Today on the Salesforce Admins Podcast, we’re joined by Aran Rhee, Design Architect at Salesforce, to learn more about design thinking, especially as it relates to user experience and how you can design Salesforce to help your users get their jobs done more efficiently.

Join us as we talk about Salesforce’s 4 design principles and how you can apply them as an admin to your own org.

You should subscribe for the full episode, but here are a few takeaways from our conversation with Aran Rhee.

 How to grow up to be an inventor.

Growing up, Aran wanted to be an inventor. “I was one of those kids that would take things apart: TV sets, radios, toys, whatever it is I would take things apart,” he says. At school, he ended up studying computer science and eventually found his way through graphic design and into industrial design (“which I guess is the proper professional name for an inventor,” he says). That lead him back into tech, where he spent time at startups, advertising agencies, systems architecture, and then finally as a UX designer.

“It’s all solving problems for humans at the end of the day, just in a different format,” Aran says. At Salesforce, he’s the Design Architect for the mobile team but he also spent time with the platform team, including working on global design, Customize My Nav, and more for Lightning. He’s currently working to bring that level of customization to mobile.

Salesforce’s 4 Design Principles.

“As designers here, we try to have four guiding principles,” Aran says, “clarity, efficiency, consistency, and beauty.” They’re in order for a specific reason because it allows them to run through some basic questions about the utility of their design. Can the user understand what they’ve designed? Are they able to complete their task as quickly as possible? Does it look the same as things that users have seen before (like moving from Sales Cloud to Service Cloud)? And finally, does it look good?

To help the over 200 designers working at Salesforce make that happen, they use the SLDS (Salesforce Lightning Design System). “It’s really a collection of patterns and building blocks that we can reuse across the board. They’ve been researched and understood with users that they’re solving a particular problem in a consistent way,” Aran says. That includes everything from coloring and sizing buttons so you understand the difference between a primary and a secondary action to standardizing fonts and colors across the platform. 

Where to start with design thinking for your own org.

“If you’re an admin and you’re deploying functionality to your users,” Aran says, “you are a designer whether you know it or not, and your choices are having an effect on your users.” Lightning App Builder is the major place where you make design decisions for your org, but pretty much any decisions you make about page layouts, what you put “above the fold,” and what you hide behind a tab can have a big impact on your users’ workflows. You really need to think through what job you’re designing for and then customize to make that easier.

“Don’t make assumptions that whatever works for you is going to work for your users,” Aran says. Instead, you need to take a User Centered Design (UCD) approach, and those letters, UCD, can serve as a handy mnemonic for how to think through the design choices that you’re making. Understand what the users’ needs, goals, and problems are. Create possible solutions for that, and then Deliver it to those users so you can actually test it out and iterate. That involves a lot of SABWA (Salesforce Administration By Walking Around), observing users to see where their pain points are and what their workflow is like.

“For most folks in Salesforce, they’re either reading or writing data,” Aran says, “they’re trying to look at something to gain enough understanding to make a decision or they’re trying to update something so someone else can either make a decision or do some further action.” So if you want to start your design overhaul today, forms are a really good place to start, especially if you have an older org that’s been around for a while. Talk to humans and see what’s working, and don’t be scared to try out something new to see if you can’t make things better for your users.



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Full Show Transcript

Gillian Bruce: Welcome to the Salesforce Admins Podcast where we talk about product, community, and careers to help you become a more awesome Salesforce admin. I’m Gillian Bruce. Today we are talking about a topic that should be at the top of every admin’s mind. We’re going to talk about design thinking, specifically as it relates to user experience and helping your users be more productive and how you design Salesforce to help them get their jobs done more efficiently.

Gillian Bruce: We’re going to be talking to Aran Rhee, who is a Design Architect here at Salesforce. He’s on the mobile team at the moment, but he has worked on some of the biggest design projects to help you as an admin enable your users to do their jobs quicker and easier and more enjoyably. So we’re going to talk a little bit about some of the projects he’s worked on in the podcast, but I wanted to get him on to talk about how you as an admin can implement some of these design thinking principles into how you set up Salesforce for your users. So without further ado, please welcome Aran to the podcast.

