UI Refresh Q&A with CallRail UX Lead Kara Kelly

Big changes are brewing at CallRail! We’ll soon be releasing a refreshed, redesigned version of our interface. Of course, an overhaul of this size requires a lot of planning and forethought, which is where our squad of UX / UI (User Experience / User Interface) design experts comes in.

We sat down with CallRail’s UX Lead, Kara Kelly, for a chat about her brainstorming and design process, what kind of changes to the app users can expect, and the unexpected design inspiration she’s taken from financial-planning and travel websites:

CallRail: So, why are we doing this UI / UX redesign, and what are the general design principles behind it?

Kara Kelly: There are two parts to this redesign-refresh we’re doing. We have the very visual side, the user-interface — with this, it was starting to feel piecemeal because we had a lot of different designers who worked on the interface throughout the past few years. And each designer had their own and pattern, so some of the icons and color palettes in parts of the app felt very hodgepodge.

So, we wanted to get the entire interface to a point where it felt like it had a consistent and voice. Internally, we’ve spent a lot of time talking about the specific values we wanted our UI to have, and how best to express those values in the design.

The UX is the part that I’m most excited about because this was where we wanted to set some UX patterns that we could move forward with and keep using in the future. We’re getting rid of many drop-down menus, so there’s now a single vertical navigation bar on the left side of the screen that lays out the features.

We’ve gotten a lot of great feedback about the ease of use of our app, so we haven’t changed the structure of the features. Instead, we made incremental changes that will hopefully help with discoverability but not interrupt our users’ workflows. And these changes are just the beginning, this is a base we’re going to build on for the future. With this framework in place, we’re just going to get better and better from here.

CR: For the work going into this redesign, what does your day-to-day at CallRail look like?

KK: We do a lot of research on how our users interact with CallRail, seeing where they might get hung up, and also doing interviews with many of them to see how we can better meet their needs. Then, based on the feedback we get, we can determine how to prioritize and tackle the problems that are most important to our users, including UI and UX design.

CR: When you’re coming up with design ideas, where do you go for inspiration? Any specific blogs or reference material?

KK: Our application has so many layers to it, that often times I find inspiration from financial websites. I really like Mint and LearnVest, and Stripe is awesome — these are financial-planning websites that have all put a heavy emphasis on user experience and design. Like CallRail, they are working with individual events, transactions instead of calls in this case. And these websites are great at organizing, annotating, visualizing, and creating complex reports or trend analyses based on these events.

CR: What do you think the value of these data-visualization features are for your average user, especially ones who might not be so data-savvy?

KK: It’s interesting, because we originally built CallRail as a way for any sized businesses, large or small, to access these bigger features, which are usually only available in enterprise software, which you have to pay tons of money for. There’s a lot of value in bringing that down to the end-user, and condensing that big data down into something that’s understandable to someone who might only login once or twice a week.

CR: What do you like to do in your free time, what are your hobbies?

KK: I love traveling, and planning travel. That’s actually another big source of inspiration for my work, travel sites, because they have a lot of information they’re condensing down and presenting to you. I really like planning the next vacation, even if I’m not going to be taking it for a while.

CR: You’ve also talked before about how design-oriented thinking isn’t just good for creating a website or app, and that these same principles are also good for organizing a business. Can you speak on that?

KK: I think people say “design thinking” when they often mean “being strategic” — in essence, that’s using creativity to figure out a problem, and then how to fix it. I’m a big believer that this approach shouldn’t just be for creative positions. I get really excited when users or people from other departments come to me with ideas, especially when they’re coming at it from an angle that’s less about a specific problem or bug, and more about new features and solutions.

I think that a lot of times it’s hard for designers to be open to critique from other people, which is something we need to be better about. In my field as a designer, it’s often said that “everyone thinks they’re a designer,” and feeling territorial about this plagued me for a lot of my career.

But now, I really welcome the fact that more people who aren’t artists or designers are thinking about design, because I’ve experienced myself how collaboration is the best way to get you to an end goal. Diversity of thought is always valuable, no matter what field you’re working in.