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Clean up, scale up

After 12 years of development-driven design and the acquisition of the most important local competitor, Flexmail needed a fresh start. New management was installed and a long-term product plan was created. The feature list of Flexmail had grown extensively under client feedback. This made it not only hard to use but also hard to cut in legacy features and the linked client expectations.

Conducting User research and creating persona

While talking to a wide range of Flexmail users we figured out what their current struggles were in their job and in the software. This gave us a hunch on what to focus on first.

We also dove into the analytics data and tried to understand how people use Flexmail at that moment. We learned that, for instance, A/B testing is really important as a sales argument but is only used by a small percentage of the users. Because there is a gap between what people say and what people do. Based on these insights we could create a better hierarchy in all Flexmails features.

Before we could create a plan, we wanted to plot the difference between different types of users. Starting from the gained insights we could query the existing user database on relevant user data. We looked for the number of campaigns, complexity in contact segments and the way forms were used. The results give us a clear distinction between several personae we could focus on. The personas became a handy tool for prioritizing (read: getting rid of) a vast amount of features.

A clear product vision

A product vision explains what problem the product solves for whom and why it’s so important to solve it. Bringing together the positioning of the competition, the trends in (email) marketing and the insights from the user research we supported Flexmail to formulate their product vision.

Flexmail’s Product Vision:

  • Power to the receiver of the e-mail
  • Control over their own data
  • As a result better-targeted campaigns (to fewer people)
  • No more spam.

This vision has a big impact on how the software works and how contact data is organized. For starters, the concept of ‘contact lists’ has to be displayed with one centralized database of all contact data. By making this move it would be easier for a contact or a marketer to find all data from one person and edit it.

Smooth Sailing rocks at challenging existing concepts but they are conscious enough to stay true to the nature of your product.

A brand new contact system

Some important steps were taken and everyone was very hungry for getting their hands dirty. For every step in the roadmap, we went through these phases.

Flexmail comparison of old and new

UX design: laying the puzzle

The first part of the puzzle we found in the current usage. Sending campaigns and linking forms to these campaigns seemed very important. Constructing workflows, landing pages, and doing A/B could be tucked together under Automation.

To create the concepts surrounding “Contacts” we looked over 100 accounts and how they structured and filtered their contacts. By seeing how they hacked the current way of working we could see how it could look in the future.

Creating a user interface is an iterative process. We started with rough flows and some ideas and refined them step by step over clickable wireframes towards a high-fidelity HTML prototype.

Flexmail Dashboard

Product design: creating the interface

The colors and positioning of buttons and forms can make a big difference in usability. Besides, that speed and contrast are important to make the tool accessible for everyone. We created a visual language that could be understood by the target audience and be easily expanded in the future.

We created a testable prototype. A clickable website in HTML that can be adapted to fake real-world scenarios. This makes it easy to test its effectiveness and usability but also is an ideal starting point for the development of the front-end application.

Flexmail Interface

Validation: check usability in real live

With a testable interface in hand, we could go back to existing and future users of Flexmail. Based on scenarios we check if people understand the concepts, in this case, the segmentation, and everything is findable and usable.

From five test users, you already learn most of the pain points of the interface. A long list of feedback and feature requests will arise. Every user test is interesting, even after 15 years of designing interfaces.

But you cannot just implement this feedback and requests. We had to distinguish between what will help this user and what is good for all users. If not, you will end up with a lot of not-used features and conflicting user feedback.

We learned from these tests that asking for a logo during the onboarding was way too early. Users wanted to know what the tool was about before customizing it.

Aligning Process and people

From the beginning, the goal was a strong, self-structured team that share insights, decide together and respect each other's expertise. This requires clear decision structures where agreements are documented but there is still room for changes.

We installed:

  1. Feature passports: a way of documenting decisions and their impact on all parts of the organisation. It describes what is in and out of the scope, how we will measure success and how support can answer user questions. The future possibilities for the feature are described as well, this gives the salespeople extra arguments to convince prospects.
  2. Product & engineering meetings: Every two weeks we hook up the product people and the lead engineers to discuss feature passports and open issues. This gathering makes sure all features are clear for the engineers before building them, at the same time this generates early (feasibility) feedback for the product team.
  3. New team roles: we made a division between product and marketing designers and upgraded the team with a UX designer. The roles of lead engineer and product manager were made explicit to get responsibilities clear.

With these changes, Flexmail is ready for a long-lasting quality product.

In need of a clear process?

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