Azure Data Studio (ADS) is a new tool for data professionals from Microsoft. One of the key features of the product are the computation notebooks (or just notebooks). I was tasked with improving the usability and functionality of these notebooks, in order to increase the overall adoption and value proposition of ADS. During the last year, I identified and designed a number of improvements to our notebooks, and many of them were shipped and proved to be successful.
Even though notebooks were considered a core part of Azure Data Studio, the team had received feedback that there were usability issues that needed to be resolved. In addition, the adoption rate of Azure Data Studio was not ideal and needed an accelerator. Due to these reasons, I was tasked with redesigning the notebook experience and thus increasing the value of ADS.
(Computational) notebooks allow people to write code blocks, as well as add text descriptions side by side using natural language. Notebooks are split into cells, which are used to separate various blocks of code and text. The mixing of code and text can be a powerful tool for a number of use cases, including for handing off code to other people, while also including useful descriptions bundled with the code itself, instead of having to create separate documentation files elsewhere.
The key personas that we focused on for notebooks were database administrators and data engineers. These were some of the main target groups of people for Azure Data Studio, and so it was important that our notebooks met their needs effectively.
In order to get familiar with the domain and the state of the art, I conducted an analysis of other computational notebooks. I noticed that there were a lot of different opinions around the user experience of a notebook, and that there were also a lot of potential areas for improvements. My analysis indicated that the field is still relatively new that there are a lot of opportunities for creating value.
In order to get a detailed understanding of the design of the product, I conducted a UX audit. Right off the bat I noticed that the design language used for the notebook did not match the visual language that the team used. Further analysis of the features indicated various potential usability issues that I noted. Though I saw these areas for improvement, I also noticed that the notebooks also had some strengths that I could build upon.
As I dove deeper into the project, I collaborated with our research team to conduct a baseline usability study. Our findings showed that there were usability issues related to core experiences, such as content editing and running code cells.
After collecting all the data, I brainstormed potential solutions that could solve the identified pain points and improve the usability of the notebooks. My lo-fi prototypes were used for gathering feedback and aligning with stakeholders. During the process, we ended up going back and forth and iterated several times as we considered various constraints and options.
As our discussions continued and we started to work through details, we converged towards a more polished design prototype.
I refreshed the notebook toolbar with our design language. This helped make it more consistent with the rest of the products in our portfolio.
The redesigned notebook was well received by the team. We were able to ship much of it, and we are continuing to invest in this area. The overall product adoption accelerated significantly during the last year and a half, resulting in a 400% increase in monthly active users.