Designing for People: Proofpoint’s UX Team Reveals the Process behind a Product Refresh

October 25, 2018
Ken Brown
Proofpoint User Experience Team Reveals Process beind Product Redesign

Whether it’s stopping attacks that target users or our passion for customer service, protection has always started with people at Proofpoint. People are also the inspiration behind one of the most sweeping UI/UX redesigns in our company’s history.

Our UX/UI design team is in the middle of a top-to-bottom refresh of our product line. It’s designed to give users more visibility, control, and insight to help them keep their people and data secure.

The effort began in the wake of a series of acquisitions. The deals brought powerful new capabilities to the Proofpoint portfolio—and new interfaces that sometimes clashed with the look and feel of our existing products.

The new designs will center on users’ needs and workflow, says Josephine Choi, senior manager of user experience design for our email security products. The design team worked closely with users to see how they work and pinpoint design changes that could help them do their jobs.

More specifically, the design team had had three main goals in mind:

  • Unify the look and feel of the product suite with a design system that also makes it easier to incorporate future products and features
  • Make our most powerful capabilities easier to use for more customers without taking any features away from expert users
  • Help users more draw insight from their data and act on it more quickly

Proofpoint Targeted Attack Protection (TAP) customers got a peek at the initial results last April. And back in March, we introduced a new user interface and data visualizations in Proofpoint Enterprise Archive 4.0.

Over time, the broader redesign will enhance the look, feel and function of every product in our expansive (and growing) portfolio, says to Sean Sands, senior UX designer for our Threat Systems Products.

We recently spoke with Josephine and Sean about the redesigns and how they will help customers better protect their people. The following is an edited version of our interview.

What are some of your design goals with this refresh?

Sean: One of the biggest things was consistency—not just in how the products look, but in how they operate. Say you come from TAP and switch over to our Email Protection, Digital Risk products and so on. We want you to be able to go between applications and know that you’re still part of Proofpoint. They should all look, feel, operate, and function all the same.

Josephine: Beyond unifying the look and feel, I’m really excited about the work we’re doing with Email Protection. The product is very powerful, and people love that. At the same time, it can be a little overwhelming. With this redesign, we won’t be taking away any of that power but making it a little more friendly from the beginning. 
It’s more about augmenting that experience, giving customers better tools—better filtering, better analysis of the data—to help them do their jobs.

Can you take us through the redesign process?

Josephine: Talking to users is one of the fundamental things in any redesign. So a lot of our process is about getting out to customers and watching them use our products. We ask them: “What are your pain points?” “Take me through what you’re trying to do.” “What is this security ticket about?” “What are some of the threats you’re concerned about?”
Keeping that process close to the user—not just at the beginning of the process but as we’re designing it—is important. 

Sean: We always talk to customers first. We want to know how they’re using it; what they’re trying to get to; how they’re trying to get there; whether we’re meeting that need; whether it’s too frustrating. 

Why is a good UI important in cybersecurity?

Sean: A good user interface and experience allows the user to meet their workflow head-on. The UI should get out of the way. 
If you’re a security analyst and something comes up in TAP, you need to know who’s affected, when were they affected, by what were they affected, whether this is part of a larger campaign—all those aspects. When you let the data sit up front and build a UI that makes it the star of the show, security analysts, SOCs (security operations directors) and CISOs (chief information security officers) can get their jobs done.

Josephine: The best interfaces are the ones you don’t really notice. 

Do security teams care more about the UI than they used to? Have their expectations changed?

Sean: Definitely. Even an SOC analyst is still a user of consumer products. They use iPhones, Android phones, and the apps made for those devices. So they’re expecting a higher level of fit and finish.
They’re expecting things to look cleaner and less driven by their vendors’ business goals—and more about what they want to do.

Josephine: There has been a lot of movement toward this idea of consumerization of the enterprise. Companies count user experience as a competitive differentiator.
One thing that has accelerated that trend is demographics. As more millennials come into the workforce, they’re expecting that consumer-app behavior in their professional life as well.

Was there a tension between where you wanted to take the UI/UX and resistance to change? Were you worried that you might inadvertently disrupt customers’ workflow or clash with the way they’re used to doing something?

Josephine: That’s something we are consciously aware of any time we introduce a new workflow or design metaphor in the UI. Users are often interacting with our UI in the heat of the moment when they are dealing with a security incident. 
So if they have to learn a new UI, we have to think about ways to quickly bring them up to speed. If you can’t do that, then maybe you have to consider whether there’s a more standard UI that they’d understand faster and would offer the same value in a more streamlined fashion.

Sean: Change always comes with friction. That’s why we always go back to customers, asking them questions and finding out how they feel about any changes. So far, the feedback has been very positive.

What was your favorite part of the design process?

Josephine: We get to talk to our customers a lot. It’s all about understanding what they’re doing, why they’re doing it, and taking that those needs into the decisions we make when we design the product. It’s partly my job to be the voice of the customer when we’re making these decisions.

Sean: The wonderful thing about UI refreshes is that it gives you the opportunity to get to the meat of what a product does. It lets you get to the underpinnings to see what users are trying to use it for and how they use it today, and what needs improvement. 

What aspect of the redesign are you most proud of?

Sean: It’s always difficult when you’re trying doing a refresh. You can always ask customers questions, get a feel for what they’re looking for, and try to find the best way to approach it. But the real validation comes when customers react to it. 
People are really liking it. They like that they can find things more readily. The layout is cleaner, fresher, and newer. We know we’ve succeeded when we hear it from the people who use it.

Josephine: I love getting feedback from customers. One of the best things about our job is getting to talk to customers and saying “Hey this is what we’ve designed. What do you think?”
A couple of weeks ago, I was showing one of the designs we were working on to a customer. He said, “’Wow, I’m going to get to see the (email) rule there? That’s nice.”
Those moments are what I call the “delighters.” I’m hoping that as we talk to more customers throughout the process, we can put more of those in.