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Elumalai Jayaraman
UX Designer - Zoho

We recently launched Zoho Inventory, our inventory and order management

We're denitely learning a lot as we expand our suite of products. Our goal is to
not only ensure that each product is fantastic to use, but also to make the
experience consistent across products. This is important because our products
are designed from the ground up to work together and to be used with each
Let's see how we accomplished this for

A unied, consistent experience across products.

In my previous article about how we redesigned,
our online accounting solution, I talked about how we improved the overall UX
through lots of experimentation and learning.
Zoho Inventory, on rst glance, looks a lot like Zoho Books. Thats because we
designed it that way. We used the same basic design skeleton and built upwards
from there. This design style persists across many of our products:
Zoho Invoice:
Zoho Books:
Zoho Subscriptions:
And Zoho Expense:

This uniform design provides a level of UX and visual consistency across products
that you simply will not nd when you integrate independent solutions from
dierent providers.

The Design Process

a) Identifying the key design challenge.
The very rst thing we needed to do was to ask the key question: What problems
are we trying to solve? Problem-oriented thinking provides structure to the
entire design process. Once you start thinking in terms of problems, the specic
solutions will automatically follow.
For Zoho Inventory, the entire inventory and order management process is
centered around managing sales orders and purchase orders. Theres a lot of
complexity here. For example, sales orders contain a lot of information. Imagine
you order some items from a marketplace like Amazon. If youre ordering a lot of
items, the seller cant ship all of them at the same time. Depending on various
factors, like the size limit of the package and the availability of dierent items,
some boxes may be shipped at dierent times.
The seller needs to keep track of which of those items have been invoiced, which
have been paid for, and which have been shipped. Multiple items are often placed
into a single package, while there are also orders with multiple packages for
dierent sets of items. All of these things need to be tracked.
Before we started designing the UX to solve these problems, we rst needed
deeper insights into how business owners and inventory managers approached
these problems in the real world.

b) Stepping into the shoes of the user.

You cant build a great car without knowing how to drive.
Similarly, you cant build a great user experience without knowing exactly what
users want.

You need to get all that background information long before you start putting pen
to paper (or cursor to screen). Only then will you be actually designing something
thats nice to use and allows the user to get things done as quickly as possible.
Luckily, we had all the background information we needed before we started
designing the interface for Zoho Inventory. Weve been running Zoho Books and
Zoho CRM for many years, and weve had numerous requests for an inventory
management solution that ties right into these products.

Heres just one example of a customer asking for an inventory management

solution on our forums over 4 years ago. Weve gotten hundreds of such requests
over the years.

A customer requesting a product to manage their inventory.

These requests provided a treasure trove of information. We got a peek directly

into hundreds of real-world scenarios and problems that needed solving by a
dedicated inventory management solution. All this experience meant that we had
a very good idea of what kind of software that our users would like before we
even started the design process.
Plus, months before we released Zoho Inventory, we opened up an early-access
version of the product for over 700 users.

The feedback was golden.

Wed never have gotten these insights by working on the UX using only internal
feedback from design and management. You need user feedback to design a
great user experience.

It is easier to talk than to listen. Pay attention to your clients, your

users, your readers, and your friends. Your design will get better as
you listen to other people.

c) Getting some structure: Designing the

Information Architecture and wireframing.
Weve seen that inventory managers need to handle a high level of informational
complexity when it comes to managing orders. Theres lots to track and manage
to make sure everything is going smoothly.
The goal with designing the interface was to empower the user to handle all this
information and take action on it quickly.
If a picture is worth 1000 words, a prototype is worth 1000 meetings.
This process starts with designing an information architecture this is basically a
representation of all information that needs to be tracked by the user, and
how it should be organized hierarchically.
For order management, this is the basic information that the user has to
Items: Number of items, quantity

Packages: Number of packages, items in the packages,

status of package: packed, shipped or delivered
Invoices: Number of invoices, packages/items in the invoices,
status of invoice: sent, fully paid, partially paid, overdue
Its pretty simple, but this is the essence of the information architecture,
and its a good illustration of the complexity and the innite number of use
cases that the user will have to handle.
For example, a sales order can have ten dierent items, and these items
are packaged into three dierent packages (taking weight into account) and
one invoice is issued for one package while another invoice is issued for the
other two packages. And there will be lots of dierent sales orders with
very dierent congurations. The nal interface should allow the user to
handle and take action on all of this information.

Putting together a complete wireframe was important because there can be

a lot of things to think about, a lot of individual use cases to solve for. A
wireframe puts a structure to all the fragmented problems and thought
processes running through the designers head.
With the information architecture in place, we put together a wireframe
that allowed easy access to all relevant information in a sales order, and
any action you need to take can be done right from within the above
Wireframe for the Zoho Inventory order management screen.

d) Nailing the visual design.

