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Turning complex design problems into simplified solutions

By November 8, 2019 No Comments

Challenges

Designing a software product is difficult. It can be a lengthy, arduous process requiring a deep understanding of users’ needs, business requirements, technology stacks, design principles and much more. It involves the process of turning complex design problems into simplified solutions, with the aim of providing an optimal user experience. It’s a challenge, and as a Product Designer, that’s part of the fun.

When designing products for a 5G world and in particular the telecoms industry, it helps to have a good understanding of technology, principles of object-oriented programming languages (OOL), design methodologies and best practices. Being able to research, understand, ideate, iterate, test and evolve designs, are key skills required to create a well thought out, successful product. With all of this in mind, the design of Openet’s new 5G Policy Manager aimed to address these challenges by implementing a ‘Design-first’ approach. Let me explain…

Design-first approach

Openet would be the first to admit their previous policy system required upgrading. It was built to adhere to 3G and 4G standards and therefore, did not cater for the myriad of 5G use cases involving Enhanced Mobile Broadband (eMBB), Ultra Reliable Low Latency Communications (URLLC) and Massive Machine Type Communications (mMTC).

Openet’s previous policy system was an extremely robust, well-engineered product (which proved to be a major factor in its success and longevity) but unfortunately, its user experience had become somewhat fragmented as more features were added to it. After a heuristic evaluation was performed, gaps in the product’s design were discovered. In parts, the product lacked clarity, visual consistency and was difficult to use. While some features were overly technical, others were not used at all. These issues needed to be addressed. Applying a design-first approach meant that product strategy, user experience, visual design and engineering were all now driven by a design-first approach.

Design principles

Most companies have their own unique approach when applying design principles. Openet are no different. Each principle provides guidance on how to solve a design problem. The design team at Openet obeys three core principles: “Purposeful elements. Utility. Convention over configuration over customisation (of code)”.

Purposeful elements

Every design element requires purpose. If an element, from the largest to the smallest, does not have a meaningful purpose or is not providing value to the user’s experience, it is removed. The design team strives to remove the weight of technical complexity from each design by providing simplified, minimalistic designs. Designs are purged of unnecessary elements. This reduces the number of choices available to a user and in some cases, these are the best designs. This provides a faster, more efficient, user experience.

  1. Utility

Every screen design must provide maximum utility. Designs are required to fulfil the needs of the user – the job-to-be-done. Sometimes splitting a user journey into multiple steps (screen designs) is required to fulfil utility. Every screen design has a function to perform and every element within that screen requires purpose (see principle no. 1). If a design does not fulfil all (or part of) a user journey, it is either removed or redesigned until it does.

  1. Convention over configuration over customisation (of code)

The theory of ‘Convention over configuration’ is used in software design to add a new product feature without having to change any existing code. Openet’s product team adopted this theory and applied it as a fundamental design principle – without the code! The theory relates to modularity and reuse (of designed elements) and can be a highly effective way to design products. For example, we apply this principle when designing and appending to the company design system, its components and framework of design patterns we use.

Applying convention over configuration over customisation

The design team have extended the application of this principle within the design of Openet’s new 5G Policy Manager. The product contains a library of interactive components that were specifically designed to cater for common 4G and 5G use cases.

Common components within the new 5G Policy Manager are:

Blueprints       Pre-packaged (out-of-the-box) network policies.

Actions            Complex policy behaviours that are applied to network traffic.

Conditions      Configurable rules that affect the behaviour of network traffic.

Using these pre-designed, pre-configured components, users can quickly create highly complex network policies within a few clicks. For example, creating a network slice to manage and control IoT devices or configuring security network policies using a pre-designed ‘Blueprint’. Due to the modularity and extensibility of these components, users can quickly tailor the configuration of these components and/or create new components for bespoke requirements without writing code. The purpose is to alleviate the requirement for additional customisation (of code) – applying convention over configuration through design. This makes it easier and faster for users to deploy network policies – ultimately, providing a better user experience.