stakeholder workshops. These attributes were then ranked from both activities, and used to establish these design principles as our guardrails.
Focused, contextual, personalized
Friendly, warm, inviting
Clean, intuitive, organized
Dynamic, interactive, immersive
I won't bore you too much about what we did in the agile process (though, we'd often joked it's a fr-agile one, so!) that we ran 15 sprints, then a few more in the next release in, but suffice to say that I am a well-trained agile practitioner who can work very well under very tight timelines:
While in the midst of our designing and developing, StarHub released a new account management portal out of the blue! We had to scramble to do a mini-competitive analysis, comparing it to what we were building to assuage the stakeholders' anxiety.
Key learning #2
To say that I was on a steep learning curve would be an understatement. While I had multiple projects under my belt at this point, this was still one of the bigger projects of my career thus far, and it was an impactful one that millions of subscribers would need to interact with.
Looking back, I'm grateful that I had this opportunity to really go deep into my craft and expertise, and come out the other side a more mature and skilled practitioner. There were plenty of "firsts", and all of it required some nimbleness and swiftness in absorbing knowledge before executing them.
Lack of tools, templates, and processes shared universally made our lives harder than it should have been:
Left: The abomination of a Frankenstein's monster-ed overall release notes
Right: Release notes on each specific screen so that there was an accountability chain
I'm so thankful that we now have an embarrassment of riches with our tools, frameworks, and systems to adapt from 💝
We spent a good chunk of our time after the Release 1 sprints trying to get our documentation for our components up. The year is 2016, and the only points of reference the design community at large had was Google's Material Design, and a handful of other design systems (design language? digital style guides?).
This meant that we had to start our repository from scratch. Because our UI files lived in Photoshop, it wasn't the best use of our time to recreate things in Sketch. Instead, there was a concerted effort to identify critical components that the development team needed, so that we could prioritize which ones would get recreated and ported over to Sketch for a more unified and scalable view of our entire system at large.
I couldn't find the actual components library, but here is some evidence of the documentation and tracker we used...
Were there things I would've done differently, given what I know now? Oh, heck yeah. Obviously, we would've flipped the whole process, and established the design system as a building block, rather than something we had to do at the end.
It was, as things were in this project, a learning curve that I absolutely enjoyed, and have taken to go more in depth for my future projects.
Key learning #3
...and unfortunately, a dance that I had two left feet for at that moment in time.
While we were able to do some research on this whole program, the volume was definitely not appropriate for something as large as this. I wish we had the time and budget to do user research through interviews in the discovery phase, but even more than that, I wish that we were able to do consistent in-sprint usability testing of our wireframes.
It would have been even better if the product owners could shape their vision through actual user insights, rather than putting themselves in the shoes of the users, to make their best estimate of what they would want.
Thankfully, as I rolled off this project, I was able to take my newly-learned management skills to gain confidence in being an even more vocal advocate, and was able to run a better, iterative process in my next project (the Prepaid app redesign).
Looking back, I cringe completely at the lack of depth in my knowledge of accessibility. While basic color contrast ratios were met, there wasn't an advocate for accessibility, and it only got picked up (though just barely) during the development stage.
As a team, we went for the obvious, "easier" way, because the strategy was to get everybody on board and aligned to a bigger vision. "Changes will be made after the launch"... it's been 5 years since.
Entire teams that were not involved during the first release had additional requirements that challenged the scalability of our designs - as the saying goes, we don't know what we don't know, and it made it hard for us to anticipate these changes despite our best efforts.
We also let go of some fights in view of the bigger "battle", such as agreeing to the usage of carousels under pressure from the marketing team, despite us knowing that they are not effective as an interaction pattern. Or taking in last-minute requests for a user base of one, because they are connected to somebody who knows somebody.
👋 PARTING WORDS
This took me a long, long while to write (it is now 2022, and I'm putting the finishing touches to something that ended in 2017). A lot of it is the inertia to document such a massive project, knowing that I was going to miss things — and I am sure that I have! — and that, as time went by, I was going to lose access to documentations, repositories and the likes. More than that, the memories have started getting fuzzy, but I do remember the good times the team had together through it all.
But, I'm glad this is finally somewhere in the digital land right now, where it will remain as a time capsule. This was a project that I'd grown so much in, and with. It was a massive opportunity and I'm proud of myself for taking on new roles and responsibilities, and it has given me a much-needed perspective in my current workplace, given that digital transformations are the bread and butter of what I do now.
Something about full circle, I think.