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Andrew Ng and the Evolution of's Look and Feel

By Steven Tanner on September 25, 2012 10:02 AM

Once upon a time, was just a humble Web portal with a list of links and a mission. It served its purpose well, helping legal professionals “find the law” they needed for a given case, whether it was a particular state criminal code, federal antidiscrimination laws, or a recent Supreme Court holding.

But frankly, it wasn’t much to look at.

While retaining the legal research tools that made it a roaring success soon after its founding in 1995, FindLaw is a whole new animal now — and much easier on the eyes. The multifaceted portal has evolved to serve virtually everyone interested in the law (Learn About the Law and FindLaw Answers, for example), not just legal professionals.

Andrew Ng, FindLaw's Senior User Experience Designer and part of the reason we look so good, described FindLaw's substantial metamorphosis over the years from a design perspective:

"Our design process is more evolutionary than revolutionary," Ng said. "We try to design in a way that moves us forward without alienating our user base."

That's a tall order, given the sheer volume and rich diversity of FindLaw users who come to our portal each day. Ng also must balance the needs of advertising, editorial, and other teams within FindLaw. As his title suggests, Ng is focused on the big picture -- making sure you, our valued user, find what you need in the most efficient and pleasing way possible.

"My responsibilities mostly are overseeing the user experience, which consists of the flow as the user goes through the site, including the visuals and other elements," he explained. "Look and feel is one way to describe it."

And while you can't actually "feel" the underlying code, finding useful information about a legal question, reading authoritative answers to similar legal questions posed by other users, and then finding a qualified attorney in your neighborhood is quite a good feeling. When it all "flows" smoothly, you don't even think about design or the decisions that went into it.

Just like the proverbial butterfly flapping its wings and ultimately affecting the weather a continent away, each little alteration to our site affects existing elements. For example, Ng and his team discovered that big, red buttons tend to stand out and encourage users to click. But it had a negative impact on the overall experience, he explained.

"Do you really want a bunch of big, red buttons all over the site?" he asked, rhetorically. More to the point, Ng said one of his biggest challenges is to make something attractive and effective without drawing attention away from other areas of the portal.

To find out what works, he and his colleagues often come up with "out there" designs that take a design concept to its logical conclusion. Think of a futuristic concept car you may have seen at an auto show: It probably won't go into production as is, but you'll likely see certain elements (usually more subtle) find their way into the finished product. Similarly, Ng said, their more far-fetched designs usually are "tamed" before they make it onto the live site.

And if you don't like the new designs, Ng is very receptive to your feedback:

"Our team loves to hear feedback from our visitors, positive and negative," he said. "We have several audits throughout the year to gauge user experience."

After all, we're here to serve you. Looks aren't everything, but user experience is.

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