Version 1. It wasn’t pretty, but it worked.

Version 1. It wasn’t pretty, but it worked.


The FedEx Story

UX to the Rescue

The story began with a request for a expert review/audit of a proposed UX/UI design produced by a visual design team (claiming to have UX skills). I traveled to the FedEx office and conducted a thorough usability/UX analysis of the proposed design and delivered my results. The analysis identified nearly 100 usability issues and potential consequences and I was subsequently asked to submit a proposal to redesign the UI to avoid these issues.

FedEx made the decision to go ahead and launch their existing design rather than redesign it. I received a call from them several months later asking me to visit their offices to review my initial findings. It turned out that my analysis was correct and their design was performing so badly that it was not generating enough revenue to warrant the cost to keep it running. Shutting the app down was not an acceptable option since the online print application was central to their key business objective of standardizing print operations and closing down their inefficient Kinko’s store operations.

I was given the go ahead to redesign the application. The previous interaction design metaphor was based on a wizard approach, but our user research determined that a task-oriented interaction was more appropriate for creating and submitting print orders.

User Research Methods

As noted above, this effort began with an expert usability/UX analysis of the proposed design.

Once again, I relied on generative, observational research to accurately define the problem. I included several FedEx representatives on these user observations as Subject Matter Experts to help identify key insights.

Rather than observe people buying flowers on a website, we opted to remain technology agnostic and visited several brick and mortar flower shops. The stated objective dictated that we design a site that looked like no others. Observing users on other e-florist sites would have biased our observations towards existing site designs and we would have missed the key observation that eventually made Proflowers so successful.

Once we had developed some interaction design mockups, we employed evaluative research methods, specifically usability testing, to refine our designs. Usability testing helped identify several key improvements as noted in the following story.

Business Objective

The client demanded that the app be successful enough to allow them to replace the inefficient Kinko’s Print Stores with a more efficient centralized print operation, reducing costs and increasing quality.

Target User (Persona)

People with complex printing projects.

While some users merely needed to copy a page or two or print a handful of copies of a document, the proliferation of cost effective personal copiers and printers was eroding this revenue stream. FedEx needed to address the complex print job that could not be completed with a personal printer. These jobs included specialized artifacts such as covers, tabs, bindings, etc.

The average print job requestor knew very little about how to define a print order well enough to meet expectations. In many cases, it was observed that when people picked up their print job at the store, they often complained that it was not right. This was die to either the clerk not understanding the order or the purchaser not knowing how to request the order accurately.

In either case, it was paramount that the requestor be able to define their order and expectations accurately, the first time.

One common target user for this type of online print tool was the traveling sales rep who needed 30 copies of a sales quote for a meeting in Chicago, followed by 20 copies the next day in Detroit. He/She did not want to carry these documents on the plane and needed them in different places at specific times. They were too busy travelling to go to a print shop and have them printed up in the destination cities BEFORE their meetings. Nor could they take the chance of something going wrong with the print order at the print shop.


Need copies of the quote in different cities on different days.

Desired Outcome:

Impress the clients. Get the sale. No mistakes.

Knowledge base:

The FedEx target users typically could be expected to:

  • Know very little about complex print job options.

  • They are more likely to recognize what they want once they see it.

  • They have seen other print job and have some idea of what it possible.

  • They have seen a bad print job, before, and want to avoid that kind of embarrassment.

Knowledge Required:

The target user needs to have a conceptual idea about the end result of the print job. They need to be familiar with the contents of the documents in order to make some decisions about print formatting.

UX Design Strategy

The user research clearly and accurately redefined the problem; customers were more focused on the appearance quality of the print job than they were of the actual contents. The strategy thus became “help the user visualize a quality print job and meet that expectation.”


The following are some specific insights derived from the observational research and usability testing that achieved the phenomenal conversion rate and sustained it for 20 years.

Emotional Investment:

Uploading their content and selecting a template seemed to create a personalized print job that users wanted to complete. Usability Testing showed that users were genuinely interested (even happy) to be creating something. They were more engaged than simply just printing out a document, trying different configurations out of general interest and curiosity.

Baby Steps:

A key aspect of the interaction design was to allow users to create the print jobs in several sessions, allowing them to interrupt their project and pick up where they left off. This was in stark contrast to the requirement that a brick and mortar operation demanded and seemed to ease the users fears of creating an imperfect print job. Also the print job itself was broken up into several specific steps that could be completed as needed. Moreover, other than supplying the actual content, there were no “required” steps to complete. The print job was always in a ready-to-print state (as opposed to the wizard approach previously used).

Knowledge Design:

By making everything visually-oriented and displaying the expected result of the print job, users were much more successful in creating a desired product. This approach eliminated the requirement that users know and understand all of the options available to them.

Common templates provided reasonable starting points for many users and usage data identified that new customers tended to start with these templates and modified them to suit their needs. It also seemed that once a customer created a print job, they would use those previous jobs as templates, as well.

More to the Story

We engaged the services of Usability Sciences in Dallas to conduct the formal usability tests. They utilize the participant screener and test protocols I developed and performed all of the tests with unquestionable results.

Also, limitations in the schedule and resources dictated a partial solution being launched, We used the MVP Viability matrix to identify which tasks to include in the initial launch and which ones to release later. The initial launch was highly successful and successive releases have included some of the additional task features recommended by the MVP Matrix. (read more about this matrix, here)


Replaced the lackluster Brick and Mortar operation with a highly streamlined and very profitable web application. This increased their profits far above projections and allowed FedEx to completely achieve their strategic objectives.