The Pain

Hall Founder’s Intuit Cube

Frustrated by big company life where communicating with colleagues was painful because of tools like MSN Messenger, Hall’s founders left to reinvent Instant Messaging for business. After all, MSN Messenger, Skype, are messaging application designed for consumers not businesses.

We’ve finally reached double-digit customer retention – and learned a lot along the way.

Below, we’ve shared our design iterations and our key learnings.

Iteration 1

Our first prototype provided apps (like polls) that focused the group’s conversation to make a  decision.

Learnings from Iteration 1

Lasting Products Create Habits
When you see something pretty, you Instagram it. That’s a habit and it brings users back. This prototype failed to take hold because it didn’t create a habit among our users.
Users Wanted Better Chat
The poll was gorgeous, but users kept asking for iterations around group chat. Once a user voted, they want to stick around and chat with colleagues.
Facebook Connect in Productivity Apps Will Make Users Uncomfortable
Facebook Connect has been permanently damaged by viral-seeking startups who abused permissions with auto-sharing, posting to walls, etc. Because of this, many users will not trust facebook connect and will view a product that has the facebook connect button as lacking in security.

Iteration 2

Our next iteration focused on a real pain point for teams and small businesses: group chat.

Learnings from Iteration 2

Skip Visual Design
Users responded more to the pretty designs than they did the pain points our product was built to solve. Pretty designs without a great product will not help you in the long run.

Your friends and colleagues will tell you how amazing your product is without even understanding what your product solves. The more polished your product the more people will talk to you about the polish.

Design Needs to Match User Expectations
If you’re building a productivity application your product needs to look and feel like a productivity application not a consumer application even though initially the consumer design style might feel cooler. That means less chrome (gradients, rounded corners). Productivity apps should be as a single page app like gmail.

One Step Closer
At this point users understood to use hall as group chat for their team which led to a new set of retention blockers. It was impossible to have multiple rooms. Users want to initiate one-on-one conversations (a feature we had but was not clear in the interface). Additionally the application’s look and feel was turning off many teams as it did not feel like a productivity tool.

Iteration 3

In our next iteration we FINALLY skipped visual design and focused on building a faster, more intuitive user interface. This UX was created by our engineering team who worked with CUSTOMERS rather than a designer on contract. The challenge with design contractors is they usually have little to no customer interaction. As opposed to each engineer at Hall who has daily customer interaction.

Learnings from Iteration 3

Don’t Over-Invest in Visual Design
By skipping visual design, the product was shipped to users faster. The faster you ship, the faster you start learning. Given the product was no longer over designed, we got fundamental product feedback from users – not just their responses to pretty designs.

Performance Trumps Visual Design
Our early prototype was too slow for most teams, as it was a web site not a web app. So, we made hall as a single page application. The single page application made our engagement fly up and to the right.

W/O Visual Design, You’ll Be Seen as a Beta

Now that that product was starting to work we had a new problem, we were losing customers as the interface gave off the impression that Hall was in beta, not secure or reliable enough yet. The interface lacked polish.

Iteration 4 (Now Live)

The product was finally retaining and customers were loving Hall. it made strategic sense to focus on polish.

Learnings from Iteration 4

Look & Feel Resulted in Perceived Performance Gains
By lightening the color scheme, users felt the app performed faster.

Use the Interface to Teach Users
Previously, 1-on-1 messaging in the left nav only showed if a user had at least one active 1-on-1 conversation. With the latest iteration, we left the 1on1 always showing. This resulted in increased usage and decrease support requests.

There’s Always More To Do
APIs, Mobile, Native Apps, and Scaling are in our future! We know that we just have to keep pushing (and stay focused) to build a great product. There have been an inordinate number of distractions during this process – everything from acquisition offers to scaling.

To explore more, please join Hall. Your team will thank you. Better yet, if you’re a motivated engineer or designer, join us.