Reimagining better digital products for electrical engineers
Keeping the power is no easy ordeal. Electrical engineers, alongside control room operators and linemen, have the difficult task of integrating and operating electrical equipment and software to ensure proper performance on a grid. We often do not get to see this and take for granted the fact that we can quickly turn on or off the lights whenever we need to. But have you ever noticed lights flickering just for a second to only see it fully restored right away? This is what distribution automation is all about, and utility companies use intelligent devices along the grid to make sure power is restored quickly and efficiently.
When a fault takes place, this intelligent technology is able to communicate with each other to determine the location of the fault, isolate it, and eventually make the decision to open or close specific switches along the grid in order to restore power to customers.
Our client is one of the leading companies in this market, and they approached us with an interesting problem. They wanted help figuring out how we could improve the experience of their customers, utility companies, when using their technology.
Product strategy, stimulus design, and research
Since this is an ongoing project, I am only able to share high-level information about our process without disclosing specific details. The result of the research phase was a set of scenarios that explained how we could improve the customer journeys, while highlighting the need of UI and technology considerations that will inform the design of the new experience.
I participated in the research phase that lasted 6 months and where we interviewed more than 25 engineers from different utility companies across the country. Before we could even start to think about redesigning the exisiting customer journey, we needed to familiarize ourselves with the subject, and understand the users' processes and workflows to find opportunities for improvement.
We began by interviewing key experts — our client's staff — engineers with over 20 years of experience in the field who had deep knowledge about their customers, the tools they use, current and past problems, and who provided us with all the information we needed to be able to have a clear understanding of what it means to plan, deploy, operate, and maintain distribution automation equipment on a grid.
The result of these preliminary interviews allowed us to map the entire customer workflow: from the initial point of a sales to the studies needed to incorporate these intelligent devices onto an existing grid, to preparing their settings and ultimately deploying them in the field. Once these devices are installed, other activities such as monitoring and maintenance take place.
Once existing pain points were validated, we facilitated an ideation workshop and the results of this activity helped us shape different ideas on how to solve these problems.
METHODS & TOOLS
A series of stimuli cards, which I designed, were used to prompt participants during the interviews. While these cards were not presented as the final design solution, the ideas behind them allowed us to test a series of hypotheses we had around how we could improve the customer journey. Since not all utilities work the same way because of their business strategy, their organization makeup, and defined priorities, it was important to understand their workflows, tools used, and how different groups of people interacted across the entire journey.
The information from all the interviews allowed us to design potential scenarios that explained how we envisioned the improved customer journey, keeping in mind a series of important visual design and technical considerations to be able to make this a success.