AOL Community UI Work
As a UI Designer in the AOL Communities group, my primary responsibility was AOL Journals. In 2004, AOL Journals lagged significantly behind other prominant blogging tools. Within the six months, I designed and specified new features for AOL Journals that included RSS/Atom Integration, (date-based) archiving, and mobile blogging. In 2004, AOL took the first step in opening their world to the internet by increasing free services under the AIM brand. One of the first efforts was opening AOL Journals to users with an AIM account. I designed and specified AIM Journals.
Working closely with the testing and development teams, we also proposed a two-tier project to dramatically push AOL Journals to the forefront of easy blogging software: The first step was to provide users with an expansive and highly customizable mechanism to reskin their blog with a series of classic (legacy), preset, and self-defined skins. The second step was to provide a series of plugins that users could include in their blogs that would support common internet widgets and services, as well as AOL content and widgets.
The Journal Skins project was accepted by the business team and passed an initial design review, when AOL revaluated its course, and decided Blogs were not a primary part of their future paths and dispersed the teams.
As a member of the AOL Communities group, I also created early concepts for updates to AOL Groups and AOL Message Boards, neither of which had garned much attention. They still reflected earlier AOL client design standards. Many of the ideas displayed in the UI for Message Boards survived into the work done by other designers after my contract ended. I also did a great deal of concept work around social networking, and how it could be tied into AIM and AOL community services. The presentation I created, and conceptual mockups (for web, AIM, and mobile phone) were very successful.
AOL Search UI Work
My primary responsibility for the AOL Search group was supposed to be the update and upgrade of AOL Yellowpages, but through excellent time management and efficiency, I also took on responsibility for Search-AIM integration, Smartbox and Quicklinks, Local Search Improvements, Search Standards, and two projects dealing conceptual with Search/Social Networking products not yet launched. I also mentored other designers, and contributed to improvement of documentation.
In 2005, AOL Yellow Pages hadn't been updated in several years. In addition to archaic, unaccessible code, it did not meet AOL's standards and style guide in terms of brand, layout, font, color, page structure, headers, footers, hats, and best design practices. When AOL signed a new contract with a different content provider (Yellowpages.com), the overall layout needed to be retrofitted to meet partner requirements and guidelines. Yellowpages.com was a new entity at that time, and undergoing an exercise in trying to join group from 3 different companies into one company. I made great contributions to managing customer satisfaction and managing the shifting requirements and requests as Yellowpages.com found their feet and structure. I also negotiated internally with the Search business teams and AOL Design and Brand teams to map a path to meeting the business timeline for a new release and to bring the overall user interface into compliance with the AOL style guide.
AOl's Smartbox product started out as an enhancement to the user's search experience that would provide a far-reaching disambiguation service to the user. Over the course of the requirements and design phase, we removed more and more disambiguation features, ultimately ending up with this UI that was approved by business and design teams:
At the last moment, Search executives decided to pare it back even more. Working with the visual designer, we presented the following design, focusing only on recent and related searches. I suggested a pull-down tab-like element at the bottom of the box, but the visual design is hers.
The rest of my work for AOL Search is subject to the confidentiality agreement I signed. In broad terms, the social networking/search integration products had strong Mobile and AOL Instant Messenger tie-ins and anticipated future social media products ranging from FourSquare to Twitter.
My other successes include:
- I created concept mockups for Local Search that takes advantage of Kayak widgets and functions to modify searches on the fly using sliding scales involving distance, ratings, timeframes, and features.
- I wrote the Search Standards document. After distributing a draft conceptual version of this document, the Search leadership at AOL adopted it as a formal standard without any changes.
- I created conceptual mockups for two innovative search-related applications that would provide users with strong incentives to use AOL search and build community around the search concept.
- I worked closely with the AIM team to get an AOL Search widget integrated into the AIM window. I negotiated with the AIM business and design teams to find the best possible compromise between AOL Search and AIM requirements and needs.
- I worked closely with the AIM team to define further ways AIM and Search could be integrated together, and to manage tricky areas of user experience, user safety, and branding.