I am Maggie and upon (almost) graduating from TU Berlin, I joined IPRally’s journey as a UX designer by the end of February 2020. In fact, it is not my first time working in a start-up in Finland - after graduating in psychology I worked in one in Tampere. I was inspired to see the power of combining psychology and technology for innovation so I decided to enhance my skills through an interdisciplinary degree called Human Factors back in Germany. A degree I describe as psychology meets engineering. During it, I spent a full year at Aalto University in Human-Computer interaction (psychology meets programming, this time). During Slush 2019, I met Sakke and Juho from IPRally and got excited about the product and the opportunity to enhance it as a UX designer.
Upon my arrival, we started the onboarding process - they gave me the most crucial intro about the process of a patent application and the actors in it as well as the technical background of our product, aka the AI magic helping you identify the not yet existing needle in the hay of patents out there. In addition, I also joined demo sessions with new customers to better understand its functionality. Just two weeks upon my start, the corona outbreak forced us to work from home. I used my time to make one hour video interviews with existing customers and trial users of our product. And it turned out to be a great onboarding experience. Let me tell you why…
I don’t like the UX terminology calling humans “users” nor the business one calling them “customers”. I am interested in the humans behind these definitions. I haven’t met people working in the IPR branch before so having the interviews opened my eyes to their situation. I’ll always remember the icebreaker at the beginning of one of the calls where they warned me with a wink that once you start working with patents, you never leave because it is such a complex and highly specialised field. I was curious about their daily work life, the tools they use and the feelings they experience during work. What I didn’t expect was the openness to share their experiences with a non-engineer person. This was a pleasant surprise that laid the base for very fruitful discussions.
Everyone I spoke with mentioned using Patbase. This “work horse” of patent professionals was launched in 2003, 17 years ago, and its design hasn’t changed much ever since. People spoke about its complex functionalities (for example, organising it as a knowledge archive or finding what needed through highlighting, the customisation possibilities, the workarounds they have come up with, the amounts invested in training personnel to use it consistently. It also gives them headaches with some unintuitive work steps or its purely boolean search. It is not a perfect solution, yet seemingly the default one. This made us think - shall we (even) try to replace it? Some customers said “please, no”. They spoke openly about the value we add with our innovative way of finding patents through graph building, a method way more intuitive than the usual keyword search. The majority also was against the idea of one tool “to rule them all” - most of them use complex systems with integrated functions.
My approach towards each interview was to first research the background of the people I’ll talk with and prepare my questions. Nevertheless, I barely needed to ask these aloud because they got answered during the conversation. Since these interviews happened during my onboarding period, I had no hidden agenda, no concrete feature I wanted to validate, no prototype to show. I wanted to, first of all, understand these people. They always started with talking about their motivation for the work they do - their excitement about technology and inventions, about learning, about structure and analytical work. They told me also about their frustrations with unintuitive interfaces, unretrievable patents, loading times for crucial images, messy searches, lack of synonym search. I got a lot of advice on how to enhance my work, advice who else to talk with, how to understand them better (“Just try yourself the tools on the market and see what makes your blood pressure go high!”). And they also shared what delights them at work - for example, “I am amazed at least once a week of what inventions our R&D teams come up with!”.
Understanding the current ways of doing patent search & analysis was a great addition to my onboarding as a UX designer. After that, the harder task came - how to make sense of the vast amount of material I gathered in just two weeks, communicate it with the whole team & make it actionable. I summarise opinions, different use cases, expectations, wishes. I realised it is like a giant ball of spaghetti and we are untangling it together, slowly, with small, concrete improvements of our UI, visualisation, result’s list, graph builder, help buttons.
After one interview, we got the following feedback: “When talking to you, I realised I was constrained by the current systems limitations, it’s good to look wider and challenge the thinking for what is possible”. This is exactly what we are going for as a team at IPRally - we use the current headache-givers as an inspiration for improving the patent search of the future.