UI, Navigation, Tools, Taxonomy, Search Results, Research, and Testing. (Oh my.)

Practical Law and Westlaw UK combine to form an online research and discovery platform for lawyers and legal professionals in the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom. I worked on the redesign of the UK products called Westlaw UK and Practical Law. Some features and designs carried over into US and Canadian products as well.

The Westlaw platform is a complex warehouse of millions of documents, case legislation, analysis and journals. Combine this with a suite of tools to search, save, relate and share them. That's some intricate software indeed.

Who Initiated the Product Redesign and Why

The product redesign was initiated by our users as much as the business teams. The existing product had been in its current form for years and was showing it. It had been a dominant player in the market for years, which didn’t encourage innovation. But when competitors started coming into the market and introducing products that were more thoughtfully designed and easier to use, our business team paid attention.

The Westlaw UI was inconsistent and, over the years, had absorbed tools from various products and features that didn’t always have the same style or functional behavior. Here’s what I saw as the main challenges of the redesign:

  • Navigation was all over the place, literally: it was within the page, on top, off to one side, and sometimes stuck inside a menu bar that was inconsistently displayed.
  • The header didn’t offer much consistency, either, lacking persistent tools and quick access to prominent features.
  • Readability was was also an issue. Column widths were wildly inconsistent on document display and there was a lot of visual interference in “reading mode.” Not great when the primary function of the product was to allow users to read documents.
  • But only if they can find them. Which is why search was also a very important component of the redesign.

UX Research Phase(s)

Research was an ongoing process in the redesign. Before, during, and after each phase of the project, we checked in with users and analyzed data. And we had a lot of data, years of it.

We also had access to lawyers and other legal professionals that used the products every day. We knew that our users varied quite a bit in their roles within law firms. We also continued to learn how they used the products. They wanted more readability, better search, and consistency from document to document.

Users had “gotten used to” pain points in the interface and developed their own system of workarounds to deal with these problems. It was interesting to watch the complexity of the workarounds, but it was also a huge challenge because users were so used to “working around” the interface issues that when presented with a better solution, they often panicked. They didn’t want to learn a new way to use the system and this made perfect sense—the way they used the system worked, and they would often invest hours organizing documents into rows of open tabs and browser pages.

Dealing with “new feature anxiety” was a big consideration in our rollout, and we designed a schedule that slowly introduced enhancements with very simple explanations.

My Role

I was lucky to be on a team of very talented people. Collaboration was a huge component of our working style and we often blurred lines between roles (UI Designer, Architect, Researcher, Tester, and Content Strategist) in order to organically problem solve.

I designed UI components, patterns, navigational systems, tool pallets, content features, and page layouts. Additionally, I created prototypes for research scenarios, scripts for testing, and was a key player in our user studies. Prototypes were both functional HTML/CSS/JS as well as basic click through.

Below is sampling of my work from various pieces of this project. I have many more examples that can be presented upon request.

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