The new Smartsheet design: Why we changed things

by Feridoon 'Doon' Malekzadeh

Editor’s note: In this article, Feridoon “Doon” Malekzadeh, vice president of user experience (UX) at Smartsheet, discusses the “why” behind the platform’s recent design changes, how we incorporated customer feedback, and what’s next. 

By now, you've probably noticed that the Smartsheet platform you've been using for the last several weeks, months, or years has a new design. So, why did we change things?

In this article, I’ll first go into what’s changed, and why. Then I’ll share a quick overview of our new design system, the role customer feedback plays in design decisions, and what’s next — a lot of excited customers have asked about this one.   


Animated GIF of the Home screen in the new Smartsheet experience.




What changed, and why: TL;DR version

The design changes to the user interface (UI) are more than a fresh coat of paint with some added bells and whistles; there’s a lot going on under the hood. 

Here’s a quick list of the changes, and our rationale for each. Long story short, we used customer feedback to drive changes to make our powerful platform more intuitive, modern, beautiful, and fun for everyone to use:

  • Find things even faster with updated navigation: We consolidated the most-used features and navigation elements in one place, in a new navigation bar that is always accessible by default — so people can move more quickly through the platform. You can hide it in full screen mode when you’re working on a sheet.
  • A new Home experience to surface things most important to you: We wanted you to have a home base when working in the Smartsheet platform. Home is a singular place that summarizes and unifies all your different tasks and the work items (e.g. proof reviews, update requests) that need your attention, so you can take action. We apply machine learning in order to make smart suggestions around your most used sheets, or what you might want to do next.
  • Improved discoverability in the grid: We've updated the iconography and spacing in sheets, and added more color to help differentiate comments, attachments, reminders, and proofs from each other. This improved discoverability makes taking action on certain features clearer. 
  • Take action right from Notification Center: We've put all of your relevant notifications into one spot — the navigation bar — to make it easier to stay on top of updates in Smartsheet. You can expand the notification panel for a quick preview of what notifications need your attention, and then take action on it right in the panel.
  • Find sheets, reports, and dashboards faster: We added icons that differentiate between sheets, reports, and dashboards. This way, you can spot your desired item types almost instantly. We also added new icons for the new toolbar that appears across sheets, reports, and dashboards.

How we arrived at these changes is tied to two important factors that I’ll go into next: 1) our new design system, and 2) the brilliant feedback we received from our customers.

A new standard for design

To set up the Smartsheet platform for continuous success and improvement, we’ve architected our new design system to modernize the experience, and unify the different parts of the experience that you use. 

The key themes of our new design system are consistency, scalability, and speed. Our main goal is to make it easier for you to find the work items you need, with less friction. 

It’s important to note that we’ve built this new system to help make our customers’ and their collaborators’ lives easier when working in our platform. With this system as a baseline, we will be able to deliver new, exciting experiences that evolve with how you work.


Animated GIF of new notifications experience in Smartsheet




Validated by customer feedback

Up until now, the platform has been super functional, but it has evolved beyond some of the old ways of doing things and, from a design perspective, required a reframing and a refactoring to make it more usable and enjoyable for our customers and their collaborators. 

First, we reviewed our old design experience — in terms of what was working and what could be improved — and researched industry best practices. 

From there, we developed a new, modern aesthetic and compared it against industry competitors with a more friendly and contemporary style. 

We then conducted the largest UX survey in Smartsheet history. Our goal was to understand the key attributes of what constitutes a best-in-class experience. In the survey, participants rated the designs of leading industry solutions on a set of 16 attributes relating to the “look and feel” (e.g. aesthetics, perceived complexity) of Smartsheet. 

We then ran correlation analysis to determine which of these attributes were associated with best-in-class software. For both customers and non-customers, four themes bubbled up. 

Platforms such as Smartsheet need to be: powerful, modern, beautiful, and fun. When customers shared their feedback about our new design direction, the “new Smartsheet” beat our previous design in all four categories! 

If you’ve been using Smartsheet for a while, you know we’ve got power covered. Our platform helps people across all industries, all over the world, transform their work into dynamic work. From a design (UI and UX) perspective, the rest of the platform needs to be just as dynamic. 

We were very intentional with our use of color, the icons we created, and the updates we made to some page layouts. Making sure the platform is accessible for all of our users was also a critical factor with the new design. 

Because we tested early on, we have been very confident with the direction we are heading. Change, however, can be hard — and seldom makes everyone happy. In contrast, the early feedback we’ve received through our Early Adopter Program (EAP) so far has been phenomenal and has validated the choices and decisions we made with the new design. 

Customers in the program have provided constructive criticism and made some great recommendations, many of which we’ve acted on or were already on our roadmap. We’re excited to have such a solid foundation to build off of as we move on to what’s next with Smartsheet.

What’s next for Smartsheet platform design?

While we’ve made improvements with the new Smartsheet experience, it’s just the beginning. We will continue to refine the UX to drive more of that simplicity. Here are two areas that we’re focusing on next: 

  • We plan to roll out designs for card view, Gantt view, and calendar view that are more consistent with the new look and feel. 
  • Many customers are overjoyed with the new Home experience, and they want to know how we plan to evolve it. We’re thinking through ways to make Home more customizable, so that you can do more to personalize your Smartsheet experience.

We have more in store, and the UX team can’t wait to release these design changes to make the Smartsheet platform even better. One thing’s for sure; we believe that slick paint jobs don’t win races. When we make changes to the user interface, we’re committed to having a positive impact on how all of our users experience the platform. 

Although we will likely continue to fine-tune, tweak, and enhance the performance of the Smartsheet platform, we feel we’ve laid the foundation for an experience that will continue to make sense to customers and allow them (and us!) to innovate over the next five to 10 years. 

To learn even more about the latest Smartsheet design changes, visit our webpage for a quick video and an interactive demo.