Case Study
Feature Upvote UX Case Study Image

Feature Upvote: Case Study

Project: Incrementally improve usability to a successful SaaS in the Product Management space.

Intro to the company: Feature Upvote

Feature Upvote started life in 2017 as the answer to an internal problem. Unable to find a suitable solution, the Barbary Software team developed a feedback and upvoting tool that proved useful, and lucky for them! Recognising its value, they offered it to others and as of 2023, Feature Upvote serves customers across the globe.

Barbary still uses Feature Upvote to collect and prioritise their own feature requests. Ongoing internal use ensures they have firsthand experience of their software as end-users…This does, however, create a problem that is synonymous with dogfooding your own products. And this is...

Patrick Foley headshot
Steve Mcleod

Founder, Feature Upvote.

"I highly recommend Nathan’s product design retainer service to any SaaS founder whose doesn’t have the funds or workload to justify a full-time designer but needs an experienced and empathetic design expert.

Nathan’s product design retainer service has been a godsend. As a former SaaS founder himself, Nathan understands the business needs behind our design requirements.

Truth is, as a non-designer, I struggle to clearly express my design requirements. So Nathan’s open collaboration and iterative design approach is very important to me.

The challenge

The closer you are to a solution, the harder it is to see where it falls short. As founders, we know our product like the back of our hands. And as such, we know how to get from A to B and reach the desired outcome. In the case of Feature Upvote, this was creating and managing customer feature request boards.

It's common with developer-led software that over time a product reaches feature breakpoint. This means adding new features can add complexity that users never signed up for. Some customers learn to deal with these changes and some don't. and by the way, while I typically see this issue more with developer led teams, it's by no means exclusive to them. It also happens to startups with design teams.

But there is an important distinction that separates Feature Upvote from others, they reached out to a seasoned product designer. Me. 😊

The problem

Feedback boards are the star attraction at Feature Upvote. Boards are where end users request features and upvote existing feature ideas. The internal view of this feature is referred to as the ‘moderation’ or ‘admin’ view. While end users don’t see or interact with it directly, it’s heavily used by Feature Upvote’s direct customers. This makes it an important screen.

Some of the issues that were brought to my attention were:

  • The current layout wasn’t using the full width of available space within the browser. It limited how much data could be shown.
  • The Filtering and Status system were often confused. This meant users would perform incorrect actions, which creates frustration.
  • The available space was already limited, yet additional features such as Export, Search, expanded Sorting and more Filtering options needed to be added.
  • The team wanted to add a Bulk Move option. This would allow users to move one or more suggestion from their current board.

In the image below you can see the original version of a feedback board. This was the Moderate view.

image of the old Feature Upvote voting board

The process

While many designers salivate at the thought of redesigning a SaaS, Feature Upvote’s founder, Steve McLeod was clear that he wanted to make incremental improvements. If you want to learn more about the reasons and use cases for incremental improvements as opposed to a complete redesign, Steve and I discussed this on the long-running podcast Bootstrapped

My process when working with Feature Upvote (and any client) was one of collaboration and iterative design. While I’m a seasoned product designer who’s also been a founder, no one knows more about their business than the founder or their team. It’s my job to bring them into my work process so they can help me, to help them. (Side note: Feature Upvote is a client of my design retainer plans ).

Prior to commencing any work, I always conduct an onboarding review. Onboarding reviews highlight any immediate problems within a SaaS. Perhaps more importantly, my clients get fresh insight into what potential new users experience during sign-up and while taking their first steps. Believe it or not, this stage of customer testing and research is often overlooked. Even if a client is aware of certain problems within their app, watching someone struggle in areas that you thought was simple can be a tough pill to swallow. However, this initial point of contact with a customer’s software is crucial. After Steve watched my video review and sent his feedback, we were able to prioritise some quick wins and establish longer-term goals.

In the image below you can see how my iterative approach applied to working with Feaure Upvote.

the UX process for Feature Upvote

Additional problems

The problem with making changes to a successful SaaS is that you're making changes to a successful SaaS! It's inevitable that a percentage of users won't be happy with the changes, regardless of the results. If you remember the (in)famous redesign of Slack in 2020 or even the recent Spotify changes you’ll know what I’m talking about. 

Changing how customers interact with your software brings consequences… and opinions. You hope these opinions are positive, but this is one of the main reasons I generally favour incremental improvements. If you want to hear more about why incremental changes are the preferred choice, check out my podcast interview on B2B SaaS design.

Project expectations

To work with a successful business means one thing, Tread Carefully and breaking a few eggs to make an omelette isn’t an option. However, the expectations were simple; Improve the usability of existing features and overall structure without alienating customers.

The idea of simplifying what is essentially a table seems straightforward until you remember, THIS ISN’T A REDESIGN... (BTW, there is an old, yet very relevant article from A List Apart about this topic. It's called Redesign or Realign)...I had to make the system more intuitive and preferably without customers noticing any major changes. 

The iterative process (small changes)

Sometimes you get lucky and hit on a winning idea in the very first round of wireframe sketches. This does happen, but not always. As you can see from the wireframes below, it took several iterations. The oh-so-important back and forth that many designers fear is at the heart of what makes iterative design work. Also, using a tool like Balsamiq to create wireframes removes any distractions and helps clients focus on what’s important. If your designer’s first thought is to jump into a hi-def design, be concerned. (BTW - This is what makes a design retainer ideal for founders. You never have to worry about design costs changing from month to month, regardless of how many iterations it takes).  

Image example of initial Feature Upvote Feedback Board Wireframes
Image of Feature Upvote Feedback Board Wireframes
Image showing more wireframes from Feature Upvote
Image showing the iterative process behind SaaS design at Feature Upvote

Results and final thoughts.

At first glance, it may seem that any of the changes are minimal. And you’d be right. The goal was to make the user’s life easier, with minimal disruption to their workflow. We hit that goal and Feature Upvote founder, Steve is very happy with the results. It’s always a challenge to balance what’s best for the user and what looks best. You only have to check out sites like Dribbble to see great-looking user interfaces that are unusable in real-world B2B situations. Time, experience and working with the right client make this possible. The right designer also helps.

If you want to see the end result of my work with Feature Upvote, go check out their product and tell Steve I sent you 😉

If what you've read has piqued your interest and you'd like to discuss a project or idea, feel free to contact me here.  

image of a designer using a tablet to create wireframes

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We live in a fast-paced world and your potential customers have a bunch of options when it comes to filling the software gap in their lives. Unfortunately, you have only minutes to hook them after signup.

Poor onboarding can lead to a high churn rate, which in turn leads to the need for more top-of-the-funnel traffic…Which in turn leads to wasting marketing budget as more new trials churn. The problem is that when you lose a potential customer not only do you lose a paid account, you lose word-of-mouth marketing and potential brand evangelists. That’s the kind of marketing money can’t buy! And it all starts with your app.

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