Gillian Bruce: Aran, welcome to the podcast.

Aran Rhee: Thank you for having me. Happy to be here.

Gillian Bruce: Well, very happy to have you here in person. I wanted to introduce you a little bit to our listeners by asking you the question I like to kick off all of my new interviewees on the podcast with, Aran, what did you want to be when you grew up?

Aran Rhee: Oh, that’s a great question. I would have to say inventor. I was one of those kids that would take things apart, so TV sets, radios, toys, whatever it is, I’d take them apart. I think I got into Legos later, but yeah, inventor was definitely a thing that I was passionate about.

Gillian Bruce: I love it. Inventor. Okay, so how do you go from wanting to be an inventor and playing with Legos and creating things to now working at Salesforce? Tell us a little bit about that journey and what you do now.

Aran Rhee: Right. Well, it took me awhile to become an inventor, I guess. I started off doing computer science. I was told I was good at it and I went to university pretty early, skipped a couple of years of school, wasn’t particularly focused at that time, so ended up taking a couple years off after that initial journey. Graphic design into industrial design, which was actually, I guess, the proper professional name for an inventor. And through, I guess, just various doors opening ended up getting into startups and back into the software side of things and spent time in startups, advertising agencies, worked on sort of motion graphics for a while, that sort of a thing, systems architecture, and then finally got back into sort of I guess what you’d call UX or user experience design for the last 15 years.

Gillian Bruce: Okay. That’s really cool. You’re doing a lot of really cool, exciting things and I hear industrial design and graphics design. That’s kind of fun. My little nerd brain is like, “Oh, I wish I could know how to do all those things.”

Aran Rhee: It’s all solving problems for humans at the end of the day, just in a different format I guess you would say.

Gillian Bruce: That’s great. Okay. What do you do now at Salesforce?

Aran Rhee: Official title is Design Architect for the mobile team, but I have previously been on the platform team, so I guess I’ve been here for five years. I’ve been working on various problems at Salesforce, rolling out Lightning was one of them. I worked on sort of all of the global navigation there. The things that I sort of worked on with various teams are things like theming and branding, favorites, customized My Nav, most recently looking at bringing Lightning over to the mobile side of things. I think we announced that at Dreamforce last year and I think we’re finally launching it at this Dreamforce.

Gillian Bruce: So those are some of some of my favorite aspects of Lightning. I remember custom theming and branding, we were able to do that in the admin keynote I think even before it officially came out with huge thanks to your team. And the Global Nav, I mean, Lightning experience, a lot of these have been really huge game changers for admins. So I wanted to get you on the podcast to talk a little bit about the idea of user experience from an admin perspective and how admins should start thinking about design thinking and user experience. Because, especially with a lot of the things that you and your team have worked on, they now have the power to really customize the look and feel of Salesforce, how the users experience it, how it’s set up.

Gillian Bruce: So before we get in kind of the nitty gritty of what admins can do to really kind of harness this idea and make this easier, I’d love to know what were some of the thoughts and ideas around why Salesforce kind of made a lot of these changes and how Salesforce approaches this idea of design thinking? I mean, Lightning has been a huge … it was a huge part of the Lightning migration, the Lightning invention essentially. Can you give us a little bit more insight into that?

Aran Rhee: Sure. I mean, I guess there’s this classic model of design being or users being at the center of the intersection of we’ll say business need, user need, and sort of engineering realities. And so at Salesforce we’re always trying to find the right balance between those things. As designers here we try to have these guiding principles. So we have four of them. If you’ve been to sort of Dreamforce or TDX, you might’ve seen these cards going around, they have pictures of San Francisco around them.

Aran Rhee: But essentially they’re these four principles that we use that help us sort of make design decisions and they’re clarity, efficiency, consistency, and beauty. And they’re sort of in a particular order there because it allows us to basically work out are we, first and foremost, is this thing that we’re designing can the user understand it? Is it the most efficient thing that they can do? Are they able to complete their task as quickly as possible? Is it the same? So have they seen this before? Whether they’re entering Service Cloud or Sales Cloud, are the things that they’re seeing or the interactions that they’re behaving with, are they a standard way that people understand, they don’t have to relearn it. And finally we want it to look nice and actually meet expectations there as well. And then finally we use what we call Lightning Design System or SLDS to actually help us get to that consistency point.

