Design

Constant small improvements pave the way to perfection

4 min read
Ann-Marie Alcántara  •  Mar 21, 2018
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There’s that famous saying: “Rome wasn’t built in a day, but they were laying bricks every hour.”

Okay, I’m not necessarily comparing JotForm to Rome (personally, I think we’re more like Florence), but this way of thinking is our bread and butter.

We’re firm believers in growing slowly, hiring slowly. It’s this approach that got us 3.2 million users. It boils down to our company culture of continuous improvement. In fact, we’re so committed to this that we ask new hires to release a product update on their very first day.

Baby steps forward. Constant iterations. Nonstop nudges in the right direction. That’s how an empire is built. The path to success doesn’t need to be sprinted.Twitter Logo

Here’s what we’ve learned as we’ve slowly but surely paved ours.

Think like a user

How do we know what our customers want? User tests! We can’t get enough of them.

Every Friday—without fail—we carve out time to listen to what our users have to say. And there’s always something.

As developers, we’re sometimes unable to put ourselves in our users’ shoes, no matter how hard we try—our perception of the world may vary too much from theirs.

“Ask. Take action. Learn.”
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So we run endless user tests to better understand where they’re coming from. By doing this, we’re not only getting to know our users, but we’re also learning more about the product ourselves.

A constant feedback loop runs in the background, too. We pay close attention to every detail and to listen carefully to every word said. Then we take action.

Average complexity of a web application. (Watch the video this screenshot was taken from.)

At JotForm, the iterations never stop: We ask, we take action, we learn. 1–2–3. Over and over and over again. Fine-tuning and retracing steps for oversights on our part.

Because…

The user is always right

Wayyy back in 1909, Harry Gordon Selfridge famously declared that “the customer is always right.” And we’re saying (almost) the same thing at JotForm in 2018 when it comes to UI/UX development and design.

Essentially, if we feel like a user is to blame for a product not functioning properly, that means we’ve missed something—not them.

A solution to a problem may seem completely logical and obvious to us, but if our user is struggling to find it, we need to rethink our approach.

Often, having to explain a process to a customer step-by-step is the best way for us to realize, “Oh, that doesn’t make as much sense as I thought. Time to go back to the drawing board.”

“The path to success doesn’t need to be sprinted.”
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Having to constantly adjust and adapt the nooks and crannies of a product’s functionality can feel frustrating, but it’s worth remembering that…

There’s always room for improvement

Big problems—and related improvements—are easy. I mean, they might be hard to solve, but they’re obvious. Like trying to build a house and realizing half the bricks are missing.

Customers will always be able to tell you which features your product is lacking or the functions that are disappointing them.

But what about the areas of the product that aren’t awful, that are okay, pretty good… not great?

They often get pushed to the back of the priorities queue because no one is outright complaining about them.

Related: Use this UX research technique to gain deeper insights

But in the background, these issues can quietly cause frustration and erode trust over time. They’re the plumbing in the house—not immediately obvious, but just as important in the long run.

That’s why, even when we think areas of the product are fine as they are, we keep looking for ways to improve them anyway. The way we see it…

Every change matters—no matter how small

Even if we make a modification that affects 1% of our users, we’ve still increased the satisfaction of 32,000 people. That’s no minor feat.

Often, the best area to focus on isn’t a dramatic update that merits a WOW from users. We’ve found that something as basic as swapping one word for another can end thousands of headaches and bridge communication divides.

“A tiny drop of change can cause big ripples.”
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Little tweaks here and there might go largely unnoticed, but will still improve a user’s everyday experience in subtle ways. And it’s this slow-burning reliability that will lay the foundations for long-term trust and happiness.

We’ve learned that a tiny drop of change can cause big ripples. That’s why…

It’s okay to be cautious

It can be tempting to leap into action as soon as an issue arises, but hastiness rarely results in anything positive.Twitter Logo Before making a change, we always take a step back, talk to our colleagues, and think about the impact it’ll have in the long term.

On the flipside, sometimes we can’t plan ahead or see into the future. This means we don’t always get the outcome or feedback we had hoped for and need to start again. That’s okay, too.

As you can see from this post about how we redesigned our software, we changed the design multiple times to get it exactly right.

The JotForm team

We believe that as long as you take the time to think critically about the situation, you’ll end up in the right direction.

So, we say…

Do not be afraid of improving slowly. Be afraid of standing still.

We don’t just pay lip service to this motto, we put it into action. For instance, in a couple of weeks we’re launching JotForm Cards, which we created for two reasons:

  1. Our users asked
  2. We saw room to improve our existing product

Simple.

Creating JotForm Cards has been time-consuming, but worth every second.

Over the past year, we’ve conducted over 1,200 remote usability tests, plus hundreds of personalized emails and phone calls. We asked ourselves, what do our users want? How can we serve them better?

As the development of our product progressed, we continued to gather thoughts, ideas, and opinions wherever we could.

And, in typical JotForm style, it slowly but surely all came together. We’re pretty happy with the result.

Big improvements matter in your journey to success, but it’s the small improvements that will keep you and your users motivated along the way.