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


Westlaw UK provides access to huge but easily searchable databases of case law, legislation, news, legal journals, commentary, current awareness alerts and EU legal materials. It is the only service that consolidates all primary and secondary legislation for the UK, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Practical Law UK provides answers for a wide array of legal issues. They take the expertise of over 280 dedicated full-time attorney-editors and distill it in a way that helps lawyers get their work done. They work with top law firms worldwide to ensure that resources always reflect current law and market practice.

The Business Goal

Thomson Reuters acquired Practical Law in 2013. Westlaw UK was already established but needed some enhancement in usability and features. The original plan was to merge these products into one common experience, while also migrating the content over to a different platform. It became clear that inherent in this merger, was the necessity to redesign this new collection from all aspects. It would not be effective or useful for users simply as a migration of content. Another factor that influenced this decision was that it would later lay the foundation for the redesign of the US Westlaw product.

My Role

My UX role was quite diverse. It included analyzing on the research side, while executing on the design side.

This was focused on the qualitative side of research, really understanding the specific problems, pain points and solutions associated to our users needs. We were fortunate that our users had a vested interest in making the product easier to use. They used it every day and their desire to streamline their workflow was high. We also had a large internal team of lawyers using the product as SME and content associators that we could easily access to validate our work. This was a unique situation.

Specifically I was involved in contextual interviews, facilitator led design surveys, usability studies (task based). I also created interview questions and defined the tasks to be tested.

Ingrained in our process was the necessity of communication. I was responsible for meeting with our business teams about product features they wished to change or create. I would also do collaborative design sessions with them to help focus their needs.

Almost daily I would have a design review, strategy or planning session with our UK partners. This was done via Webex and I was always part of presenting our work and engaging with the teams in conversations about the product and its development.

Knowing why you are doing something makes the execution that much more satisfying. In this role, I designed a variety of deliverables. I created page layouts, navigation systems, and interactions. I also worked on the visual style guide for the product. This included designing components, setting up colors, creating navigational systems, etc. Ultimately that led to the creation of a pattern library that our team could leverage for all of our work. Each group could take pieces and quickly mock-up or build (from a front-end perspective). This was a living repository of coded components specific to each product.

I was responsible for creating thoughtful design responses to our users needs for the following tasks:

Design Standards
Create a visual language that can be leveraged throughout the project. This must enable any designer the ability to jump in and easily understand how to use this system. It was crucial for our team to move ahead with the larger redesign project.

Research, Testing and Prototypes
I helped design user tests with UX researchers. I wrote interview questions, defined tasks and built lo-fi and hi-fi prototypes.

Navigation and Taxonomy
Refine, improve and create new navigation systems. These must provide users easier access to content and reduce the amount of time needed to find it.

Improve Usability in Document Related Tasks
Our users perform multiple tasks within the product. An example is how users organize their research documents in their account. Another is how users share documents within their organization. Also, how users can highlight and annotate documents.

Redesign Search
Simplify the search feature and its main access point inside the header. This included the search results screens for inclusion of the merged content. The search feature is the key to all research on Westlaw. Everything starts there.

UI and Visual Design
We needed to merge 3 main, very different, types of content into one product. Users need to clearly understand which experience they are in: Browsing, Searching or Document Display. Each section of the product must be redesigned to align with the new visual system and architecture.

The Process

The scale and scope of this project was immense. A lot of pre-work had to be done to lay the foundation for a successful fulfillment processes. The initial phases continually revolved around information gathering, dissemination, assessment and direction formation. Multiple groups were contributing to this process. These initial steps can be labeled as: The Project Kickoff, Planning, Discovery and Framing.

This led to a high level roadmap for success being developed by the UX team in conjunction with the business teams. It laid out the initial requirements that were necessary before unique phases of the redesign could take place. This provided major milestones the project would have to meet.

What I Learned

Everyone is involved in the design process
I realized that we could work better with the business and technology teams earlier on by including them in the design process. It often felt like we were purely dictating decisions to other teams without knowing that there were limitations or varying business requirements. This left people confused and at times seemed as though we could have done better.

Establish roles and responsibilities early
The business teams didn’t always understand what deliverables each UX team member was responsible for. We could have created a better conduit to make this more clear for them. This also meant keeping the project manager in the loop at all times.

Key contacts and owners are needed to help facilitate communication
Disseminating information to ten people is manageable. However, there were instances when we had to review designs and wireframes with over sixty people. That’s too many to make decisions efficiently. I learned quickly that it’s more efficient to have key stakeholders that can make design decisions and communicate the results to their larger team.

Being on an island sounds cool, but it isn’t
Throughout the process I would often take on more than I should. I learned quickly that the thinner I spread myself the less effective I was at each thing I was trying to do. It’s important to delegate work when you have resources. It’s not a good solution when one person is doing mediocre work on a many deliverables instead of doing amazing at a few. Collaboration is key and no one is impressed with a sub-par deliverable. Especially when you know you could have done much better. This is also related to the next observation.

Set expectations clearly and realistically
When you don’t know something, it is better to admit it than to hope you’ll figure it out later. Seeking help to fully understand an expectation is key in this process. I thought I was already well aware and effective at this. But in hindsight, I see a few instances that I could have understood my problem more clearly before I set expectations for a deliverable.

The Outcome

The project was well received by both our business partners and our users. This was not an easy task and it required lengthy debates, giving and taking, and empathy. But in the end, I think our UX team was able to make something very exciting for its users. It reshaped content and presented it in a much needed, clean and simple interface. All of this while improving on the functionality through a considerate and elegant UI with an upgrade in technology.

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