Gillian Bruce: So I love the four principles. I also love that beauty is part of the principles on there. I never really would have thought of that because hey, it’s an app, it’s a way we do work, but it is important to make it beautiful so people want to use it. Right? And you mentioned SLDS, so the Salesforce Lightning Design System, that’s what that stands for?

Aran Rhee: That’s right.

Gillian Bruce: Okay. So that is, you know how you say you kind of are able to ensure consistency and these are … So SLDS is a design system. Tell me a little bit more about what that means and kind of what that consists of.

Aran Rhee: Right. I mean, so one thing to talk about at Salesforce is that we’re big right? We operate at scale. And that’s true whether it’s sort of the amount of data that’s coming through our systems or in our cases, as designers, the number of folks that are actually working on stuff. So we have over 200 designers that are working on various things across the business, and somehow we need to make sure that these people are all designing in the same sort of way, and that we’re not reinventing the wheel every time that we’re kind of bringing a new feature in a new product or an existing product.

Aran Rhee: So SLDS is really a collection of, I’ll say patterns and building blocks that we can reuse across the board and they’ve been researched and understood with users that they’re solving a particular problem in a consistent way. So whether we want to see … buttons should all be the same shape and size and color, and so you know what a primary action is versus a secondary, the fonts and the colors are sort of standard across the products there, the way you see list views are all working the same, if you are wanting to like, I don’t know, resize a column or [inaudible 00:08:03] something, or take action on something there.

Aran Rhee: So, SLDS is a way for us to document these things for ourselves and for our partners or customers as well because we share this all at open source. So all of these new patterns that we continue to evolve and to grow are sort of there for anyone to sort of take a look at. And it’s kind of our design team’s expression of making sure that whether you’re a developer wanting to build something on Salesforce, or you’re another designer that’s just joined the team, that there’s some resource there that you know how to build stuff on Salesforce.

Gillian Bruce: That’s cool. So it’s kind of, I mean, it’s guidelines. It’s a bunch of kind of standard ways that you represent things. I love the idea, hey, a button on this page or in this builder should look the same as a button somewhere else. And I know, when we think back to the old classic days, we kind of had a mishmash of things going on there and I think especially when you talk about some of the Visualforce things that people had built to kind of deal with some of the limitations in Classic, now we have Lightning. This is a whole different … it’s an opportunity I guess that Salesforce has had to kind of overhaul and kind of make this more cohesive, consistent experience.

Gillian Bruce: Like for example, I know some of our builders like Process Builder, Lightning App Builder, the new Flow Builder have all kind of got the same look and feel, which has made it so much easier for admins to understand how to work with the product.

Aran Rhee: Right. So what’s interesting is recently as a design team, we’ve started to look at what we call themes or thematic areas. So rather than looking at vertical silos of this designer works over in Service Cloud or this designer works in Sales, we’re saying what are we seeing as consistency across, as you say, Builders is one of those themes. So a group of designers got together and all worked together as a group to sort of come up with what are the principles, what are these key tenets that we want to have around this, and actually share that documentation back out. So if and when a new builder gets created, hopefully not too many more, there’s quite a few builders out there, that at least they can all be behaving in the same way.

Gillian Bruce: That’s great one, and yeah, it just makes it so much easier to approach those new features and technologies from an admin perspective or end user perspective. On that note, let’s kind of talk about how some of the things that you have been working on and Salesforce has been working on can kind of help inform admins how they create great user experience. Because now with Lightning, as we kind of hinted at, there is a lot more that Admins can do to customize that experience for their users. So what are some things that admins should think about when they are designing their Salesforce instance for their users in their company?

