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What Happens When You Design With Your Customers?

Illustration of four people holding up feedback emojis.
Discover how user feedback catapulted a new Salesforce feature that helps people be more successful in the field. [AdobeStock/Irina Strelnikova]

There's a difference between designing for your customers and designing with them. Companies that embrace the latter can boost product adoption.

When a designer weaves customer voices into the design process, it’s a win for the user and the business. This approach proved effective for our newly released product Briefcase Builder, which invited user research from concept to pilot to adoption. Designing with users led to many pilot companies happily converting to post-launch production last month.

Any company can do the same with design-led product development.

This project began with Salesforce customers asking for offline support in areas with spotty connections. Maybe their field reps were in a big-block store basement or an earthquake-proof hospital. Even just a rural area. Not having a stable connection hampered their productivity. They couldn’t be successful. So we set out to change that. 

Chiefly, user research stayed at the forefront of our approach – from beginning to end.

Customer Initiated

When account executives receive the same feature request across industries, that’s a clue. From service to CPG, field reps wanted what they used to put in a briefcase in the analog world. Therefore, their urgent need became the north star of our design vision. After a sales survey with decision makers quickly confirmed this, the team kicked off the project with a strong sense of clarity. 

“When we started, we had an idea of where it should go,” said Divyesh Jain, Salesforce Software Engineering Senior Manager. “The requirements were in very concrete shape.” They were also extensive in scope. It can take time to build out critical components but an aligned team knows where they are headed. 

A designing-with approach continues past the concept stage.

With an early, interactive prototype, we shopped the idea around. Our Customer Success Group could see how many of their accounts would use it to work offline. “We were able to get feedback even very early in development,” said Alex Yi, Salesforce VP Product Management, Mobile & Web Platform. Favorable reviews gave the team the confidence to begin a customer pilot program. 

Customer Piloted

Looping users into the build creates a more usable product. Salesforce EVP, Chief Design Officer Kat Holmes shares how that is a precursor to a maximum lovable product. To get there, a feedback cycle is an integral part of human-centered design. It’s an intentionally iterative process. On Briefcase Builder, twenty customers signed up based on a description of the functionality alone before the pilot started. Their voices informed a tremendous number of pivots. 

Designing Products That Customers Love

Discover why user success is customer success and how design helps build trust in Salesforce products.

Optimizations included everything from what it does and how it looks to who has permissions and how users are onboarded. Significantly, a customer weighed in on every part of the user experience. 

“This was a special project in that it was user-driven and design-led.”

Brady Sammons
Salesforce UI/UX Principal

“We focused heavily on our users and their needs. Their voices gave me the information to affirm or disprove my hypotheses. As a result, I had the confidence to put designs in front of our engineers and confidently say, ‘These proposals are matching real users, who are telling us what they need.’”

He designed with users to create ease in the user experience (UX). By prioritizing familiarity, the admins, sales reps, and others using Briefcase Builder didn’t have as much of a learning curve. Users navigated the builders, standard list views, objects, and records seamlessly. Even the visual ways to refine queries were familiar expression components. 

“With existing design patterns in place, there was a significantly higher satisfaction rate,” said Saebra Waterstraut-Foster, who facilitated rounds of user groups as Salesforce Principal Researcher, Research & Insights. In her role, she discovered gaps between assumptions and usability. For example: Structuring the product to allow users to download a survey on their phone didn’t include all use cases. “Showing data offline simply isn’t enough for those users. They actually wanted workflows to be offline,” said Waterstraut-Foster. Her team learned the same thing when testing the product internally with Salesforce Field Services. 

Customer Optimized

UX research can take many forms. Requesting feedback from employees who have similar roles or needs as potential users can add a pulse check, too.

Our internal testers also showed us we needed a permissions change. When something went wrong, they didn’t have a way to assess the problem. “People would reach out to our engineers,” said Jain. “But they wanted to self-solve.” The team created new permissions as a response. Now, an admin can run a query as any user to see errors. “That was pretty significant work. It took a couple people to deliver that functionality. In the long term, it made up for it. We know that external customers widely use it.”

Briefcase Builder panel showing the "Run as User" function, with a status bar displaying work order info.
Admins can use the “Run as User” tab to see what results a user is getting.

He reinforces that it’s not about just doing something simpler. It needs to be useful.

Engineering also invested resources into other user research-driven pivots such as going from a static onboarding to a wizard. Moving through a screen progression helped users orient more effectively. As the pilot came to fruition, customers were always informed. 

Work order panel that shows four steps for creating a briefcase. Each step contains multiple fields with pick lists.
Making a new briefcase is a step-by-step process.

Iteration leads to innovation – and it can move fast. Briefcase Builder ran ahead of schedule for more than two years and released early.

Customer Adopted

Over the past several months, Yi has witnessed customers adopting the product smoothly. “There’s no timeline to adoption,” he said. This spans industries and uses. Some are putting Briefcase Builder to work in IT services. Others are using it for gaming, manufacturing, or HVAC (heating, ventilation & air conditioning) industries. 

After experiencing what design-led product development can do, Yi is an advocate. “Because of this success, I’ve applied it to other Salesforce products I’m leading today,” he said.  

Designing with users often results in benefits for all parties. Our teams reduce design debt, users thrive and their companies grow. Wondering where to start? Ask a customer.

Kate Hughes bio image
Kate Hughes Senior Writer

Exploring stories at the intersection of design, technology and social good

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