Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should

As technologists, it’s our job to stay on top of, and advocate for, new approaches. There are many valid reasons an enterprise might want to adopt cutting edge or experimental technology. That said, gratuitous use of technology without a well-vetted business case can be exceedingly costly and more likely to stifle innovation than support it.

Project Artifacts

Welcome. Below are artifacts, designs, and reports from previous projects.

User Research

User Stories & Workflow Design

Wireframes (Screen design)

Here is a full deck of wireframes for a system design so see them in context. Below are other examples:



Design Validation

User testing studies, usually qualitative, are used to validate (or invalidate) design assumptions and evolve a product before the time, effort, and cost of development begins.

This is a report from testing a “one page design” for a pre-paid debt card.

Example Designs


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Case Study – B2B SaaS Provider


Original Screen

PCS contacted Danforth with the broad goal of improving the user experience of their main carton tracking application, PCSTrac. PCSTrac is a logistics software service that tracks millions of inventory cartons as they move from freight trailers, to distribution centers, to the local retail store delivery for the online retailers. They wanted to start with improvements to PCSTrac with the hopes that transferable design patterns could be found for their retail products.

Initial consultations with the client product team uncovered that while they were very familiar with customer needs (i.e. buyers) and the behaviors of a handful of “super users,” they were not as clear about the behaviors of day-to-day warehouse users, their largest user group.

Contextual Inquiry

The initial engagement consisted of a series of workshops with the team where we co-developed “provisional” user personas based on the teams individual experiences with clients. This helped mine as much existing information about users as possible, while allowing team members to express their opinions and ideas in a structured way. This preliminary user segmentation work was followed by onsite “contextual inquiries” with warehouse users. Onsite interviews were followed by formal user testing (remote, moderated, think aloud) of the current product with more diverse user types to deep dive into the system’s usability issues and workflow complexities.

The project’s user research was conducted as part of a broader “immersion” process that included a review of the competitive space, mining customer support data, researching user demographics, and conducting a heuristic evaluation of the current product.

Armed with new user insights and deeper understanding of the product, a cohesive set of evidence-based user persona was refined in follow-up workshops with the product team. It was vital that the team embraced these personas, so there was ample time in meetings for discussion and collaboration within the constraints of our field findings.


The overarching theme gleaned from the immersion process was that—in the product team’s effort to provide for every conceivable use case and respond to customer’s individual requests—the product had become too dense and complex for their average user. It had many feature and information redundancies that, along with weak information architecture, made it difficult for users to complete key tasks and find common data points.

The team then worked to prioritize tasks and develop user scenarios (task mapping) for each persona. This collaborative process allowed us to significantly streamline a number of complex workflows that would provide productivity improvements for the majority of day to day users. User scenarios were translated into system workflows and key screens were isolated from the workflows. This allowed us to create a clear set of high priority task-based functional requirements for each screen.

Journey Mapping

PCS reports success with the improvements they have been rolling out over time as they upgrade their platform to be able to support many of the broader proposed changes. I have worked with them ongoing to help transfer some of the more successful layouts and interactions into patterns for their retail products. In addition, Danforth has been engaged to work with PCS to help further guide the product team on user centered design best practices so they can be more independent in making good design decisions. We are currently helping this client with micro-interactions for one of their retail products.

Original to Design Mock-up


Concorde offers a software service that manages truck driver qualification files and tracks drug and alcohol testing compliance. Concorde contacted my agency partner who brought me in as the strategist to structure and lead the engagement. Concorde, while very successful in their space, wanted to investigate how to integrate their three top products into a single cohesive platform. They wanted an “integrated dashboard’ through which all users would pass with the hopes of up-selling different product options. In addition, they wanted to explore ways to streamline and generally improve the user experience for all their products.

