You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him install IPv6.
VMware (the cloud software and services honchos) was in the final stages of rolling out its initial foray into hardware: EVO:RAIL. It’s a server that promises to make IT folks’ lives easier in amazing ways, but to perform its magic the installation process breaks a bunch of familiar rules (and these guys don’t like change, trust us). I mean, there’s a lot at stake with these extremely complex systems. You DO NOT want to be the person in charge when one goes down.
So, in order to turn this novel piece of hardware into something comprehensible, we undertook a crash course in modern data center architecture and found ways get through to our suspicious users.
"Sliced Bread follows the proven design-centered product development process that Julie helped pioneer at Stanford. Their design process enabled customers to understand complex technical concepts in a way that lives up to the industry hype of simplicity in the HCI market.”
– Judy Snow, Technical Program Manager, VMware
Show. Don’t tell.
To start, we interviewed groups of current and potential EVO:RAIL customers. After sitting with IT managers at their desks, we discovered that they’re as protective of the stability of their data centers as a parent on prom night. The EVO:RAIL system asked them to do some new things they weren’t used to — in a different order from usual — and they weren’t sure why. So they reverted to old habits. Not a winning formula for EVO:RAIL.
Crafting (literally, with glue and stuff) an interactive installation experience
Conventional server installation wisdom was to throw away all the instructions at the beginning. Not good for EVO:RAIL. We thought that if we could speak their “IT” language a bit better – and engage users before the server arrived – we could head off problems at the pass. A brainstorming session with VMware led to the novel idea of an explanatory comic book integrated into a Welcome Kit.
Using foam core, scissors, glue and colored pencils, we created multiple mockups of the book and the kit for feedback – including a design where the whole box actually looked like the EVO:RAIL appliance. We also put color-coded stickers on the appliance and asked people to try it out.
Creating something cool (and practical)
Armed with our mockups, we conducted several rounds of user feedback sessions to discover if the comic book/color-coded sticker idea was on track. In addition to in-person tests, we also mailed prototype kits to new customers. We learned that the format of the Welcome Kit shaped like the server was overkill. It was too large and felt wasteful.
Technical magic through illustration
In partnership with Recess Creative, we finalized the comic book visuals (inspired by the movie The Incredibles). We also designed a smaller, more useful Welcome Kit housed in a branded laptop sleeve. This final design tested fantastically and was a beautiful introduction to the magic inside VMware’s first physical server.
Customers who received EVO:RAIL Welcome Kits were delighted by the content and confident in their abilities to set up the system. The success of this project led to the development of further illustrated books for VMware.