JMCQUARRIE.co.uk

James McQuarrie is a UK based Product Manager and UX Consultant who helps design and build digital products and services that delight their users.

Following one guiding design principle lead to a big flaw in our design of NEXTFREE

From the first time I started thinking about NEXTFREE and trying to help Freelancers and Contractors share their availability with the world, I wanted to focus on one simple concept:

Ruthlessly making our service as easy to use as possible for our Freelance members.

That guiding principle has manifested itself in many different ways throughout the design of our service;

  • we only ask for details that we *need* to create a new Member’s profile, nothing extra
  • we look people up using their email address when they apply for an invite to join us. We could ask for links to their other online profiles as part of the invite request process, but we try to find them ourselves manually instead – it’s easier for them
  • we allow Members to update their availability from right within our reminder emails, rather than making them follow a link and jump through hoops to make an update.

This last decision has made it possible for our members to be able to update their availability in under 20 seconds on average.

It also lead to a huge design flaw that in hindsight was obviously going to cause us problems, but at the time seemed like the right thing to do.

Our original reminder emails were sent to our Freelancer members one week before their set availability date. If they had set their NEXTFREE date to 23 March, for example, we’d email them on the 16 March with the following message:

Hello,

Your NEXTFREE date is set to the 16 March. Is that still correct?

If yes, do nothing. If not let us know when you will be NEXTFREE;

“Update now”, “snooze”

Thank you,

Paul & James

If they did nothing, as the email said they could, we’d send another email on the day they’d said they were next free (24 March in our example above). It read like this:

Hello,

Your NEXTFREE date is set to today. Is that still correct?

If yes, do nothing. If not let us know when you will be NEXTFREE;

“1 week from now”, “1 month from now”, “3 months from now”, “snooze”

Thank you,

Paul & James

If they ignored that email, we’d send another 3 weeks later. Another 5 weeks later, one 8 weeks later and then 6 months later, each asking if they would update their availability.

The problem was with the first emails. Specifically the problem was in the phrase “if you’re still available, do nothing”.

That one simple instruction is great in the context of “make things as easy as possible for our Members”.

But, it meant that we didn’t know which of our Members were genuinely available for work, and which were just not reading (or choosing to ignore) our emails.

That’s a big problem when the value of your entire service is predicated on having accurate, time-sensitive data, readily available for the Recruiters and Hiring Managers using it to find available candidates.

So we fixed it. And to fix it we had to compromise slightly on our promise to keep things as simple as possible for our Members.

The compromise is illustrated in our updated reminder email:

Hello,

Your NEXTFREE date is set for today. Is that still correct?

“Yes I’m available”

If you’re not let us know when you will be next free;

“in a week”, “in a month”, “in 3 months”

If you have a specific date when you’re next free that’s not covered by the options above:

“Set a specific availability date”

If you’re not sure when you’ll next available for new work hit the snooze button and we’ll add 12 months to your date and remind you in 6 months time that your account is snoozed.

“Snooze”

Thank you,

Paul & James

Which instructs folks who are currently available to confirm they are by pushing one button. No log in, no hoops to jump through, just one button to press.

It’s not as simple as “do nothing”, but it really does help us make sure the overall service is delivering on it’s promise of good data.

When a Freelancer uses that “I’m available” button we note that they are still available and refrain from sending reminders to them again for a couple of weeks.

If they don’t respond to our reminder email (ignoring us), we send another reminder out seven days later, and continue to do this until we get a response.

Since making the update, we are seeing much more accurate availability data across our membership. There’s still work to be done to improve it further.

I don’t believe we’ll ever have 100% accurate data at any given time (the complexities of getting thousands of people to keep their availability accurate are too great to promise 100% coverage), but I do believe we can offer a better, more accurate picture than any other service or product on the market right now, and as we learn more about how to get and maintain that accurate data, we will extend our lead over time.