Aran Rhee: Yeah, I mean I guess the first thing to say is that if you’re an admin and you’re deploying functionality to users, you are a designer whether you know it or not, and your choices are having an effect on your users in terms of whether that’s easy or hard to understand, whether it’s friction full or easy to get something done, or just the ability to get the job done full stop. Right?

Aran Rhee: So as you mentioned, admins have a huge range of tools that they can use. Lightning App Builder is sort of like the key to that, but every decision you’re making around the page layout that you’re choosing, the components that go on the page in terms of the order, like what is what we call above the fold, what’s visible initially or versus what’s hidden initially, whether you put something behind a tab to sort of hide that until it’s needed, or break up a bunch of big information sections within forms is another one. Like, how do you make sure that the key information that needs to be entered to finish a process or update an object is there front and center. Also even just things like what objects do you put in the navigation full stop for a user to actually make sure they have access to the things they need to actually complete that job function they have.

Gillian Bruce: Yeah. And then, I mean, one of the things I always like to think about when we think of user experience is the idea of console apps, which I know is new with Lightning. It’s not just for service anymore. And I, I mean, this is my personal kind of campaign is I don’t know why you’d build an app that’s not a console app, because for me, I think it’s a better, really amazing, user experience, but some of these things like you mentioned are just, you know, how how you display, what tabs appear, that split view list experience can be really helpful for folks, and you really can customize that depending on what the job function is.

Gillian Bruce: And so I think a lot of admins maybe feel perhaps maybe a little overwhelmed by all the options they have, now being able to customize the home page or customize all the record pages or display components based on visibility settings, setting criteria for when components display or not, which is an amazingly cool feature, but you may be a little bit like, “Ah, how do I use this the best way possible and kind of make sure that I’m doing all the right things?”

Gillian Bruce: So what are some like top level, biggest things to think about when you’re an admin trying to think about how do I customize, some of these things? What are some first steps I should take?

Aran Rhee: Sure. I mean, I think what’s interesting of what you mentioned is that you love console nav, there’s plenty of people that find it overwhelming or it doesn’t, for whatever reason, it doesn’t work for their mental model. And so I think the thing to understand is don’t, first of all, don’t make assumptions of whatever works for you is going to work for your users. And so I would say if we’re going back to user centered design and just looking at some of those principles, what it even stands for, you know, you can use those letters. UCD is like understanding, so making sure you understand what the user’s needs, goals, problems are. The C is for creating, so you are actually creating possible solutions for that. And then D is for delivery of making sure you’re actually delivering something that’s iterative and actually testable.

Aran Rhee: And so first and foremost, the important part there is that you’re actually talking to users and actually listening to their needs, right? So this is, you could either be asking questions to, maybe there’s some power users or some vocal users, people telling you that they’re having problems are like actually an awesome data point for you as an Admin to start to maybe look to make some changes there.

Aran Rhee: And making sure they’re actually observing them in their daily life to make sure that you’re actually seeing their pain points that they may be having that will help you generate ideas of like, “Oh, I see that they’re having to scroll a lot to get to that one field they’re needing to update, or they’re not able to find this thing behind this tab that I put in there, so maybe I’m going to pull it out of a tab and put it front and center or something like that.” So it’s really mostly the … it’s going to vary case by case, but really just making time to actually talk to the humans that are actually trying to get the things done, I think is probably the most important part there.

Gillian Bruce: We like to call that SABWA in the admin world, which is an acronym that stands for Salesforce administration by walking around.

Aran Rhee: There you go, love it.

Gillian Bruce: Going and talking to users, having a coffee with them, hovering over their shoulder as they log it, you know, do a task in Salesforce. So I love that. I didn’t really think about user experience and design in that context, but it totally makes sense.

Aran Rhee: Yeah. And I think it’s, whether you’re professional or just as you say you have other things to do, but this is, you know, designing is kind of your part time or non professional role but yeah, same things can apply here. We want to make sure that we’re not making assumptions and making sure that we’re actually listening to the folks there.

Gillian Bruce: That’s great. Okay. So thinking about the actual user experience, I mean it makes sense, it’s called user experience. So looking at how your users are actually interacting with the app, then thinking about ways that you can make that easier from a design perspective. So like you said, tabs, thinking about what to put above the fold. Are there any kind of other high level things that admins should maybe think about looking at first?