Original Screen

Like the PCS project, I began this engagement with a deep immersion into the product and its surrounding ecosystem. I conducted stakeholder interviews, user interviews, reviewed third party research and worked with the client to develop clear user segmentation. While initially the client was asking for a one-size-fits-all “dashboard,” the research and discovery quickly revealed a clear need for a highly-personalized experience both individually and by user group.

In an effort to best support the client in making informed decisions (particularly in light of findings I knew they did not expect) I pulled together the research and supporting data, along with real-world examples from successful products to make a strong case for why I was recommending a personalized experience over a single dashboard screen. Because this new direction would greatly impact the level of time and investment needed for product improvements, it was important that the concepts were introduced incrementally over a series of meetings working closely with the product team. I provided opportunities for team discussion and actively encouraged them to challenge my methods and conclusions. By the final “recommendations” presentation, the product team and executive leadership was on board and very excited about the new direction. In addition to a more personalized experience for users, our research uncovered clear opportunity areas for the business if they could provide more robust and meaningful reports and data visualizations.

Key Concept

Once we had the client’s blessing on the new direction, I moved forward developing the information architecture and screen wire-frame designs based on priority tasks per user segment. As in all projects, I referenced a wide range of other successful products and micro-interaction trends. The approved wire-frames were then developed into a non-functional, interactive prototype for user testing.

User testing of the prototype was conducted in two phases; an initial group of participants followed by a subsequent group after design refinements. The new unified product tested well with representative users and was successful from both from a usability/workflow perspective, and in meeting one of the initial key business requirements of promoting more cross-sell activity.

View by User Segment

After design approvals, I worked with the client to define a high-level product road-map for rolling out the proposed platform changes over the next 2-3 years. We uncovered that the development of a single sign-on process was a prerequisite to moving forward with the platform changes. The client is currently working on launching the single sign-on functionality.

Executive View
Manager View
Contributor View

Thoughts on “Growing Well” as a technology startup

Talk given by leading software professional Dorothy M Danforth of Danforth Media to the Philadelphia New Technology Community on 12/19/2014.

Every entrepreneur wants to see his or her vision become a huge overnight success. But, there can be a heavy price for moving too far, too fast. How big, and how quickly you can grow and still produce a successful company will depend on many things. In her talk, Dorothy shares stories from her experience working with high growth Silicon Valley startups, and later as a product strategy consultant. She explores how to “grow well,” offering ideas to help you define a pace and scale that will support a healthy, sustainable outcome.

Read the Huffington Post Business Blog review.

Moving from Vision to Design: User-Centered Methods for New Product Definition

Seminar by Dorothy M. Danforth for the IEEE Computer Society Leading Professional Seminar Series. – 30 minutes

It’s a common scenario: A company is planning a new product or significant redesign. There have been various discussions about how the product should have a “great user experience” and “focus on the user.” But, there are also conflicting ideas on what a great experience might entail, along with competing priorities for what the product absolutely must do to be successful in the marketplace. ​

Where to begin? How do you break through the confusion and move towards a clarified product vision? Whether a large established corporation or lean start-up, organizations struggle with progressing from early ideation into clear requirements and a tangible design phase. This webinar will explore ways to leverage user experience design methods in the very early stages of the product life cycle.

This session covers the following:

  • An overview of practical user research and design planning methods useful for early stage products and redesigns
  • Strategies for leveraging these methods to refine a product’s vision and ensure features are tied to user goals
  • Examples of how keeping a focused eye on user needs can help resolve conflicting priorities and promote product team alignment

Scoping and Pricing UX Projects for Consultants

“We’d like to work with you, please send me your rates…”

It’s a simple request, but one that can easily stump a newly minted UX consultant. When starting out, many independent consultants charge based on the going rate offered by the hiring firm. However, there is often room to negotiate a better deal. In other situations, the client is looking to the consultant to set pricing. So how, exactly, do you determine what to charge?

Read more on Giant UX…

Sample Project

8 Lessons for Entrepreneurs From the Philly New Technology Holiday Meetup

Event review by David Ongchoco for Huffington Post Business Blog.