Visual design is exceedingly important to a products success. Why? First
impressions matter. Studies have shown that users form opinions based on
visual design in less than 50 milliseconds. Plus, rst impressions are
persistent. Its very hard to shake that rst impression you create with a

The nal Visual Design for Zoho Inventory. To view live interface at

A visually appealing design primes the user for good expectations even
before they start using your product. Once that rst impression is created,
the user leans toward viewing the entire product through a positive lens.
Its important to have a consistent visual experience as well. Good design
has to extend right from your website to your entire product in order to
maintain that positive impression.
With all this in mind, and after much experimentation, we carefully put
together the above visual design for Zoho Inventory. Now, since visual
design is a creative process theres no denite set of steps to designing
something that looks good. However, we decided to use basic visual design
principles as guidelines to structure our process.
Here are the things we took into account:
TYPOGRAPHY: Readability of UI elements is one of the basic things that you
need to ensure. We have been using the Proxima Nova font so far in many
of our products. We carried this over to Zoho Inventory and it worked out
COLOR SCHEME: Choosing the right color scheme is like dressing up really
well. When people have nothing else to go on, they will immediately judge
you based on what youre wearing. If you want that kind of judgement in
your favor when people look at and use your product, its important to
choose a color scheme that is visually appealing.
While for many of our products (such as Zoho Books), we went for a
pastel-style color scheme, we did something dierent with Zoho Inventory,
going for a dark and at color scheme that mixed elements of black and
blue. This gave it a clean, professional look.
ICONS: Icons play a role of giving important visual information which text by
itself cannot achieve. We needed to choose icons that were not only

meaningful, but complemented the rest of the design choices.

We had a debate in our design team about whether to choose hollow icons
or solid icons. We ended up choosing a set of hollow icons which we
concluded were better for representing real-world objects such as items and
packages (which inventory managers have to deal with everyday) than solid
icons were.
VISUAL HIERARCHY: While the layout, hierarchy and grouping of dierent
elements were decided in the wireframing process, we needed to visually
distinguish these elements in the visual design stage so that the user could
know where to nd what. Plus, we needed to make the most important
elements stand out, so that they were more visually accessible.
For example, the aforementioned informational complexity in each sales
order had to be handled carefully by visually distinguishing each and every
element. This involved subtle changes in color, font and style so that
elements were distinct and separate and did not blend with each other.

Hand-holding users through

every new features

Inventory management software is complex. But we wanted to make it so

easy to use, the user should be able to start using it and get things done
even if woken up in the middle of the night.
That means hand-holding the user through each and every feature, providing relevant information right when he needs it.
We needed to deliver information to the user at the right time so that he
can do what needs to be done, like the markers on the road that tell you the
right direction to your destination.
Its about catching customers in the act, and providing highly relevant and
highly contextual information.
This information has to be delivered to the user in some way. Help documentation is one way to achieve information delivery. And good support, of
course, is essential for the user to get the information he needs.
But theres a detour involved there. The user has to move away from the
app to get information. These things take time and a lot of tab-switching
and talking and emailing.
But what if there was no detour? What if you provided the user with all the
information he needs exactly when he needs it? To do this, we decided to
include relevant information inside the user interface.

For example, the user needs help when he needs to integrate Zoho
Inventory with another service. Zoho Inventory has a lot of integrations.
While experienced users will know how to make these integrations work, a
lot of users wont know what is possible with these integrations. Thats why
once you land on an integration page we provide a brief summary of what
the integration can do.
For example, consider marketplaces. With Zoho Inventory, you can integrate
with eBay, Amazon, Etsy, and Shopify. There is a business advantage to
selling your products on as many marketplaces as possible, but a lot of
businesses dont diversify the marketplaces on which they sell their products.
This is partly because of the dierent nuances (and diculty) involved with
each marketplace integration.
Right within Zoho Inventory, we have prominent instructions on how to
integrate with each marketplace and how exactly each integration will behave.
Contextual help for setting up a marketplace integration. Visit at

We articulate how data items (such as product and order information) in Zoho
Inventory will be labeled in the marketplace and vice versa. This gives
customers all the knowledge required to integrate these marketplaces with
Zoho Inventory.
Were providing instructions. And while thats nothing really new, contextually
providing this information in an easily digestible manner right within the user
interface is new. We are removing all emotional (and knowledge) barriers to
getting integrations done.

Inventory management is complex. It can be hard work. I think we successfully
distilled that complexity into something that is really simple to use, and made
some lives easier in the process. At the risk of sounding a little boastful, we
think thats pretty awesome.
I hope you took something away from this post. Tell us what you think by
leaving a comment below. And if you liked it, dont forget to share it with your
friends & other network!
Originally published at