Aran Rhee: Right. So I think for most folks in Salesforce, they’re either reading or writing data. They’re trying to look at something to gain enough understanding to make a decision or they’re trying to update something so someone else can either make a decision or do some further action. So I think, yeah, the number one step would be like just making sure are your forms on your objects, are they working for folks? Are there any fields that you can remove? Things grow over time and get a little dusty and maybe we don’t pay attention to what’s not necessary anymore. And you know, we talked a little bit about sections in terms of just making sure that there’s enough information to cover the general use cases there, but you’re not overwhelming people with like, you know, I’ve seen some forms that have 300 fields on there-

Gillian Bruce: Oh yeah.

Aran Rhee: … or more, right? And I’m sure someone decided that those were necessary at one time or another. But yeah, just really making sure that you understand what is the key thing that this type of user is trying to do. And have you removed as many friction points as possible with them either trying to understand that information or write to it?

Gillian Bruce: Yes. I’m hearing maybe a little bit of auditing especially if you’ve got an older org that’s been around for awhile.

Aran Rhee: Yeah, that’s tough because you might inherit an org that already has a bunch of stuff in there and I think that obviously it’s pretty scary to start to modifying org’s data, but I think yeah, again, talking to humans about things, about what’s working, what’s not. Yeah, it sounds like a good start there.

Gillian Bruce: So talk to humans. That’s a good message. I like that. Talk to humans and find out what works. Well Aran, I know you are a seasoned professional in this area and I so appreciate you spending the time with us to share some insights for admins to help them create better user experiences. You’ve got a ton of great resources you’ve shared with me. We’ll share those in the show notes. Are there any kind of last pieces of advice or words of wisdom for those new to this idea of design thinking that you want to leave before we get into our lightning round?

Aran Rhee: I mean, I guess I would just say that don’t be scared of trying out ideas and talking through stuff with people. I think when we work with PM or engineers when we’re trying to come up with things, they’re like, “Oh, I’m not a designer. I’m bad at drawing,” and people are scared to draw ideas on the whiteboard or something. It’s like, well, if you can draw a circle on a box and some scribbles, you can communicate things, and having that ability to sort of talk through those problems, they’re sort of, again, back to that human aspect there, to make sure that you’re not sitting in a silo, you’re not making decisions by yourself, and you’re able to sort of just work through those ideas. I think that’s kind of the key to making successful things.

Gillian Bruce: That’s awesome. Well thank you so much. I am not going to let you go though without doing a little lightning round fun.

Aran Rhee: Right.

Gillian Bruce: So we have three quick questions. Nothing to do with Lightning, nothing to do with Salesforce.

Aran Rhee: Okay.

Gillian Bruce: All right. Your first question is, this will be good since you’re a design person. Mac or PC?

Aran Rhee: Definitely Mac. I don’t think I’ve touched a PC for 10 years or so I think. I recently went back to New Zealand to visit my mom and she uses a PC and I could barely work out how to make some setting changes. So definitely, definitely Mac.

Gillian Bruce: That’s excellent. All right, so the next question is a would you rather question. Would you rather have a horrible short term memory or a horrible long term memory?

Aran Rhee: That is a tricky question. I might need some beverages to sort of come to a good decision on that one. I think I’d rather have long term memory than the short term.

Gillian Bruce: Okay. I like it. And your final question is what is your go to snack?

Aran Rhee: Oh, go to snack. Well, as I’m remote these days, any snack in the office here that I can get for free is just like new and exciting to me. So it’s awesome. So yeah, anything that’s available in the drawers here for me is a bonus.

Gillian Bruce: Free office snacks is the go to. I like it. Well Aran, thank you so much for joining us and I so appreciate you sharing your expertise with our admins.

Aran Rhee: I know. Thank you. It’s been great.

