At the beginning of the year, we shared that a redesign of the LabKey Server user interface would be one of our development priorities for 2017. The decision to redesign was made based on a variety factors, with two of the key drivers being the need to:
- Evolve our platform to utilize modern technologies and interaction patterns, ensuring stability and ease of use
- Respond to user feedback about aspects of the LabKey Server interface that could be reworked to better support the needs of today’s users
As we prepare to release the beta version of the new UI as an experimental feature in LabKey Server v17.2, we wanted to take a few minutes to share about the approach we have taken with this project, our core design principles and priorities, and what to expect in the initial release (and beyond!).
Starting with Our Users
We kicked-off this project by hosting a series of sessions to observe the way our users interacted with the current UI. During this process, we noticed many of our users employing workarounds to accomplish particular goals. Often times these users were not aware that they were using a workaround as opposed to an intentional path, they were just operating in the manner they had discovered to overcome the quirks of the system. This was eye-opening and drew attention to the need for greater clarity in our navigation.
We also learned in talking with users during this initial investigation, that more labs than ever before are using tablets as their primary tool for data entry. This reinforced the need to ensure that LabKey Server works smoothly regardless of the type of device it is being used on.
Core Redesign Principles
When we began to work on developing the new interface, we committed to a set of core principles that would help guide the design:
Focus on the User
Make it as simple as possible for the user to accomplish the common tasks that make up the majority of their interactions with the platform. Employ the 80/20 rule to optimize the small number of interface interactions that make up 80% of our usage.
Design for Consistency
Take a holistic approach to the way we design features to ensure that they follow consistent navigation and design patterns. This helps users more intuitively navigate different features of the the application.
Make Changes that Matter
Be conscious during the redesign to not make changes to how users interact with LabKey Server just for change’s sake. Make sure each change will help improve the overall user experience or increase the ease of accomplishing a specific user scenario.
Optimize for the Modern Lab
Design each component for the smallest screen-size first to ensure that LabKey Server will scale elegantly to the size of the screen on which it is being viewed.
Key Areas of Focus
Knowing that we couldn’t tackle every feature in one release, we had to prioritize what to address in the initial phase of the redesign. Our goal was to focus first on changes that would provide the greatest benefit to our entire user base.
We decided to focus first on reworking the interface navigation, data grids, and administrative pages with the goal of making it easier for users to find the options that apply to them, without a lot of noise from scenarios they may never touch. To address the need for responsiveness, we also transitioned LabKey Server to the popular responsive web interface framework, Bootstrap.
What to Expect
The redesigned UI will make it easier to accomplish common scenarios through prominent placement and easy 1-click access. Less common user scenarios are built-into the interface as secondary actions, but with a clear navigation path to accomplish them.
With such a wide range of use cases for LabKey Server, this will mean that in some cases an action that used to be one click is now two. This might feel counterintuitive when first interacting with the redesigned interface, but by streamlining the interactions that are most integral to general usage, we are able to make the software easier to navigate overall.
Administrators will be able to explore the in-development UI as an experimental feature in LabKey Server v17.2 (check out the demo below!). We encourage teams to test the UI in their test or dev environments and provide feedback to the LabKey team using the “Give Feedback” link in the product UI.
The initial version of the redesigned UI will be included in the 17.3 release of LabKey Server (scheduled for distribution November 2017). Additional enhancements and updates will be included in subsequent releases.
Stay Up to Date
Over the next few months we will be providing resources and recommendations to help teams prepare for the transition to the redesigned interface. Subscribe to the LabKey Blog to receive emails when new resources are available.