Eastman - Paint Protection Film (PPF) Installer Software
Eastman manufacturers several products called Paint Protection Film (PPF), a thin film applied to the surface of a vehicle as a second skin.
The people who install this film range from single-person shops where competition with other installers in fierce to large vehicle dealerships who install PPF on every single vehicle as they are imported before they go on the car lot.
PPF comes in large rolls that are fed into a cutting plotter. PPF software feeds patterns to the plotter and are often tied to proprietary vendor patterns in exchange for purchasing film.
Eastman's film technology, expertise, and customer service were already ahead of their competition, but their existing software was difficult to use and their pattern library was not as mature.
In 2019, Eastman asked us to help in two specific areas:
- Build a world class application that reflected the quality of Eastman's film.
- Decrease the time to create, verify, and distribute new film patterns.
This project became a perfect example of the "right way" to address these issues and we loosely followed the tried and true design thinking phases:
At this point, we weren't sure what the deliverable would be but we were given the freedom to explore to figure out what the next steps were.
Step 1: Multi-disciplinary team listens to client stakeholders
We spent the first two weeks conducting internal stakeholder panel interviews with representatives across Eastman including finance, product knowledge, sales, and marketing. Our team was made up of individuals who would stay with the project and represented design, development, data science, and account management.
These sessions and their synthesis gave us a broad, holistic view into the problem space and allowed for continuity as the project moved into the next phase, but there was a group of people who's viewpoint was not included: the actual users!
Step 2: Conduct field research with actual users
I took lead on this phase by crafting a research plan that started with in-person field research.
Dealer Research Plan (pdf)
Our research team travelled to a sampling of the highest volume and most experienced installers in Texas where we observed installers using the existing Eastman software as well as their primary competitor.
We learned about how savage Eastman's competition is:
- Installers were being charged fees per cut - even if a cut was unusable
- A Bentley dealership was blacklisted because they noticed they were doing a lot of cuts but weren't ordering enough film to cover it
- They were opening their own stores using localized sales data; if a certain areas dealers were doing well, they would open their own locations and steal clients from their existing customers
- Installers were afraid to talk about using Eastman's products on social media because of retaliation from competition
We also saw numerous examples of simple procedures being overly complex, confusing, or just not working.
We took these findings back to Eastman to start talking about how we can fix these existing issues but also what we could do to position their software as an indispensable tool for their customers.
Step 3: Ideate and create low-fidelity prototypes
After multiple low-fidelity iterations, I struck upon a novel layout for vehicle patterns: an exploded or skeleton view that puts all the patterns into a visual arrangement that mimics a vehicle's real-world layout.
As is often the case with consulting work, I was shuffled to another project and the visual design for the prototype was passed on to another designer. After a few weeks, I was rolled back onto the project, but this time wearing my research heat again.
Step 4: Test prototype with actual users
This next phase involved a new research plan (since we were testing something new). I wrote and executed two rounds of usability and UX testing.
Since our participants were remote (and we didn't want to travel back to Texas), I selected Lookback as our testing platform. Lookback allows for remote (or in-person) moderated (or unmoderated) testing and has great tools, such as a room where observers can take timestamped notes, video, audio, and screen recording.
The first round of testing was for a novel pattern of selecting year, make, model, and trim for a vehicle. This testing was done using a coded prototype and timed so we could compare results against the existing application - no sense in proceeding with something new if it's not better or equal to what we want to replace, right?
The results were clear: the new pattern was slightly slower but resulted in fewer mistakes. The team felt this was acceptable so we moved on.
The second and final testing I was involved with was a complete end-to-end with participants already familiar with Eastman's existing application.
Results and Recommendations (pdf)
Eastman launched a newly rebranded application called "Core" at the 2019 Las Vegas Auto Show! This beta version was already being tested with users and since then has had steady releases following the roadmap set down by the results of our thorough user research.
You can sign up for a trial if you want to check out Core for yourself.
This project was complication and high stakes but with a little research, we were able to derisk the launch and set a path that is still working today!