Gillian Bruce: Huge thanks to Aran for taking the time out of his busy schedule and making his way down to headquarters in San Francisco to join us to record that podcast. I really enjoyed getting to talk to Aran a little bit more, pick his brain about design thinking and how as a designer we can maximize how we implement Salesforce for our users. Some of the big things that I took away from our conversation were first thinking about those four guiding principles of user experience design. Clarity, efficiency, consistency, and beauty. It’s very important that you think of all four of those as you’re trying to maximize how Salesforce looks and feels for your users.

Gillian Bruce: Another big thing that he talked about was talk to the humans. Now we talk about this a lot as admins, this idea of SABWA, which stands for Salesforce administration by walking around. You cannot underestimate the value of actually talking to your users, seeing how they’re using Salesforce, ask them what their experience is like, and ask them for feedback. You get so much from just watching maybe how they log a call or how they update a field, giving you ideas of how to better maximize that page space, for example.

Gillian Bruce: Now if you’re getting a little overwhelmed by some of the bigger things that you’re doing or design principles, one of the big things that Aran talked about was the idea of UCD, understanding, creating, and delivery, which is really what all design is about. So understanding the need, creating the solutions, and delivering them, and this is an ongoing process. We talk a lot about how training users and onboarding users isn’t just a one time deal as an admin. You need to continuously think about this.

Gillian Bruce: Now the great news is you’ve got a lot of tools as an admin to help you do this. You have, especially in Lightning, you’ve got customizable home pages, customizable record pages, you have the Lightning Design System to help guide you as well. We have links to the Lightning Design System page in the show notes.

Gillian Bruce: The biggest thing as an admin is thinking about where you want key information to appear for your users and that’s going to vary depending on what your users do and what they need to see on a day to day basis.

Gillian Bruce: So a lot of great nuggets from Aran. He’s got an amazing wealth of expertise to share with the world. We have a lot of great things in the show notes to help you learn more. So if you want to, check it out. First of all, we’ve got some Trailhead content for you. We have a module called Lightning Design System Basics. Highly recommend you check that out. And we have a whole trail about Building Better with User Experience. Both of those links are in the show notes.

Gillian Bruce: You can also go to our Lightning Design System homepage to learn more about how the standards have been set up to help make that unified experience across all of Salesforce and help you design, maybe if you’re working with developers as well, figuring out how you can better utilize kind of these standards and systems that we have in place. Also have a couple of recordings from great sessions that our experienced team and friends have done in the past. There is a session from Trailhead DX called User Centered Design from Moving to Lightning Experience. We have both the recording and the slides in the show notes.

Gillian Bruce: There’s also another great session from Dreamforce 2018 called Win Friends and Influence Users with Thoughtful Lightning Page Design. That recording’s also in the show notes. And finally we have a great blog on the admin website, called Getting Started with a User Centered Design Approach. So make sure you check that out.

Gillian Bruce: Now, if you want more about how to be an awesome admin, including webinars, blogs, events, and yes, even more podcasts, you can find all of that at Now, I mentioned Trailhead is a great resource. One of the things on your list this year should be to get certified. So whether you have one certification or 12, it’s always a great idea to have certification on your list, especially if you’ve never been certified before. This is a great opportunity to prove your skills to the broader world by getting that official stamp of certification.

Gillian Bruce: Trailhead is the best way to prepare for certification. I usually like to suggest doing the trails in Trailhead that are specifically for preparing for your certification exam, in addition to building your own app. So build a fun app. Like I built one to help plan my wedding a few years ago or build one to help track your favorite TV episodes. You’ll learn so much by just doing that.

Gillian Bruce: Also, make sure you please subscribe to this podcast and share it with your friends. That way you can get the podcast delivered directly to your platform or device of choice the moment we release a new episode, which is every Thursday. You can find us on Twitter @salesforceadmns, no I, and you can find our guest today on LinkedIn. He is Aran Rhee, that’s A-R-A-N-R-H-E-E. You can also find him on the Trailblazer community. He’s not so active on Twitter, but as always, you can find myself on Twitter @gilliankbruce.

Gillian Bruce: Thank you so much for listening to this episode and we’ll catch you next time in the cloud.

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