User-Centered Design for a Complex Product

In this post I will talk about user-centered design and how I applied it to one of SDL’s language technology products. Thinking about how I designed for the needs of the over 200k consumers of our translation productivity software, I remember all the people – translation specialists – that I have met in the past year and who have shared with me what is crucial for them and what makes them more efficient in their work.


I’ve never been a translator or a translation manager, so being able to empathize with the challenges they are facing every day directly impacts my ability to advocate for them in design meetings or product reviews, especially since the product that I am going to write about today is quite complex and feature-rich.

TTI2016-What does the future hold
Innovation in the translation industry

Here is an interesting key finding from a research survey that we have carried out at SDL in 2016: it shows what each of our 3 audiences (corporates, language service providers and freelance translators) thinks about what the future holds for them in terms of innovation in technology. It is what our users expect from us designers and developers to be delivered through the products we build for them today.

So when you think about what is going to help you stand out in front of your users, remember that user-centered design is crucial to the success of the end-to-end experience of your product. User-centered design is an approach that grounds the process on data about the people who will use your products and their day to day context. It is all about acknowledging that what you create makes a difference in somebody’s life and this is an important part of your responsibility as a designer.

Case Study

Trados GroupShare 2017 requirements
Trados GroupShare 2017 requirements

So let me tell you about how I have applied the user-centered design process to build a meaningful user experience for the new 2017 release of SDL Trados GroupShare. One day, while I was working as a user experience designer SDL’s Language Technologies department, I got this request from the product management team: to think about how Trados GroupShare should be re-designed.

I first tried to understand what that meant, what the product was doing and how our customers were interacting with it. I learnt quite fast that this was a pretty complex piece of technology with many dependencies and that my new assignment was about creating a user interface that helps people who manage translation projects be more efficient and do a better job of collaborating with people that actually translate, review or contribute to the translation supply chain with their work. This product has to support them in the process of centralizing projects, using translation memories efficiently, managing terminology, as well as other computer-aided translation resources and solutions for administrative tasks, like enterprise resource planning (ERP) or invoicing. And while the design had to balance simplicity and functionality, it also needed to fit in the SDL technology ecosystem and the user experience had to make sense & be enjoyable throughout all the different steps of the customer journey.

The Initial Research

The previous Trados GroupShare version had some limitations and dependencies on old technology such as SilverLight and the user interface was not too pretty either. An initial UX assessment highlighted a variety of usability issues and deficiencies.

Web user interface

Old web user interface

Integration with desktop system Trados Studio

Integration with desktop product Trados Studio

Email notifications

Email notifications

Gaining expert insights into user needs

So knowing now all this, I decided to involve people from other teams in SDL and start forming partnerships to collaborate on the best way to address the questions about what should the new Trados GroupShare be like. We visited some translation offices and went to some industry events and meet-ups, even scheduled some remote calls: all this just to talk to the people that were using GroupShare or that had decided for competing solutions instead.
It is such a great privilege to have a customer talk about their real-world needs because it isn’t just for the justification of some design. It’s a huge opportunity to understand the importance of getting it right. I ran some remote and in-person user research studies and I watched how people were interacting with GroupShare. I paid attention to what were the critical things that needed to be controlled by them versus the computer. It took weeks, but at the end we had this great pool of insights that we had managed to collect and that became the foundation of the change in the product.

Experience Mapping

Experience Mapping

Persona - Project Manager (LSP)

Persona – Project Manager (LSP)

Persona - Professional Translator

Persona – Professional Translator

Wireframes & Prototyping

When I then started working on the prototypes for the new product, I kept in mind some key intricacies of the translation industry: while users in smaller agencies may choose completely voluntarly whether or not they purchase your product, in bigger enterprises there is another purchase decision-maker that says “this is the tool that we will use”. So when you move functionality around the UI in the consumer world, users get annoyed, but if you do that in an enterprise environment this can have serious impact on the user’s performance and possibly even their compensation, so you have to be very careful and the stakes are really high.

Dashboard wireframe

Dashboard wireframe

Planning modal wireframe

Planning modal wireframe

User permissions modal wireframe

User permissions modal wireframe

Visual Design

I worked closely with our Digital Experience Designer to help shape how the new GroupShare would look like and ensure that next to being valuable and usable, it would also be “lovable”. A new UI skin was proposed that is more modern and in tone with SDL rebranded aesthetics, UI patterns and controls were designed and specifications have been developed.

Final User Experience

If you’re wondering how the user experience of translation project management works now in Trados GroupShare, here’s a little storyboard:


Let’s never forget that being passionate about what we do has far reaching consequences and that user-centered design is all about helping to empower users to da what they do. These are my lessons learnt from this project:

  • Assess your product and the competing ones
  • Collaborate to do research
  • Become an expert advocate of your user’s needs
  • Prototype and validate
  • Apply enchanting visual design

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