“Last Wednesday, I got to attend the Philly New Technology Meetup Holiday Extravaganza attended by more than 150 entrepreneurs, innovators and industry leaders. It was an overall exciting time to get to meet like-minded individuals, connect and learn. Here are a few key takeaways and lessons learned from the speakers a the start of the event.”

Read full review:

UX Evolution Mindset & Methods

For the Delaware Valley Human Factors & Ergonomics Society – Nov. 2014

User Experience Design (UX) is a hot term in software these days, but as a relatively new and evolving field there has been confusion as to what this discipline entails and how it relates to other design practices. In this talk, Dorothy will provide an overview of current user experience design and research best practices, touch on how these methods have evolved in recent years, and discuss what many practitioners believe to be core philosophies behind “User Experience Design” as an approach to software design. In addition, Dorothy will walk through a software product lifecycle using case study examples to illustrate how common UX methods can be leveraged to improve a product. The presentation will be followed by an open discussion about where User Experience Design methods parallel or counter other human factors and ergonomics practices.

Takeaways – Participants will walk away with a clear understanding of User Experience Design as a practice, an overview of current methods, and insight into how these practices might relate to broader human factors and ergonomics approaches.

Conducting a User Experience Audit

“If you would understand anything, observe its
beginning and its development.”
– Aristotle

A User Experience (UX) Audit is a secondary research method that pulls together any potentially relevant existing information on your software product and it’s market, and then reviews what you find in the context of your design goals. It’s a straightforward approach I’ve use in just about every strategy project I’ve completed for clients.

This article is intended to illustrate the type of data commonly available that can be helpful. It is by no means an exhaustive list, but should be enough to point you in the right direction. I recommend starting any strategic effort with this approach because it is vital to have a baseline understanding of the market landscape before learning more about the users within that market. In addition, much of the information and insights gleaned from this type of evaluation can be used to directly inform other user research methods, such as persona or survey development. I usually start the audit process as early as possible via Internet research and by requesting client artifacts even when an engagement does not specifically call for a formal “audit”.

Most organizations have existing structures by which they pull in various usage and marketing metrics. However, this data is not usually being evaluated with a user-centric, user behavior mindset. A UX Audit entails skimming through a large volume of data to unearth a relatively small set of relevant informational nuggets. Even still, they are a worthwhile effort, and the audit’s scope can be defined in a manageable way.

Err on the side of collecting more information than less. If a client or stakeholder tells you the content you are requesting is not relevant, it is a good idea to be persistent and review the information for yourself. They might not be looking at with a “UX” mindset.

A UX Audit can be used to answer the following questions:

  • What are the current user trends and expectation for this industry/market?
  • What have we already tried? Of that, what worked and what didn’t?
  • What do our internal stakeholders think about our UX?
    What do they think is needed? Why?
  • What customer issues, needs or problems are indicated in the data? Of those, which might be addressed (in whole or part) by the product’s UX?
  • What ongoing metrics are being collected that UX can use in the future?

Why Conduct an Audit?

The most obvious benefit to conducting an audit is to avoid reinventing the wheel, i.e. conducting new primary research when the same information was already available. An equally productive reason is to help you formulate hypothesis about user behavior and/or issues with your product that you can then investigate further. A supplemental benefit is that the process can help you compile an accessible body of UX knowledge for your products that you can build upon over time

When are Audits Most Useful?

  • When undertaking the development of a new product.
  • Before starting a substantive re-design.
  • When starting a UX practice within an organization.
  • As an exercise for new staff to ramp into product knowledge.
  • If your company has accumulated a large amount of product research data that was conducted by different departments for different uses.

Development Life-cycle

In the context of the software development life-cycle, UX Audits will be most useful if conducted in the high level and detailed requirements gathering stages. Some audit materials can be re-evaluated post production as follow up research to track the effects of the product’s release e.g. customer care data, web analytics, sales data, etc.

