In-Depth

3 Key Components To Building a Positive SharePoint Experience

Knowing what and when to collect user information is critical

The business world knows no scorn like that of a customer who feels abandoned or unsatisfied. In the age of Internet 2.0, comment threads and review boards have become a key information source for potential users that are completely out of the control of your business. Intimidating? It doesn't have to be. This interactive environment is the perfect place for your fantastic product or service to shine and gives your business a glimpse into actual customer experiences. Read the comments. Reply to the posts. Leverage the chatter to understand your users more and build brand loyalty. Whether you are designing a store layout, building a kitchen utensil or developing an online portal, you have users with objectives and it is your job to make the process a breeze.

That certainly applies to SharePoint, where the user experience coalescing with Office 365, and is a core area of focus for my clients at Soho Dragon. Below are the three areas that you want to continuously collect information from users on to ensure you are hitting the mark and delivering a positive user experience. Once you have an idea of what the component entails, this list of specific SharePoint functionality can help you achieve or enhance that feature.

Orientation
Orientation is how your information is structured to best respond to a user's goal.

Things to consider from your user's shoes: What information am I looking for? How does this information relate to things I already know?

Things to consider from your business shoes: How am I organizing information? How can categorize components to be most intuitive to my user?

Example: An intranet site contains lots of different information. You use information silos to categorize where items are stored. Link prefixes to denote event invites or blog posts, colors by department and icons all help your user associate the information they are seeing and identify if they are in the right place.

Best Practices: Keep it simple! The orientation should come from slight visual clues not paragraphs of explanations.

Within SharePoint: Content Types are a way to collect columns into a template to ensure they are applied consistently. This trains your user to associate values with similar terms. Building these templates for site columns means you can use them throughout your site collection and provide a more uniform experience when dealing with types of information (ex: events, blog postings, announcements, etc.)

Route Finding
Route finding is the navigational elements you have in place to direct your user throughout an experience.

Consider from your user's shoes: How can I find the information I want? Do I recognize terms that are options for my decisions? Do my options lead me towards my goal?

Consider from your business shoes: Where will I place information for my user? Have I defined the terms? Are expectations and results for navigation options clearly defined?

Example: A shopper is at the mall and wants to know where to find a particular store. A map could list stores in alphabetical order by floor or categorize stores by departments. Either way, the user is given context that they are looking at stores in a specific location or stores focused on a specific department. Placing the map near entrances will get their attention early.

Best Practices:
Limit options. Miller's Rule of 7 dictates that anything with more than seven selections will lose meaning to your audience.

Within SharePoint:
Cascading navigational elements let your user hone in one what they are looking for and gain an understanding of how content is nested. Those are like the North Stars of your SharePoint and should contain easy access to links leading to content that applies to your broadest audience.

On content that is more tailored to specific teams, add in directions. Providing a link to a list offers information, but the user experience will be enhanced with step-by-step instructions so expectations are clear. Use numbers to identify the order of steps, have thumbnails that illustrate the step, or dynamic features on the page that blink to direct the user throughout the process.

Closure
Closure evaluates the efficiency of your user's flow to and the completeness of the objective.

Consider from your user's shoes: Did I get what I was looking for? Did it happen in a way I expected and enjoyed?

Consider from your business shoes: What are the critical steps that need to occur in order for a user to accomplish the objective? How can I automate?

Example: A user purchases a new coffee maker. While the process of making coffee isn't new, the design of the product is. It includes numbered labels on the compartments of the machine to guide the user's steps adding ingredients. Lights indicate when the process is in progress and complete.

Best Practices: Identify a "happy path." This is the steps a user should take for an expected result. Seal that process so work arounds are limited to ensure users aren't left at dead ends.

Within SharePoint: Workflows are a great way to confirm actions with your users. Add simple e-mails to confirm with a user that a form was submitted or an item was updated. You can include links and other participants on the e-mail. Use the body of the e-mail to identify why the user is receiving the e-mail, confirm the action that was taken and offer a support resource in case of questions.           

The UX Design process is iterative and dependent on your empathy toward users to understand requirements and feedback. If you are hearing negative things about user experience with your product or service, dig into where the process goes awry. A slight tweak to the navigation could make all the difference if users are having trouble finding information. If the feedback has reoccurring mention of unsatisfactory results, go back to the drawing board on your happy path. Technology offers a unique opportunity for business owners to accept feedback from users around the world. Businesses who can effectively take in user reviews to iterate an increasingly more positive user experience will boost sales and generate a loyal user base because of their commitment to customer needs.

About the Author

Peter Ward is the co-owner of Soho Dragon, a New York-based Microsoft partner focused on SharePoint, Azure and mobile development and is the organizer-founder of the New York City Enterprise Collaboration Meetup group.

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