Apprendan Q&A – Talking 5.0 with Jacky Minkler, User Experience Designer

Ryan Quackenbush

By Ryan Quackenbush

Hear from a number of the Apprendans who worked hard to complete Apprenda 5.0 on what they learned, what they think is important and how they made it through our most aggressive release schedule ever. Our 5.0 release has been our biggest and most ambitious to date.  We’ve learned so much from our customers, and we’re proud to know we’re building the best PaaS for the Enterprise, with the Enterprise.  

Fun Fact: Division 1 track runner; organized two Apprenda running events: the Corporate Challenge and the Warrior Dash

Ryan: What are you most excited about regarding the 5.0 release?
Jacky: I’ve been working on this redesign for a long time now, so I think I’m most excited about seeing it all coming together and having it look like a cohesive unit.

Ryan: Why did we feel it was necessary to change the UI?
Jacky: We kind of felt like the quality, the feature set of the product, outgrew its appearance, in a way. A lot of customer feedback alluded to the clunkiness of the UI, but the biggest push had to do with our increasing amount of Fortune 1000 customers. They want something more modern. We’re leaders and we wanted to make a statement with our UI and also through a unification and consistency of the overall brand. A product of this kind of quality deserves a great and consistent user experience.

Ryan: What steps did you take to make it more user-friendly and how did you begin?
Jacky: At first, I just tried to learn the product and then I wrote down all the end-tasks that you can perform. Following that I grouped them into related actions. Original WorkflowPrior to this, completing tasks meant drilling down many layers within your app, most of which rested in “cloud control.” But, I thought of it in a different way…after all, our whole developer portal is their “cloud control.” So, why not just remove that layer? This kind of got me on a roll and I continued removing relatively ambiguous layers, breaking everything out into actions as I did so.

Now when you drill into an app, all of the tabs for your navigation consist of your dashboard (high-level roll-up items) and monitor, scale, configure, patch. It’s all verb-based: the actions that you can take. So the user can see, right up front, everything that you can do with the platform. Jumping to that page, rather than drilling into one specific component, performing one task, it’s now all a very non-linear hierarchy for the platform. Before, when you had to drill into pages, it was very confusing and you couldn’t see where you were, much of the time. Now, you have so much you can see at once, how to get back to another task, and this saves a lot of time.

Ryan: Okay, say someone is sitting in front of 5.0 after two years of using the old UI. What’s jumping out at them?
Jacky: Basically, the whole information architecture was changed. The biggest problem with the old UI was that all the features and actions you could take were buried so many pages deep that it was very inconvenient to find out what was available to you, at least right away. You could play around with it for a while or sit through a tutorial of some kind (be sure to thank Client Services!), but it wasn’t set up optimally.

My job has been to try and make it more intuitive and help make it more user-sensitive. We’re bringing in new customers so quickly that the rate at which our client services team is expanding will, eventually, not be sustainable. We need a more user-friendly product and the product should be more intuitive. So, that’s where I come in…and that’s exciting.

Ryan: Stylistically, is there something new that you like a lot about the new UI?
Jacky: The new, blue appearance is a good place to start. It matches our new branding that was rolled out last spring. The blue background is very calming, not a random color that’s overly constraining on the eyes,and all of the actions and tasks are in white. This helps the user to focus on the tasks at hand, and draws the eye exactly where it should, which helps speed up the interaction.

Ryan: Can you give an example of a feature or scenario that’s been greatly improved by the new UI?
Jacky: Beforehand, adding new instances was somewhat tedious: add one, add one more, etc. Now, using a slider bar, we can quicken that process up dramatically. You can add as many as you think you’ll need, can set Min / Max to your manual scaling, and also have automatic or scheduled scaling too. For automatic scaling, you can set the Min / Max and, based on your CPU utilization, the platform will scale it for you. When you approach 90% or whatever it’s set at, it will scale it up. This makes it really configurable for optimal utilization: the platform will perform so many things for you.

Scheduled scaling is even easier. The monitoring looks much prettier, now, but it’s similar to before. You can see, in the past hour or so, the utilization and the allocation that you have. If you track that over, say, a week or so and you see a pattern, you can add that to your scheduled scaling. At 9 am, for example, you can scale the instances up to five, and at 5 pm you can bump it back down to two, and on the weekends do the same thing. So it’s very flexible to add a specific time, putting in specific instances at that date; it’s like a calendar.

Ryan: Walk me through the perspective of a first-time user. I’m a dev, I sit down, and I’m a bit confused about something I’m looking at…can the platform help?
Jacky: Sure! We added a bunch of “help tips.” Quick background on that: in the old UI, every task or page that you were on had a huge sidebar that listed all of the feature details, which made for an overwhelming amount of text while you were trying to perform an action. This conflicts your focus. Instead of continuing this feature, I brought over a help tip to every feature or component, because a lot of things are pretty complex and detailed. So if you’re confused, you call roll over it and see what it’s about and then perform your task.

The creation of this icon definitely helps, especially for a first-time user, because we have so many features in the product that are completely different from our competitors. Even the terminology may be different, in a one-to-one comparison. It’s super helpful for them to have a help tip if they’re configuring an app and working with all of these different settings.

More importantly, it’s not so in-your-face. If these are devs that are going to be using this product over a few apps, they’re configuring probably only once, so they’re not going to want these tips all the time. So it’s just a simple roll-over, hidden more and not interfering with your day-to-day process.

Ryan: What do you want for users of this new UI?
Jacky: I want them to be excited for the ease-of-use. It will save them a ton of time doing their day-to-day work and it’s really worthwhile to see all these changes start to take effect!

Check out the other interviews in this series!



Ryan Quackenbush
Ryan Quackenbush

Ryan Quackenbush is the Advocacy Programs Manager at Apprenda. His cooking is renowned, his record collection and library are extensive and, when not at Apprenda, he can usually be found rooting for the Mets or playing live music. You can follow him on Twitter at @RSQuackenbush.

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