01

Outlook Spaces

Reimagining a more intuitive, less-fragmented workflow

About

Studies by Microsoft Research show that people’s time has become increasingly fragmented. In addition to the chaos of daily life, people have specific undertakings that they want to put energy towards, like projects for work, planning a wedding, traveling, or learning a new language.

Artifacts from these activities are intermingled and spread across several different apps, creating unmanageable silos where messages, document comments, notes, tasks, and events pile up and create anxiety. We listened to our customers’ complaints and set out to design a solution, and thus, Outlook Spaces was born.

ROLES

Product Design
Product Strategy
Prototyping

Year

2019 - present

Problem

Fragmentation of workflows  across several apps

Customers feel a reduction in focus due to continually switching apps and context, up to 300 times a day. Many customers report feeling overwhelmed by a tidal wave of information from multiple sources and apps all through the day

Process

Customer Focused, grounded in User research

The idea for Spaces was born in a brainstorming session in Paris during an internal customer conference. Users had expressed to us their pain points about feeling like their work was disjointed and siloed. We got back to Redmond and put together a customer advisory board, a group of users passionate about Outlook Spaces, and they provided us with feedback every week. In some instances, they helped us co-design features, and we kept a tight-knit relationship with them all through the development process

Hacking a prototype in 1 week

During an internal hack week in July 2019, a multi-disciplinary v-team conducted a design sprint to innovate and develop a new, modern time management companion experience to the existing Outlook calendar for the modern achiever

Engagement model - Prototype to MVP in 4 months

The journey to building Spaces involved not only solving hard technical problems, it also involved rethinking the culture around which we innovate. The team needed to be collaborative, yet laser-focused, innovative, yet realistic and customer-driven without sacrificing velocity. It was a peculiar challenge but we pulled it off and were able to launch an MVP in a record time of 4 months

Brand and Identity

In our approach to designing Spaces, we aimed to present a simple, minimal brand that allowed the user's content standout

APP ICON

TYPOGRAPHY

Everything in one place

Outlook Spaces (Project Moca) helps you quickly bring together all the content you care about in a single dynamic, collaborative space, letting you visualize it in a way that helps you stay organized.

Simplify your workflow

No more switching between multiple apps to manage one project. Add tasks, milestones, notes, files, links, and emails all into one dynamic space

Organize your content, your way

Customize how you view your content on the flexible canvas. Get started quickly with a template or get creative and design your own space.

Set due dates on anything

Keep track of specific milestones or set due dates on any kind of content in your space to get reminded about the things that matter.

Access your Spaces from the Dashboard

The Dashboard shows a user’s active spaces, allows them to browse templates, create new spaces, sort, filter, group, and organize their spaces.

Create, Collect and Organize content on the Canvas

In a simple visual way, the canvas is a flexible board for organizing important content and synthesizing ideas; information is laid out to make the search, retrieval, or manipulation of content very easy, intuitive, and personal.

Browse and import smart recommendations from Sources

The Sources feed intelligently aggregates project-related notifications and updates to assets. This is where we apply our assistive intelligence to pull in relevant signals and content into a space without users having to do any work. It also allows users to pull in these signals or assets onto the canvas to monitor them for changes or take action on them later.

Add any kind of conent

Add any kind of content, including notes, links, tasks, emails, chat messages on to your canvas to track and organize. Bring it all together in one place

Time-bound views

We explored the question - what would a time-bound view to help users organize content chronologically look like? Today’s digital calendars don’t support heterogeneous content types, but all content types can be scheduled and visualized chronologically with Spaces.

Get started with templates

We invested in templates early on because our early research showed that they are a great way to address the "blank canvas problem", market the app effectively by demonstrating it's value and get our users on-boarded quickly. This hypothesis proved correct as we saw that over 90% of spaces created started off from templates

Brainstorm with mindmaps

The ability to create mind maps was one of our top requested features since the free-form canvas technology lends itself to visual ways of thinking and synthesizing ideas

Spaces on the go

We explored a mobile companion app for Spaces that allows users to access their spaces on the go

More compact views

We explored different densities for the mobile view, testing our hypothesis that the mobile view should be optimized for capture and viewing, not so much for planning and organizing.

Create New Assets

Being able to quickly capture any kind of content on the go was crucial for users. We kept the mobile capture experience familiar with the big screen

Browse and import from sources

Users can search and browse 1st and 3rd party sources and import content from them just like on the large screen experience.

Sort & Filter for quick retrieval

Users can sort and filter by content type to easily find what they are looking for

Collaborative Spaces

Collaboration was by far our most requested feature. We dug deeper to understand what it meant for a Space to be collaborative and found that our users expect to be able to share their spaces with whomever they want, but they want full control over how much access to give

Impact

Less than a year after launching the alpha version of Spaces, we've seen tremendous growth and interest from our customers around the concept. All through the development process, the team consistently gathered qualitative feedback from our users, paying attention to their needs, reviewing usage data regularly, recognizing patterns when they turned up, and iterating and tweaking the designs based on the data we saw.  

80+

User interviews

90,000

Spaces created to date

300,000+

Assets created

~10,000

Monthly active users

> 40%

of surveyed users would be very disappointed if we took away Spaces proving Market fit

Reflections and Outcomes

1) If we want to innovate on our products, we must innovate first on team culture: We recognized early on in the development of Spaces that we had to challenge our current mode of thinking and everything we knew about productivity in order to be build a successful product. We achieved this through open dialogues about the atmosphere of innovation in the company and problems we were each facing. We invited colleagues that had innovated against the odds within the company and created meaningful experiences to speak to us so that we could learn how they did it. We built a strong foundation of trust within the team, respecting each other's judgement and feedback as subject matter experts, acknowledging when we were wrong about something and heaping on praise on each others progress weekly. All of this led to an outstanding gain in velocity, we eliminated the need to meet constantly and instead focused on our energy on the product, our users and their needs.

2) When we say we are user-driven or customer obsessed, we should mean it: Sometimes, it feels like "Customer obsessed" and "user-driven" have quickly become buzzwords that we say to convince ourselves that we care about our users. For this project, it was different. We decided to really mean those words. The idea of Spaces itself came from a brainstorming session with a few customers huddled in a conference room in July 2019 in Paris. When development started, we created small, weekly focused group sessions with customers which we called a "Customer Advisory Board" where we had product discussions, spoke about our product roadmap, and gained an insight into how customers were using Spaces in realtime.

3) When innovating, Don't think in terms of scenarios, think in terms of systems: We thought very deeply about what Spaces could be, and two of the most compelling ideas were either a standalone, do-it-all app or a technology platform that lends itself to multiple scenarios with the latter becoming our eventual direction. We built Spaces in a way that we could apply it to any scenario in which fragmentation of artifacts occurred - Trips, Meetings, Projects, etc. These areas involve several high-value customer needs that the concept of Spaces itself and the technology could be easily applied to help address and worked with several teams across the company to adapt the technology to their scenarios

NEXT PROJECT

02

Outlook Calendar

Refining time management for millions