Back to Top
Core Grid
Optimizing Smartsheet’s main project management tool, the Core Grid, to lead to higher conversions of trial users through usability data and prototyped designs.
10 weeks
January - March 2022
Interaction Design, Systems Design, Usability Testing, User Interviews
Product Designer
UX Designer
Human Centered Design and Engineering
University of Washington
Dave Nguyen
Yixi Liu
Yudian Yuan
The team!
Smartsheet saw opportunity to improve...
Smartsheet is a software as a service company that offers work management tools targeted towards enterprise
company teams. They wanted us to improve how trial users experience their main product the Core Grid to lead to a
higher conversion rate to paid users.

They were facing some issues we could help them solve:
Conversion Rates
More Popular
Product Framing
Smartsheet was seeing conversion rates of trial users to paid users of 2% when the industry standard is 3%.
Their competitors were beginning to out perform them and threaten their market share.
The root of their issues was strongly related to users not understanding what Smartsheet is.
Problem Statement
How might we optimize the trial user experience to lead to a higher conversion rate?
What problems should we focus on?
As we began designing our research study we first had to scope the problems to solve, the goal of this project, and the definition of success metrics.

So we conducted a heuristic evaluation identifying the overall onboarding experience and its main issues which we broke into 3 different phases of the experience:
Marketing Website, Navigating to the Core Grid, and Using the Core Grid.

After meeting with the Smartsheet team we explored data showing which areas were highest impact to trial users and landed the focus of this project on improving the usability of the Core Grid.
Marketing Website
Lacked a clear
product framing
and information was guarded behind registration walls.
Navigating to
Core Grid
Finding the Core Grid after signing up for the trial was not an easy task.
Core Grid Usability
The trial experience of the Core Grid needed a major update.
How are others solving these problems?
We then ran a competitive analysis to further understand the market space and how other tools approach similar problems and identify gaps within the market.
We took notes on our experiences using these tools and would use these findings in conjunction with the findings after
we performed our usability study.
What information are trial users looking for and what are their main
pain points in finding it?
We interviewed 6 potential trial users to gather this data in a usability study that we designed to discover the following things:
1. What do users try to do when they first use the Core Grid?
2. Are users able to complete basic tasks in the Core Grid?
3. What areas did users struggle with?
4. Why were users struggling to complete those tasks?
Affinity Diagrams synthesizing the interview.
What did users struggle with?
From our research we found the main usability issues users struggled with and found example solutions from our competitive analysis.
Difficult Processes for Simple Tasks
Users struggled with one of the most basic functions of inserting columns to their sheets and had to left click and select an option from the dropdown menu. Other competitors with similar products have a plus button to click to add columns.
Unconventional Language
Users were unable to use the tool that created subtasks for lists because in the Core Grid they are labelled as “Indent”. No one was familiar with this term. Our recommendation was to label it as subtask.
Lack of Visual Cues
None of the options within the toolbars had any icons or visual cues to help users immediately understand what they were. Competitor tools had icons to help users work faster.
Unintuitive Processes
Users receive the error message when they hit the “Gantt view”. The warning message does not explain why they need two date columns and does not allow users to add dates providing no solution. In competitor programs users just need to add a due date.
So what does all of this mean?
From here I narrowed down the design goal to actively solve the problems uncovered from our research.
What should the experience boil down to?
We then developed the fundamental concepts for how users should feel and experience this tool.
Organized look and feel.
Following conventions
users are familiar with.
Users are able to
complete tasks they try.
the new and improved
Difficult  Easy Processes for Simple Tasks
I added plus icons to extend columns easily fixing the problem of users not being able to quickly understand the system.
Unconventional  Familiar Language
I replaced the term “indent” with a more familiar term like “subtask” that project managers are more used to creating a more seamless learning experience.
Lack of  Comprehensive Visual Cues
I added icons to any options that exist within the system to allow for more easy and clear comprehension for users especially those that are new and unfamiliar with the tool.
Unintuitive  Intuitive Processes
I designed options for error messages allowing users to immediately correct anything that is wrong rather than alerting them that something is wrong and leaving them without help to fix it.
Cluttered  Clean UI
I labelled the menu bar for easier navigation so that users no longer have to decipher any vague icons and I removed any redundant items on the navigation bar such as the “Recents” tab. I also decluttered the main navigation within the Core Grid by adding a “Customize” option to hide all of the previous buttons to customize text or the sheet in any way. This tools should be a place for organization so having a clean UI is imperative.
The research and designs were presented to our corresponding team at Smartsheet and stakeholders within the company that would be involved in this change.
Scoping Realistically is Imperative
Our team took a lot of time to scope this project. It felt unnatural to us and it felt like we were wasting time we could have spent researching or designing, but this part of the process was just as important. Setting a realistic scope is what enabled us to properly address and tackle the problems we did in this project and it shouldn’t be a time of cutting corners.
It’s the little things that count!
Product design isn’t about redesigning an entire system it’s the details that pack the biggest punch. Working with the designers at Smartsheet they weren’t allowed to let us use their design system so they had us reimagine the entire design of the Core Grid along with designing solutions for the usability issue found in the research portion. Reimagining the Core Grid was fun but at the end of the day the biggest and most useful part of this project was the design solutions that felt the smallest like adding the plus icon at the ends of the sheet.