With more than 50 million users in 188 countries, DocuSign has turned the complicated, time-consuming process of signing documents into something simple, secure, and intuitive. Their dedication to making their users’ lives easier is one of the many reasons we’re proud to have them as part of the InVision community.
We sat down with Elysse Bonner, Interaction Designer at DocuSign, to discuss business strategy as a design discipline, involving developers early on, and why simplicity is so important when it comes to UX.
How’s the product design team at DocuSign set up?
We have 12 designers total, plus a user research team. Each section of the company has 2 designers—typically 1 interaction designer and 1 visual designer—who team up to work on that specific area of our product. We also have a mobile team and people who work on our regular web app and growth.
This setup allows designers to collaborate closely and know everything there is to know about what they’re working on. For example, the designers working on the mobile team know what’s happening in the industry, and they’re really into our mobile space.
Though we pair off, we still meet as a group to brainstorm.
“Your design should make sense to the user.”
Does the design team have a formal structure?
Our engineering team has an agile structure—we kind of follow that, but it really depends on what we’re working on. If it’s an extra feature, we might follow an agile structure. But if it’s something really new and we’re in the process of coming up with ideas, we might not be as structured.
How do designers on your team report or collaborate with one another?
A lot of projects cross over different sections of the company, so we have weekly design critiques where everybody shares what they’re working on so that we’re all on the same page. Someone on the mobile team might be working on a login form that’ll change what I’m working on with partners.
At our weekly meetings, we’ll be able to hash those types of things out. Plus, it’s a place to give feedback and collaborate—we all sit near each other, so it’s easy to just go up to someone on the team to report and collaborate. We use InVision to collaborate as well.
How do all the teams work together at DocuSign? What makes your structure special?
We work closely with other teams. For example, even though I’m part of the design team, I’m really part of the partner integrations team, too. As a result, I’m able to see what’s going on with that and focus on it.
Because we’re focused on one thing, we get to have our hands in all areas, from initial strategy to front-end code. But with our bigger design team, we get to bounce around a bit between different projects.
Have you had any challenges as a result of your team’s structure?
As we’ve gotten bigger, we’ve made sure to keep each other in the loop. It’s easy to stay in your own bubble and not see what everyone else in the company or the design team’s working on, but we stay on the same page to maintain a cohesive product experience.
“We stay on the same page to maintain a cohesive product experience.”
Do you have any insight for people facing similar challenges?
Make sure your team meets a lot—design critiques are great for that. Be able to show work early so that other teams know if they’re working on something similar.
In a larger company, it can be too easy to end up working on conflicting aspects of similar projects, and that leads to inconsistent implementation. Collaborate and talk as much as possible, even if you get bigger.
What’s the most powerful part of your design process?
We work on everything from strategy to ideation, to implementation: wireframes, prototypes, and front-end code. We really do all of it—it’s great to have design involved in every part of the process. Though we have people who focus on interaction or visual design, they’re still part of the whole process.
What are the most important values you’ve tried to see reflected in your designs?
Your design should make sense to the user. It should be minimal. The more a design feels like it’s not a design, the better.
What does successful design mean to you?
Successful design lets users effortlessly accomplish what they’re trying to do.
What’s a typical day on your team like?
It varies for each designer, but our days usually begin with team standups. With the partner ideations team, I’ll meet with the engineers and the PM and see what they’re working on, and that dictates what we’ll work on.
Sometimes there are meetings, but we have a lot of time to just focus on design during the day.
“The more a design feels like it’s not a design, the better.”
Can you run me through your design process for new features?
Typically we meet with our product managers to talk about initial strategy for our ideas—we’re there from the beginning. From there, depending on the project, we usually start sketching and go into ideation.
Specifically on my team, we use InVision to create prototypes and make sure what we’re thinking about makes sense in a flow, not in isolated screens. We also like being able to show developers prototypes as soon as possible so we don’t run into any technical issues.
“We use InVision to make sure what we’re thinking about makes sense.”
After that, we start wireframing. We’ll usually have our research team help us with usability testing—walking current or prospective customers through clickable prototypes—and then we’ll move on to front-end coding.
How do you hand off projects to other departments?
Often we work with developers the whole way through, so the handoff happens naturally.
If it’s more visual work, sometimes we’ll give developers redline mockups. On the partners team, though, I’ll usually do the front-end code myself so we’re able to just hand off that code. We then work with the developers to make sure the front end matches the back end and the integration doesn’t sacrifice the design.
Do you have any insight for making handoffs smoother?
