The Secret Ingredient To Building Better Email, With Head of Research Julianne Bowman

Research and development

Using enterprise software is like going to a large restaurant: there’s so many options available, you may never try every item on the menu.

SEDNA makes email easier to manage than traditional inboxes, but how you make things easier will vary based on the tools and features that complement your workflows. So long as what matters to you is on the menu, you’ll be able to excel — but who determines which options show up on SEDNA’s menu in the first place?

Turns out, it’s the very users of SEDNA who help us decide what it is we’re building, and how it’s prepared. “Research participants cover a number of criteria,” says SEDNA’s Head of Research, Julianne Bowman. “We look for a range of role types — operators, charterers, laytime, crew managers — and we also look for people who have expressed an interest in a particular functionality or who seem to be using similar functionality in SEDNA a lot already.”

SEDNA’s Research programs — R&D and Beta — are the secret ingredient for aligning the vision of the platform’s Product team with the real-world needs of SEDNA’s most engaged users.

If SEDNA were a restaurant, then it’s SEDNA’s R&D program that is the test kitchen. As head chef for the test kitchen, Julianne helps ensure early product development is informed by evidence showing how a new feature meets individual and commercial needs.

“We will always let R&D participants know what the topic is and what development stage the research is for, whether it’s early-stage problem understanding, or evaluating ideas to solve an issue users are having, or testing a fairly detailed prototype to make sure the design is easy to understand before we go into build.”

SEDNA’s Customer Success and Support teams always have an eye out and ear open for customer suggestions on improvements and new features. But it’s seeing people in action, using a prototype for a new feature as part of an R&D study, that reveals more than words ever can.

“One of the things we learn quickly in research is that it’s hard for people to be perfectly aware of everything they’re doing, all of the time,” says Julianne. “A professional product researcher picks up a lot by watching what users do, as well as listening to what they say they are doing.”

What this translates into is surprising discoveries for R&D volunteers — and the people observing them.

As part of the upcoming redesign of SEDNA’s iOS app, a group of Operators and Traders were invited to try a prototype of the new app. Improved ability to navigate one-handed was highlighted by these R&D volunteers as a huge improvement over the existing app, confirming the direction the Product team was taking with the prototype.

But it was the observations around what wasn’t found in the prototype, such as more obvious indicators that an action had been taken (like sending a reply or archiving a message), that proved just as valuable to SEDNA’s research team.


Two people working in office

“My role is to make sure we are gathering solid, evidence-backed insight into SEDNA user needs,” says Julianne. “Our work to evaluate ideas and designs ensures that new developments in SEDNA deliver on their promised benefits for the majority of users.”

And if R&D volunteers are who get invited into the test kitchen, then it’s SEDNA’s Beta users who get to be the first to try what’s new on the menu. “For Beta users, we get in touch when a feature is completely built and is nearly ready to release, so they can get a sneak peek at new functionality before it officially rolls out,” says Julianne.

Put another way: rather than waiting for the next seasonal release featuring a slate of new SEDNA features, volunteers for SEDNA Betas get to enjoy appetizers before the main course arrives. “Taking part in R&D or Betas is always voluntary, so if it’s not a good time to participate we can invite you to join a different study at a later date.”

As with the R&D program, SEDNA Betas give users the opportunity to see what’s coming next for the platform, while also giving SEDNA’s Product team insight into how new features are being received before their official release.

Solo inboxes were an oft-requested feature that were first enjoyed as part of a Beta earlier this year. But just because the feature was complete, it didn’t mean there wasn’t room for improvement: it was at the suggestion of Beta users that the placement of the icon for Solo inboxes be moved higher up in the Sidebar, so that it was easier to distinguish from Shared inboxes.

“Sometimes users surprise themselves, and sometimes they surprise us!” says Julianne. It’s that give-and-take relationship between volunteers and SEDNA’s research team that she sees as the recipe for success. “We all help the Product team iterate and develop ideas based on evidence, until we’re all confident we have something that works for everyone.”

Want to start taking part in SEDNA research? Register as a R&D volunteer, or to be part of the Betas.