Coordinating the required city building, electrical, and plumbing inspections on a construction site is a known problem in many cities. Construction can be halted for weeks while trying to get required inspections scheduled and completed. On the flip side, inspectors are stretched thin with a large, poorly-organized workload.
As the lead on the project, I collaborated with a team of designers, researchers, engineers, product managers, and sales representatives to explore and design a solution.
Before diving into the area of opportunity, we did extensive generative research to fully understand the user’s challenge. This included analytics data of the current platform, user interviews, and shadowing staff. From the design team, the discovery phase included 2 full time user-researchers, a data strategist, a research coordinator, and 2 UX designers.
When we kicked off this effort, Accela had already been involved in the building code and zoning industry for more than 20 years. Our initial step was to bring that wealth of experience among team members together through a series of workshops.
Through the workshops, we captured over 16 unique opportunities and perspectives from stakeholders ranging from seasoned engineers, product marketing, sales, and the c-suite team.
While we were able to gather a lot of internal insight, as a design team we were missing critical data from users.
Our next phase of exploration included user interviews as well as shadowing sessions with more than 60 participants from nine distinct government agencies including the City of Salt Lake, the State of New York, the City & County of San Francisco, and others nationwide.
While the UX researchers and designers traveled around the country gathering qualitative data, the team's data strategist worked to gather insights from the current product analytics and data we had around coding, zoning, and inspections in general.
This was one of the earliest large-scale research efforts at Accela. As a team, we synthesized the results of the research to create the foundational personas for the organization. These personas were later utilized and improved upon with the marketing, sales, and support departments.
The robust research plan was part of the product organization's first attempt at an agile user-centered development process. The synthesized research was shared with the product management and development teams before embarking on exploration, design, and iterative development. The vision, epics, issues, all the way down to user stories were built on a foundation of robust research and understanding.
“As a UX researcher, I’m used to having to advocate heavily for user-informed design, and I simply did not have to do that with Iain. He readily employed my findings and would often collaborate with me to create excellent research plans.
Iain intuitively understood the need for research and would incorporate research into his process, despite pressing deadlines and an occasionally chaotic sprint schedule.
We even co-created a workshop for understanding and prototyping internal processes at our enterprise organization (which is not an easy feat).”
- Sarah, Senior UX Researcher and Strategist @ Accela
We kicked off the design process as a collaborative group by sharing the research data with the team. Designers, engineers, product management, sales and support were included in the initial low fidelity iterations providing feedback from their perspectives. Each design iteration incorporated that feedback as well as increasing design fidelity.
As the basic foundations and information architecture was established, engineering started the basic data infrastructure. While the high fidelity UI took shape, the back-end data was already available, meaning the engineering team could focus attention on refining the experience as a group.
Based on the research, we created an experience that closely mirrored an inspector's normal workflow, making the application intuitive and quick to help. We focused on surfacing the most relevant data and utilizing easy-to-navigate progressive disclosure similar to reading through a paper file.
Given the construction-site nature of the work, we focused on ensuring interactions were large and easy to find. Primary information was displayed in high contrast to accommodate high sunlight areas with glare from working outside.
Originally, the application was scoped for a single mobile app; but the research helped us quickly discover that our application needed a tablet and desktop version. Therefore, we expanded our design system to accommodate multiple mediums.
Through it all, the design team did a fantastic job collaborating with the broader organization to not only deliver best-in-class designs, but align design efforts into a matching sprint format. This tight synchronization with engineering enabled designs to be reviewed and delivered to engineering with smooth feedback and iteration cycles built in.
“I loved working with Iain. His elusive ‘unicorn’ skill set complimented my design skills perfectly.
He combines his knowledge of research, design, and engineering with his passion for user-centered design to guide creatives (like me) to produce great work. In the end, he articulated my designs to engineers flawlessly.
I always welcome the opportunity to work with Iain again, and strongly recommend him to anybody that gets the chance.”
- Jeffery, Senior User Interface/User Experience Designer @ Accela
As a UX staple, our foundational user validation was done as moderated testing. While we gathered user feedback from a variety of recruiting sources, much of our validation data was generated at Engage, the company’s annual conference. We set up design and UX booths to capture small pieces of feedback (under two minutes) as well as encouraged participants to do a 30-minute usability study on the Inspector app proposals.
The proposed solution was intended to not just handle building inspections, but any official review of an in-progress building from the city or municipality. To confirm the flexibility of our design we partnered with a collection of agencies and created testable prototypes based on the needs of inspections for:
“Iain is one in a million. Never before have I worked with someone so supportive and empathetic.
His expertise and the quality of his work are admirable and inspiring, and I know he’s still always working hard to improve.
Put Iain on any team that needs a thoughtful, talented leader and he’ll knock it out of the park.”
- Jasmine, Senior User Experience Designer
Partnering with the engineering team, we created a dynamic component library full of repeatable patterns. These patterns were used throughout the Inspector app as well as a model to create a uniform experience across all of the company’s other mobile applications.
To accelerate the product development process, we partnered with the system architecture team to build Inspector directly onto the existing infrastructure.
This also created consistency between the Inspector app’s experience and the broader Accela ecosystem while saving time for agencies.
This project was the first attempt at the company to work in an agile Scrum format.
From the start, design worked in parallel with the engineering organization, committing and delivering in two-week design sprints ahead of the engineering team.
After nine months of research, design, validation, and iteration, we arrived at a single scalable mobile application for all inspectors, plus a companion web application for supervisors. Each type of inspector had an easy-to-learn experience that also catered directly to their agency’s needs. Individual inspectors handling multiple inspection types also enjoyed using the app because their experience was consistent and predictable, no matter what inspection type they were working on.
Creating a product that captured an inspector’s schedule, inspection details, and results addressed the inspector’s needs and opened up a new area of exploration where we could consider building contractor needs. Combining the data with a smooth experience, we were able to create a subsequent product called “Contractor.”
The Contractor app focused on creating transparent communication between a city's building permit office and contractors. Builders were able to see upcoming scheduled inspections regardless of inspection type, communicate with the inspector, and see the results of their inspections all in one place.
The MVP for the Contractor app took 12 weeks to explore, design, develop, and prep for launch!