Limitations of an Audit

  • There is no guarantee that you will find data that addresses any specific questions. Sometimes the data isn’t there or it is too abstract to be useful in the context of UXD.
  • It can be time consuming and somewhat overwhelming for the beginner to process the information, especially if audits are rarely conducted.
  • Because the audit materials are almost entirely secondary research, you are limited to the methodologies, goals, and potential flaws of the existing research.
  • A good audit involves a wide range of information sources. New companies and some industries might have difficulty pulling together sufficiently diverse sources during the first few audits. In some cases research might need to be purchased.

How to Conduct the Audit

The steps to conducting a UX Audit are straightforward. (source)At a high level, you gather the audit materials together, create a spreadsheet for notes, review the materials, document findings, and then develop your insights or hypothesis for further research.

  1. Pull together your audit materials. The start of a UX audit is an excellent time to engage colleagues from other departments; you can solicit their help in gathering information and get different groups involved with tracking data over time.
    • Stakeholder Interviews – Interviews are a  great starting point for a UX Audit and can go along way to help you gather the materials you need. You will want to speak (one on one) with internal stakeholders such as department heads, product managers and lead developers. You might already speak with these individuals, but interviewing them specifically about market landscape and customer issues may not only provide some good insights, but it can go a long way in gaining buy-in and support for your efforts. Be sure to ask each stakeholder for a list of their recommended materials and follow-up to get them.
    • Sales Statistics – While primarily used by sales and finance, some of this data can be useful for a UX Audit, particularly if you are reviewing the effectiveness of a lead generating, or e-commerce web site. One thing to look for would be information that indicates a problem with the messaging or help functions of the site. For example, if a site selling window curtains, has a higher ratio of online customers who return curtains they bought online due to “wrong size” than their in-store customers, this might indicate a potential issue with the clarity of size information on the site.
    • Call Center Data –Call centers are a great way to gather information about what ticks people off. While much of the information may not be relevant, you can usually gain some key insights about what is missing, or even better, get ideas on what you can proactively improve. As example, the online signup process for a broadband company I worked with had functionality that would tell users if they were eligible for services or not. A UX Audit of call center data showed that a percentage of customers who were initially told they were eligible, were actually ineligible after a closer review of their order details. While we were unable to resolve this programmatically in the short term, armed with this understanding, we were able to modify functionality and messaging to more appropriately set expectation for users.
    • Web Analytics – Quantitative web analytics will give you insight into how many people are visiting your web site, where they are coming from, what they are looking at, and some trends over time. Advanced analytical tools can be implemented and mined to give ever-increasing detail about what people are doing once they get to your site, where they tend to drop off, and where they go once they leave. I’ve had at least one corporate client who were not mining their web logs. Luckily, the data was being collected, just not used within an analytics software. We were able to get them setup with an appropriate package that allowed the team to view  historical and ongoing site usage.
    • Adoption Metrics – Feature adoption/usage metrics are a good way to assess the efficacy of desktop and/or web-based operational support system. These metrics can be system-tracked, but in some cases need to be manually investigated. While fairly easy for a SaaS or mobile provider, if you are a desktop application provider, you might only be able to get your customer adoption metrics through surveys or interviews if these monitoring touch-points have not been build into your system.
    • Feedback and Surveys Results – Many Marketing groups put out feedback forms and/or have released campaign-specific user surveys. These are usually not UX focused, but can offer some insights into your user’s preferences, attitudes and behaviors. Take some time to scan the comment fields and categorize them if possible. You can turn this information into useful statistics with supplemental anecdotes. E.g. “20% of user comments referred to difficulty finding something”. “I can’t find baby buggies, do you still sell them?”
    • Past Reviews & Studies – Any internal market research, usability studies, ethnographic studies, or expert reviews[1] conducted should be audited. Even if a study was conducted for a previous release or under a different context than your project, an audit may reveal some key informational gems and so are worth scanning through. In addition to your own critical eye, it is a wise idea to find out if others in the organization valued the research and why.
    • The Twitterverse and Blogosphere – While not relevant for all companies, review sites, blogs, Facebook, Twitter, and other social networking sites can offer a unique and unfiltered view of how customers perceive your software or website. Try searching your company or product’s name on Google and other sites to see what information is returned. Some of the social networking sites even offer functionality that helps you keep track. If people are talking, you may want to add this type of task to your research calendar at consistent intervals.
    • Specifications – Take a look at product functional specifications, roadmaps, and business analyses. Anything generated relatively recently that can give some background insight into why certain feature or functions have been developed might prove useful. Many of these documents have some relevant facts about users that were researched by the authors. At best it will save you some of your own research time, at worst you’ll have a better understanding of why certain decisions were made for what exists today.
    • Market Research – While market research might give insight into user demographics, this type of research is usually not directly translatable into how you should design your product. However, it can help you
      develop hypotheses about what might work and provide a framework for user personas and user narratives. These hypotheses can be tested through other research methods. Market Research can help you make a reasonable guess at things such as; users’ technology skill level, initial expectations, or level of commitment to completing certain tasks.
  2. Create a Spreadsheet. Create a spreadsheet listing all of the materials you will be auditing. You can use this as a means of tracking what was reviewed, and by whom if more than one person is working on the audit. The spreadsheet can also be used as a central place to put your notes, facts, insights, ideas and questions generated by the review of each audit material.
  3. Review the Materials. Review materials for any relevant information, updating your spreadsheet as you progress. While it sounds daunting, the audit process can be a fairly cursory review, you don’t need to view every bit of detail—just scanning can be sufficient. Remember, you are only trying to pull out the 10-15% of data that will be relevant to the goals of your project.
  4. Categorize Findings. After you’ve completed the review portion of the UX Audit, it’s time to clean up your spreadsheet notes, analyze the information, and categorize any findings. Try to distill what you’ve learned into high-level concepts that are supported by data points and anecdotes, followed by your hypothesis. An oversimplified example of categorized findings would be:
  5. Category – Way Finding (Users ability to find things) Data- 20% of feedback comments referred to users not being able to find what they are looking for.
    – A recent study indicates that if users can’t find an item within 3 minutes they leave the site.
    “I can’t find baby buggies, do you still sell them?”
    We might have an issue with our site’s navigation or taxonomy. We might need a search function.

