New Relic Behind the Scenes: The Design Philosophy Behind Insights

As director of user experience design at New Relic, responsible for the company’s design strategy and a team of designers, the creation of New Relic Insights offered a huge opportunity to build a new interface for a wider audience. Our initial foray into the software analytics space is intended to serve everyone from data scientists to marketing professionals. But from the onset, we decided to meet the needs of developers first.

That’s partly because New Relic has such a strong bond with software engineers, and partly because we know developers are increasingly on the receiving end of requests from higher-level executives looking for data analysis. We had to design a user interface that makes it easy and powerful for them to query and visualize their company’s data. Along the way, we learned a number of important lessons about how to design elegant, powerful, and easy-to-use software from scratch:

  • Design for your main customer—but don’t forget everyone else
  • Make sure the key functionality is always front and center
  • Show the value and content as soon as possible (even one extra click is too many)
  • Don’t make customers remember how to use the product
  • Use clear and direct messaging, and respect your users’ intelligence
  • Evolve the visual design over time with feedback and increased usage

The New Relic Insights challenge

Put simply, our product strategy was to build something completely new—a rock solid, flexible, real-time big data analytics platform that would help customers make collecting and analyzing business data simple.

The idea is that unlocking the usage data from our customers’ software and providing ways to annotate that data with business data points lets them perform analyses that increase their efficiency and competitive advantage. Our challenge is how to build a simple-to-use user interface that’s flexible enough to support the enormous variety of business scenarios our customers encounter.

It’s all about the query

The purpose of the user interface in a product like New Relic lnsights is to facilitate the highest-priority use case: To get out of the users’ way so they don’t have to actively think about the tool they’re using and let users concentrate on answering their business questions. There’s also something very interesting about the power of event-driven data: It means you don’t have to decide up-front what questions you have. Other tools, for example, require time-consuming processing to shape your data based on the assumed analysis that you want to do. That can make it difficult to change your mind and try other analyses.

In the real world, that’s a problem, because analysis is often an explorative process, where you might not know the right questions at first. The ability to iterate quickly and easily on queries is key to this exploration, and we had to make sure that New Relic Insights’s design interface empowered the free flow of querying.

So we built Insights’s UI around presenting a very simple way to query the database directly. Pretty much everywhere you go, there’s a query bar. Almost any time you are in the product, you can ask a question directly from the database without any hesitation using a familiar, SQL-like query approach that can be utilized by almost anyone with a developer base of knowledge.

If the first thing Insights users want to do is ask a question, we didn’t want to make them have to start by creating a dashboard, or even worry about whether they need a dashboard. After the fact, at any point, if you like your results, you can add it to a dashboard, or share it with a colleague, or ask another question. (Critically, Insights remembers your queries, they are all stored in your query history.)

Respecting our customers

We know our customers are smart people and we want to treat them as smart people. So we try to be super straightforward: no business speak, no vague marketing terms. We want to get to the point: What Insights is, why it’s powerful, and what you can do with it:

  1. It’s a platform with a fast, flexible database
  2. It already has your data if you are a New Relic APM customer
  3. You can add more data as desired
  4. You can query, visualize, and analyze your business

The idea is to demonstrate those principles from the very beginning of the Insights experience.

Getting started: The “learnboarding” process

One of Insights’ big competitive differentiators is that because many of our users are already New Relic APM customers, Insights is already primed with the customer’s data. We wanted to highlight that advantage right away in the onboarding process (what we call “learnboarding” internally) by immediately showing customers examples of how Insights works using their actual data.

The goal is to educate people about how to use the query system as much as telling them what it is and why it’s great. As soon as customers log into Insights, instead of a canned, pictorial experience, they have immediate access to some real analytics data so they can see the actual value.

Insights web dashboard

That starts with an example chart of their most-used app, showing page-view data. The name of their app sits at the top, supported with charts of browser behavior in the last hour, number of unique sessions, a histogram of page-load times, top countries by visits, top browsers, and so on.

Screenshot_New Relic Insights_ECommerce_Mar17_2014

If you click on “try me” from the sample widgets, you get the same results from the query bar, where you are free to modify the query and iterate. It’s learning by example.

Mobile first (almost)

Another important decision we made was to invest in a native mobile app experience in tandem with the Web-based product. This is actually the first time New Relic has launched a mobile app at the same time as a Web product. Our objective here is for Insights to become part of conversations our customers have in meetings or anywhere at work. You can start by querying and visualizing business data points at your desk, then take Insights with you in your pocket and show it to others in a meeting.

The key to designing a good product experience is to recognize that these analysis activities are happening beyond the confines of a browser window. They are part of a larger flow and more-complex environment that we have an opportunity to support through multiple devices.

Continued evolution

We’re very proud of Insights, but we recognize that software analytics is very new and will need to evolve with our customers. So we started our design for New Relic Insights by solving the problem of empowering developers with a simple-to-use system to explore their business data.

Just like our customers are using New Relic Insights to make essential discoveries about their customers and their businesses, we are continuing to listen and work with our customers to create designs that continually delight them.

etan@newrelic.com'

As Director of UX Design at New Relic, Etan Lightstone oversees a team of talented designers, leads the user experience design strategy, and on occasion gets the opportunity to contribute to the product codebase. Etan has a special interest in data visualization and analysis, as well as surfing, guitar, and photography. View posts by .

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