Esri Maps for Office

Time frame:June 2013 - July 2015

Role:Researcher, Designer

Link:Product page

I led the research and design of V2.0 of Esri Maps for Office (EM4O) - ESRI’s flagship product for non-GIS users. I worked with a visual designer and develeopment team.

V1.0 of EM4O suffered from some key user experience issues, which made it very difficult for non-GIS experts to use. As ESRI moved its focus towards non-GIS users, it was imperative to make this product easy and intuitive.

I worked on the the end-to-end design of V2.0 including user research, problem definition, solution ideation, wireframing, usability testing and development of high fidelity mockups. V2.0 was launched in ESRI User Conference (attended by 20K people) in July 2015. The product received stellar user feedback because of the improvements.

EM4O - Case Study


Traditionally, ESRI’s products were designed specifically for GIS experts and thus non-GIS users found them very difficult to use. As a result, ESRI’s products were restricted to be used by extremely few people within an Enterprise customer organization; and Enterprises didn’t find as much value in purchasing an ESRI product license.

ESRI’s business goal was to enhance the usability of its products for non-GIS users, so that the products could be used widely across an Enterprise organization – hence increasing the product value.

EM4O is a mapping integration for Microsoft’s productivity tool, Microsoft office. In alignment with the broad company vision described above, the goal of this project was to improve the usability of EM4O (through a V2 launch), to make it intuitive for non-GIS users. Specifically, I enhanced usability for two key user activities:

  • Creating maps
  • Performing location based analysis

Design process


User Identification

EM4O had been in-market for 8 years with no clear identification of user profiles. To improve the product, it was essential to first get a better understanding of the users and their interaction behavior with EM4O. I performed the following activities to achieve this:

  • Used data from customer feedback calls to create Personas such as Ernie Excel and Portia Portal.
  • Identified a back-story, frustrations, motivations and ideal experience for each Persona.
  • Developed a culture of user empathy, enabling the developers and engineers to have better clarity in designing product features

Through the user research, I uncovered several specific usability issues with the design of EM4O V1. Below I have provided a brief summary of these:

  1. Map creation: (a) User found it difficult to select a suitable map type to represent data without having GIS knowledge, and (b) Map creation was a cumbersome 6-step process
  2. Single map: User was restricted to creating a single map for each workbook in Excel, thus restricting ability to perform comparative analysis
  3. Map modification: Users found it difficult to modify different aspects of a Map for data representation, analysis and styling
  4. Product onboarding: new users found it difficult to learn the product features and there was no easy, intuitive feature to educate existing users of new product features
  5. Limited usage: live version of a map was restricted to be viewed only by experts who had a product license. Users who did not have the product license could not modify map components to perform analysis
  6. Data issues: users found it difficult to get reliable data to embed within a map to perform business analysis
  7. Visual design: EM4O V1 had a dated visual design and the product visuals did not align with Microsoft Office 2013

Design Studios

I strongly believe that the best design solutions are developed when people with different expertise come together to brainstorm on solutions from different perspectives. Specifically for this project, I organized and coordinated design studios (i.e. workshops) to facilitate brainstorming sessions with the development and product teams to enable collaborative solution development. I organized the workshop sessions in two parts:

  1. Individual design creation – here individuals would review a specific problem and then come back with a design solution that they believed would solve the problem most effectively
  2. Collective critiquing – here the workshop team would critically examine the proposed design and provide critique to improve and further build on it

I saw two big advantages of the design studio approach: (1) Robust design as it had gone through intense critiquing, (2) Engaged stakeholders – early engagement meant that the development and product teams believed they owned the design solution, and had a personal interest in ensuring project success.

Design Concepts

Through the design studios described above, we came up with the following design solutions for the issues that we had identified during the user research phase:

  1. Map creation: (a) introduce recommendations for visualization of different data types to enable users to easily select a suitable map type, (b) reduce the 6-step process of creating a map to 1-step

  2. Single map: introduce the capability to add multiple maps in the same Excel workbook enabling advanced analysis by users

  3. Map modification: Introduce in-context tools for maps to enable easy, intuitive modifications for data representation, analysis and styling

  4. Product onboarding: Design a ‘getting started’ experience which will: (a) educate new users about the key product features, (b) introduce existing users to new product features
  5. Limited usage: enable sharing of live version of a map with users without EM4O license, increasing the user base within an Enterprise organization.
  6. Data issues: introduce a capability for users to select pre-existing data sets from ESRI’s database, for performing map-based business analysis
  7. Visual design: introduce a new visual design for EM4O V2 which is better aligned with Microsoft Office 2013

Usability Testing

I performed usability testing to validate design decisions and identify usability issues with design proposals. The testing was performed in phases and each phase focused on a specific design decision. Below, I have provided examples of the key usability studies performed for the project:

Quick maps – design ability to quickly select a map type and create it in Excel.
To test this design feature, I conducted two rounds of usability with 6 users in each. I created user tasks, moderated and observed usability studies, and finally analyzed findings to introduce improvements. A key observation through the study was that naming conventions – there were certain issues with naming conventions. As an example, users did not understand what we meant by ‘Class Breaks’ which was later replaced by Style by size or color

Ability to add multiple maps.
I performed a similar moderated usability study as above with 6 participants. I discovered that one of the task Icon was not intuitive and users could not understand what it will do. Accordingly, I re-designed the icon to make to it more intuitive.

In-context tools for modifying maps.
Here, I specifically tested two design types to identify which design was more user friendly: (1) Ribbon style, (2) Drop-down menu. I recruited 6 users who were invited to a usability lab at the ESRI campus for lab moderated user-testing. At the conclusion of this study, I worked with a researcher to develop usability reports with SUS scores and evaluated which design was better. I concluded that the Ribbon style was more familiar for users and easy to use.


I partnered with the development team, working closely to get the design implemented. The biggest advantage of this approach was that I could quickly iterate on the designs based on development constraints, moving the project ahead at a fast pace.

  • V2.0 of EM4O was launched at ESRI User Conference, July 2015 which was attended by 20K people
  • The product received stellar user feedback because of the usability improvements that were introduced