Being stuck behind a desk is not the ideal state for many people, it’s just one of many reasons why entrepreneurs take the leap towards starting their own business. I was the lead designer on a mobile team that explored how mobile could impact the lives of small business owners across the United States.
Bench does not have any direct competitors, it is in a unique position in the market offering both a digital product and real people to produce a business’s financials. This meant we did not have any precedent on how to approach a mobile experience for such an offering. This challenge is what shaped our process.
Having heard a fair bit of feedback about clients wanting mobile, we took a first stab at what we thought people wanted - we needed to have a baseline to validate and test against. I worked with the engineering team on developing a basic version of an iPhone app that replicated our messaging system, our visual reports, and a client’s profile. We kept things simple, used existing libraries, and at the time did not even allow profile editing. We crafted a small list of beta clients to share our mvp app with.
By providing the absolute basics, frustratingly so, we hoped to challenge clients into justifying why they wanted additional functionality.
Client interviews were thoughtfully constructed around supplying real information about what clients needed in mobile, not what they thought they wanted. We slowly started to update the app and experiment with a set of 100 beta users.
I soon realized that while great for the learning process, we were starting to head down an unsustainable route with just making things on the fly. I worked on building a system that would handle the current product roadmap, and be extensible enough for future pieces to be easily added.
As we have a small mobile team, I worked on making sure the system used as few divergent pieces while still covering as many possible uses cases as I could identify.
To kickstart the process I created an inventory summarizing the experiences a client would have with the mobile app (below). I took these and broke them down to their core components and began assembling them into wireframe interface elements. From there I worked on how these pieces fit together and affected each other.
The final result was an extensible pattern library that should handle a wide range of functionality while still being easy to build for both design and engineering.
We released the Bench mobile app to the public in May and are working on marketing the app for a larger release in the Fall.
There are a lot of parallels between the web and the mobile app. When working on the web app, I was aware that we were going to work on a mobile app so I made sure that whatever we produced was flexible enough to be handled in mobile.
The messaging feed mimics what many people recognize as a chat interface. We followed a familiar structure so that there was never any need to learn the UI, people could easily pick it up and start communicating with their bookkeeper right away.
Rather than having to sit at a desk to help us categorize transactions, the mobile app now lets clients lend us a hand wherever they are. If they’re waiting for their coffee, or on transit, they can quickly respond to our requests for help.
As clients can respond in the moment, the reduced effort to perform a task has led to faster response times allowing our bookkeepers to perform their work faster.
We began with the most basic reports offering, using existing charting libraries to support a fast development process. We’re working on refining these and adding new ways to view visual reports.
With the release of the mobile app for iPhone we achieved a 30% adoption rate. We’re currently working on building an improved sign up process to allow mobile to become a better client acquisition tool.
Improved communication tools and bringing workflows to mobile phones has increased response times and will have further positive impacts as we continue to refine what and how we build on mobile.
Furthermore, we’re continuing to build on the foundational component library and rapidly experiment with new feature and functionality offerings.
Mobile will play a major role in the Bench ecosystem, providing an oppurtunity for entrepreneurs to be away from their desk.