JIRA 6 is the biggest release to modernize JIRA ever. We’ve updated everything from typography, icons, layouts to make JIRA look and feel awesome. I got a few moments to catch up with Ross Chaldecott, the lead designer on the JIRA program to see how this transformation took place. In this two part series we will focus on the design approach and delivery during the JIRA 6 release.

JIRA 6: The Design Approach

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Q: How does the product re-design process begin?

A: Millions of people use JIRA every single day. Any change we make likely has a direct impact on the work that thousands of people do. At the same time we’re always looking to make JIRA better. The way we balance those two competing goals is through user centered design. Every single thing we do revolves around our users.

We seek to understand our customers in two main ways: getting out there to talk to them as well as understanding usage patterns in JIRA.   Once you understand your users’ desire and usage patterns it’s easier to see which direction to take the product. You have a much better chance of knowing what to evolve slowly and where to be more radical.

We try to maintain a very collaborative environment here, so most of our projects involve workshops with the entire feature team. We gather the team in one of the bigger meeting rooms, block out their calendars and focus until we have a pretty good idea of what we’re going to build.  We usually include customer input during our workshops so we know that what we’re planning will actually work for people in the real world. It’s exhausting work at a manic pace but it gets results. It also gives the team context so that when the time comes for them to start writing code they are bought into what they’re building.

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Q: What did you find most exciting about starting the process?

A: JIRA 6.0 was a big release for us. It was an opportunity for us to break some conventions and make some major change to the core experience of the product.  We were given the bandwidth needed to radically make things better. As the design lead for JIRA it became a personal mission of mine to entice new users to fall in love with the product as well as giving even more power to our existing fans.

We started rolling out the Atlassian Design Guidelines (ADG) as well. ADG brings not only a more consistent way of working with JIRA, but a whole new look for JIRA too.  The great news is that ADG makes cross product experiences more consistent.

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Q: How do you, as a designer, work with development and non-designers during the brainstorm phase and development cycles?

A: Design at Atlassian is a very open and collaborative process. We try to avoid the ivory tower approach to design that has been the norm for years. This starts from the core structure at the heart of the team. At Atlassian we use triads to create effective ways for various groups to work together and minimize thrash.  If we zoom out a bit we can see each product has three main triads:

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Triads are responsible for making sure that we look at problems from all three sides while ensuring clear ownership.  As designers we are a part of making of the product.  All of our teams aim to have a core decision making structure composed of a designer, the PM and a representative from development. Design represents the user, PM represents the business needs, and the development lead is there to make sure we understand the underlying problems and technical restraints. Having this structure is the fastest way we have found to allow us to iterate and solve problems as quickly and efficiently as possible. After the collaborative workshop, these three people become responsible for guiding the larger team and helping them stay focused and on track (as well as being a little disruptive and challenging when we’re being too conservative).

Our development process adopts a lean approach to design. We aim to do as little upfront design and as much collaborative problem solving as we can. Developers are amazing and creative problem solvers. With lean design we tap into development’s creativity and deep understanding of the code to ultimately deliver the best design from a user and technical point of view.

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Q: What were the goals, and what problems were you trying to solve?

A: We knew that the core issue experience of JIRA was really powerful but also that new technologies have emerged lately that would allow us to fundamentally change the way our users worked with issues.

  • From a design team’s point of view we knew that ADG would be a massive but needed change in the appearance and usage patterns in JIRA.
  • We needed executive mandate to make new users fall in love with JIRA the very first time they used it.

Combine those two and we had a pretty clear idea of where we needed to go.

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Stay tuned!

Now that you’ve seen the design setup for JIRA 6 we will be following up with Ross to understand how his team worked with the developers to build JIRA 6. We’ve got some video footage as well as Ross describing what it was like with the team in Sydney.

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