Involve your development team early on so they know what’s coming and they can let you know of any potential problems right from the beginning. The more aware the developers are, the less painful the handoff.
Design is more apparent in the very beginning of the process, so it’s nice to have developers involved in the initial strategy instead of just later on. It makes them more invested, and their insight into the ramifications of a design can have broad, helpful impact.
“The more aware the developers are, the less painful the handoff.”
What do you think makes your design process different?
Our process is different because so many of us work on the entire process. We sketch, write front-end code—we don’t just work on a single section. There are very few specialists.
How does your team identify and prioritize feature requests?
Our users give us a lot of feedback on what they’re missing. Right now we’re going through the process of working on our new platform, so we have our classic DocuSign, and then our new experience.
We get a lot of feedback from users waiting for different features that aren’t completely on the new product yet, or about things they’d like to see. Upper management has feature ideas as well.
So we try to prioritize what makes sense for more users, and we consider how many customers a feature will affect. DocuSign’s different in that so many people use it for all kinds of reasons, and use cases or personas cover a broad spectrum.
How do you use InVision in your design process and how does it help you?
For my projects, I use InVision early on in the design process. Sometimes I’ll use it to sync up sketches into a prototype to see if what’s in my head or on paper actually makes sense. InVision’s a great way to get the rest of my team onboard by actually showing them the click flow I have in mind.
“InVision’s a great way to get the rest of my team onboard by actually showing them the click flow I have in mind.”
We use InVision for usability testing, too—we’re able to show participants mockups that look like they’re done. Being able to make sure something actually works before we get the developers to start building it is a huge time-saver.
You mentioned that the design team gets involved pretty early in the design process for new features. Can you tell me more about that whole process?
Typically, our product managers will have an idea and meet with upper management about it to talk about different things based on user feedback. After that, they’ll talk to a designer about the idea so we can start brainstorming. We might do whiteboard sessions to hash out ideas and see if what we’re thinking makes sense.
From there, I’ll usually start working on initial sketches to see if the idea makes sense in the long term.
How do you keep your vision alive in your design?
From initial sketches all the way to the front-end code, the main point of your design should still be there. We make sure everything’s the way we intended it to be from the beginning and that it’s simple and intuitive for users.
“From initial sketches all the way to the front-end code, the main point of your design should still be there.”
What are you trying to accomplish through design at DocuSign?
We want to make things simple. The whole point of DocuSign is to take this old way of doing things—printing out and signing a document, then scanning it and sending it back—and simplify it.
How do you stay engaged and creative while working on the same piece of DocuSign?
Because we’ve just gone through our new platform, we’re still always working on new features. There are so many different products that are all in different stages, so going back and forth between all those keeps things feeling creative.
Any best practices that you can share about redesigning a very ingrained experience?
The more user research you can get, the better. Understand where users are coming from.
What’s your userbase like now and how has it changed since you started there?
We started off in the real estate industry since so many people need to sign documents when they’re buying a house or renting a home. Since I’ve started here, we’ve been growing into something that people can use for just about anything. More enterprise-level companies are using us now, so it’s a fun challenge to design for something used by so many different people.
How are you creatively monetizing within the product without being gross?
We try to be genuine about showing the benefits of DocuSign and why someone would want to continue using our product. With partner integrations, we show them that DocuSign’s something easily used in different applications they’re using all the time. We try to pitch it as something that makes your life easier.
“Design should be there from the start.”
Tell me about DocuSign’s visual style.
It’s a simple style because we want to focus on what the user’s trying to do: send a document.
Do you think that differentiating on the UX side will help you compete more effectively in the future?
Definitely. Design is a necessity—it’s not just a thing you might want to have to make sure your product’s doing well.
Do you have any insight for newbie designers?
Get as much experience as possible. The more products and people you can work with, the better. Talk to designers who interest you and ask them about their process. You can always grow by talking to other designers and people in your organization.
What role do you think designers should be playing at companies when it comes to developing business strategies?
Design is an important part of a company’s overall strategy—it should be there from the start. Business strategy should be a design discipline.
When you’re starting a brand-new project, what’s the very first thing that you do?
Question what you’re trying to accomplish with your design. Figure out the main goal of that feature or product you’re working on, and make sure you’re really thinking about the user and what they want.
From there, that dictates what you build—you should actually understand the user’s needs versus just going off and building a feature without putting any thought into it.
What makes a design successful?
Great design should give people a delightful experience.
“Great design should give people a delightful experience.”
“Design is a necessity.”
“Your design should make sense to the user.”
Photos by Peter Prato.