Back in 2010, Cloudflare was introduced at TechCrunch Disrupt as a security and performance solution that took the tools of the biggest service providers and made them available to anyone online. But simply replicating these tools wasn’t enough — we needed to make them ridiculously easy to use.
When we launched Cloudflare for Teams almost ten years later, the vision was very much the same — build a secure and powerful Zero Trust solution that is ridiculously easy to use. However, while we talk about what we’re building with a regular cadence, we often gloss over how we are designing Cloudflare for Teams to make it simple and easy to use.
In this blog post we’ll do just that — if that sounds like your jam, keep scrolling.
Building a house
First, let's back up a bit and introduce Cloudflare for Teams.
We launched Cloudflare for Teams in January, 2020. With Teams, we wanted to alleviate the burden Cloudflare customers were feeling when trying to protect themselves and their infrastructure from threats online. We knew that continuing to rely on expensive hardware would be difficult to maintain and impractical to scale.
At its core, Teams joins two products together — Access and Gateway. On the one hand, Access acts as a bouncer at the door of all your applications, checking the identity of everyone who wants in. It's a Zero Trust solution that secures inbound connections. On the other hand, Gateway is a Secure Web Gateway solution that acts as your organization's bodyguard — it secures your users as they set out to navigate the Internet.
Over the past year, we’ve been rapidly shipping features to help our customers face the new and daunting challenges 2020 brought around. However, that velocity often took a toll on the intentionality of how we design the Teams Dashboard, and resulted in a myriad of unintended consequences. This is often referred to as a “Feature Shop” dilemma, where Product and Design only think about what they’re building and become too resource-constrained to consider why they’re building it.
In an interface, this pattern often manifests itself through siloed functionality and fractured experiences. And admittedly, when we first began building the Teams Dashboard, many of our experiences felt this way. Users were able to take singular features from inception to fruition, but were limited in their ability to thread these experiences together in a seamless fashion across the Dashboard.
The duplex problem
Here’s an example. In the early days of Cloudflare for Teams, we wanted to provide users with a single pane of glass to manage their security policies. In order to do so, users would need to onboard to both Access and Gateway. Only one problem, we didn’t have an onboarding pathway for Cloudflare Access. The obvious question became “What do we need?”. Inherently, the answer was an onboarding flow for Cloudflare Access.
Just like that, we were off to the races.
In retrospect, what we should have been asking instead was “Why do users need onboarding flow?” By focusing on what, we polluted our own ability to build the right solution for this problem. Instead of providing a seamless entryway to our dashboard, we created a fork-in-the-road decision point and siloed our customers into two separate paths that did not make it easy for them to approach our dashboard.
From an experiential perspective, we later equated this to inviting our users to a party. We give them an address, but when they show up at the doorstep, they realize the house is actually a duplex. Which doorbell are they supposed to ring? Where's the party? What will they find if they walk into the wrong unit?
Leading with Design
That’s where Design fits in. Our design team is hyper-obsessed with asking why. Why are we throwing a party? Why should anyone come? Why should they stay? By challenging our team to lead with design, we take a questioning attitude to each of the features we contemplate building. With this approach, we do not assume a feature is valuable, intuitive, or even required. We assume nothing.
During our “Feature Shop” days, we had a bad habit of providing “bad mockups” or outlining a solution for Design to prototype. This is often referred to as “solution pollution”. For example, if I tell you I need a fast car, you’re probably going to start designing a car. However, if instead I tell you I need to get from point A to point B as quick as possible, you may end up designing a bike, scooter, car, or something entirely new and novel. Design thrives in this balance.
Now, we begin at the beginning and gather contextual data which drove us toward a given feature hypothesis. Together, Product and Design then research the problem alongside the users it may impact. More importantly, once the problem space has been validated, we partner on the solution itself.
With this new approach in mind, we revisited our onboarding experience, and this time, the solution we arrived at was quite different from our initial prototypes. Instead of creating two divergent pathways we now proposed a single Cloudflare for Teams onboarding flow. This solved the duplex problem.
This flow prioritized two key elements; preparing users for success and emphasizing time-to-value. During initial research, Design was able to identify that users often felt overwhelmed and underprepared for the configuration required during an early onboarding. Additionally, due to this sentiment, users failed to reach an initial “Aha!” moment until much later than anticipated in their user journey. To address these concerns, we truncated the onboarding process to just three simple steps:
- Welcome to Teams
- Create a Team Name
- Pick a Plan
As simple as that. Then, we created a Quick Start guide which users land on after onboarding. Let’s call this our inboarding flow. Next, we created a variety of “Starter Packs” within the guide which automate much the laborious configuration for users so they can start realizing value from Cloudflare for Teams almost instantly:
Moving forward, we will continue to expand on the Quick Start guide adding more robust starter packs and enhancing the opportunities for continuous learning. We’re also looking to incorporate intelligent recommendations based on your environment. We’ll also be releasing other improvements this quarter which apply the same underlying concepts found in our Quick Start guide to other areas of the UI such as our Empty States and Overview pages.
Perhaps most importantly, by leading with Design we’re able to foster healthy debate early and often for the products and features we consider releasing within the UI. These relationships drive us to map risks to controls and force us to build with care and intentionality. After all, we all have the same mission: to help build a better Internet.
If you’re interested in learning more about the Cloudflare for Teams design lifecycle, stay tuned. We have three upcoming blog releases which will walk you through our product content strategy, our design vision, and an exciting new feature release where you can see this partnership in action.