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User Shadowing on The Trading Floor at Morgan Stanley

For about four months, I had the pleasure of working on an exciting new project for Morgan Stanley. The details of the project can not be disclosed for obvious confidentiality reasons but I can speak in general terms about the experience. As with most UX projects, we like to spend as much time as we can observing users in their natural work environments while they perform their daily activities. In the case of Morgan Stanley, this meant spending a good amount of time in the trenches, on the trading floor, sitting with the traders and sales reps. My job was to not only observe the users but also build a sense of empathy for how they perform all their job activities. In fact, one of the main purposes of user shadowing is to build empathy so that you can see your design through the eyes of the users.

Things move very quickly on the floor. Each person sits at a desk with 4-8 computer monitors in front of them – each displaying multiple windows from multiple disparate apps. Each person also uses multiple phones,  intercoms, microphones, and a headset — all while people are constantly standing up and shouting things back and forth to each other. This is a high-intensity, mega-multitasking, chaotic work environment. The hardest part of my job was to stay out of the way.

In fact, staying out of the way was exactly what the app that I was designing needed to do as well. It needed to fit seamlessly into the chaotic flow of the users’ daily work routine. It needed to be as quick or quicker than their current method of communicating, and it needed to provide far more business value than anything that was currently being used. No small feat for sure.

The importance of user shadowing on this project was not only useful and insightful, it was absolutely necessary. There simply would have been no way for me to design something useful if I had designed it in a bubble. More often than not, user shadowing is either squeezed into the process or skipped altogether — but, in this case, shadowing users on the floor at Morgan Stanley shined a spotlight on how it should always be a necessary part of any UX project.

What started out to be a pure UX Design project morphed into much more than just a new application design. The things I learned from the user shadowing sessions also led to Business Process Optimization changes within Morgan Stanley. You see, as I sat with each user, I not only learned how they did or did not perform certain activities, but I learned that they all did them differently. So, in the end, we were able to provide Morgan Stanley with both a great User Experience Design and recommendations on ways they can improve some of their business processes so that their trading room floors can evolve from pure chaos to a more productive “controlled chaos” environment.