Caterpillar is the world’s largest construction equipment manufacturer. It designs, develops, engineers, manufactures, markets and sells machinery, engines, financial products and insurance to customers via a worldwide dealer network.
To assure that new contractors are of the highest calibre and well-suited to the demands of the company’s working life, Caterpillar are known to set challenging tasks for their new hires. During the first two weeks of the role, my task was to conduct a comprehensive review of a 90-page concept design document drafted by an American-based design agency. This process culminated in a two-hour presentation to local and overseas stakeholders.
Prior to starting at Caterpillar, the design document had fostered discussion around the design narrative of the product. Written six months prior, it had made its way through numerous Caterpillar groups gaining attention more for its flaws than its insights and, to my advantage, much of this commentary had been recorded on numerous Confluence pages.
The document was broken up into chapter headings typical of what you might expect from a professional design agency. There was a problem definition, a chapter on personas,journey maps, example colour palettes, concept UI designs, look and feel suggestions and much more. However, it became apparent to me after talking with stakeholders and interviewing role shadows in those first two weeks, that the single element it lacked most was empathy; the most essential quality of effective UX Design.
It came to light that the authors of document had not had any contact with Pit Supervisors, our primary target user, to inform their design decisions. It was also true that only a small handful of people at Caterpillar were aware of the project and even less had provided input.
The first taxi off the rank was to gain a thorough understanding of the document and cross-reference it against my own research. Research included reading pit supervisor blogs and job postings, watching online mining videos and reading all the documentation Caterpillar had on the subject of mine management. Eventually, this gave rise to a number of questions which were answered by organising stakeholder meetings and conducting one-on-one interviews with role shadows.
A role shadow is a Caterpillar employee who has previously worked in the mining industry and is officially designated by Caterpillar as subject matter expert in their field of work. I interviewed a total of four role shadows, which helped me to understand what we could take away from the document and what needed work moving forwards. For example, both the Pit Supervisor journey map and persona were very informative but the remaining content did not go deep enough into the pit supervisor role to support Caterpillar’s objectives for the project.
Digging into the details
I conducted a heuristic evaluation of the UI designs in the document. There was no way I could test all heuristics (e.g. user control and freedom), but I could most others. I tested contrast ratios and typography for legibility as well as identifying overlooked usability features. For example, most mine sites operate twenty-four hours a day and pit supervisors spend a good portion of their shift driving from one location to another. It may seem trivial to most, but a night-mode UI is important in reducing glare on a dash-mounted tablet when working a night shift. Additional items such as page and user flows, charting types and example colour schemes were also covered in my presentation.
After the presentation, work started in earnest to train and coordinate the project teams. This included items such as Agile framework (Scrum) and Target Process (project management software) training. Once our team had settled and the project was underway, I worked continuously with role shadows and stakeholders to formulate a UI kit, style guide, admin back-end UI and page flows, concept interfaces and more. It was highly enjoyable work.
The final three months of my contract saw me working with the A.I. team designing a dashboard that would allow them to test their data collection models in real-time. It was a very complex UI project with interesting challenges. Furthermore, it was what I would consider a perfect project for a UX Designer because the end-users were an internal team and also my colleagues working in the same office space. Scheduling interviews, meetings and presentations was quick and easy, which meant the project progressed rapidly. The A.I. modelling dashboard UI was the first component of the project to be completed and was deployed a few weeks after my contracted ended.
In conclusion, working with highly experienced and talented people at a prestigious company like Caterpillar was an experience I would readily repeat without reservation. For my part, I helped management to understand the value of introducing a design thinking component to their projects. Believe it or not, this was the first time Caterpillar had integrated a UX component into one of their projects but it was not their last.