  6. Schedule a Read-out. Take time to present your findings, setup a read-out for your colleagues. After conducting the read-out, publish your documentation on the intranet, to a wiki, in a document management system or on a file share. Let people know where you’ve placed the information. Now is a good time to tentatively schedule the next Audit on your research calendar.

Additional Resources

  1. Pew Internet Life (www.pewinternet.org) – Internet research, ongoing
  2. Omniture (www.omniture.com)robust analytics package
  3. Web Trends (www.webtrends.com) middle range analytics package
  4. Google Analytics (analytics.google.com) – analytics with useful functions
  5. Forrester (www.forrester.com) – Market research
  6. ComScore (www.comscore.com) – Market research

Questions About This Topic?

I’m happy to answer more in-depth questions about this topic or provide further insight into how this approach might work for you in your company. Post a comment or email me at dorothy [at] danforthmedia [dot] com

Danforth-Media-Logo-SmallABOUT DANFORTH MEDIA
Danforth is a design strategy firm offering software product planning, user research, and user centered design (UCD). We provide credible insights and creative solutions that allow our clients to deliver successful, customer-focused products. Danforth specializes in leveraging user experience design (UXD), design strategy, and design research methodologies to optimize complex multi-platform products for the people who use them.

We transform research into smart, enjoyable, and enduring design.


[1] Common term used to describe a usability evaluation conducted by a UX specialist.

Article’s ‘Audit All The Things” image source.