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Smart Templates

We designed 10+ smart Excel templates powered by datatypes to spearhead M365 consumer subscription campaign. These templates help you manage your family' health and fitness, plan for relocation, compare colleges, learn Chemistry and much more.
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As the design lead on this project I designed various smart templates, organized customer research and designed toolkits to help partner teams design more smart templates. My role was to analyze, evaluate and propose valuable experiences for consumers who may already be using diverse set of apps to meet their demand.

Months

8

Engineering

-

PM

4

Design

1

In interest of time, I'll keep process documentation focused on Health & Fitness templates. Similar process was followed to come up with other templates. Please get in touch if you are curious to know more.

featured on

Microsoft

CNET

Tech Crunch

The Verge

challenge

MSFT in consumer space

Microsoft has committed to empower consumers with M365 service. A connected ecosystem of innovative apps, intelligent cloud and world-class security. As early offering, Excel smart templates will offer unique value to consumers around scenarios they most care about like health & nutrition, personal finance, places & locations, etc.

framE

Why Excel templates?

Introduction of linked datatypes has supercharged Excel and our recent partnership with Wolfram has opened (119+) new possibilities. Datatypes is a novel concept for Excel customers. Smart templates powered by datatypes in Excel will allow us to showcase the vast possibilities of datatypes. We can provide amazing out of the box experiences to our M365 customers centered around scenarios they care about most.

But, what is a datatype?

Anything with information can be considered as datatype. In Excel, there are various data providers (Bing, Refinitiv, Wolfram, etc) who provide information specific to a datatype. Any cell/string can be converted to a datatype, once converted users should be able to access useful information easily. Datatypes elevates the experience of getting useful data in the spreadsheet with minimal effort. Earlier users would have to copy/paste useful information from the web and spend minutes if not hours to organize meaningfully. Those times are gone, let's take a look at 'City', 'Stock' and 'Food' datatypes in action.

Once converted you can extract useful information via card(click on datatype icon), on-object uI (used for calories in food) or by using formulas.
Each datatype is backed by reliable data providers.
SCOPE

What kind of templates?

Based on Microsoft market research for M365, we decided to work on a mix of scenarios, ranging from health & nutrition, personal finances, important decisions and hobbies. We also covered some scenarios from the education industry where learning about Chemistry & Space are most demanded.

Due to the confidential nature of Microsoft market research it can't be shared here.

To better understand what people with spreadsheets in their personal life, we built a tool to collect social media posts around spreadsheets and categorize them by their type and activity. We discovered various activities people use spreadsheets for but most importantly it reinforced our learnings from market research and gave us confidence to pursue the scenarios highlighted in market research.

By the end of first project cycle we designed, tested and shipped 12 smart templates. Let take a closer look at the process of coming up with these templates.

Nutrition Tracker
meal planner
Fitness Tracker
grocery list
investment tracker
relocation planner
US college planner
Favorite movie list
notable names
periodic table
planets & comets
stars & constellations

Identifying opportunities (health & fitness)...

There are plenty of apps and tools which help people with managing their family's health & fitness. Studying the landscape of health & fitness, I noticed iOS and Android have solid platforms (Apple Health & Android Fit) for tracking health & fitness on the go. They work in tandem with a family of wearables to provide comprehensive view into your activity, sleep, exposure to noise, heart health and more. Wearables are fantastic as they track and log information right in the apps but when it comes to nutrition tracking, it can get tedious to log nutritional information.

the manual process of logging nutritional information in Apple health APP can be tedious and time consuming.

For tracking nutrition on iOS and Android, people use apps like My Fitness Pal, Lifesum, Lose It!, Yazio, etc, which help with logging nutrition as well as share data with Apple Health and Android Fit apps. However, to unlock max potential of these apps around scenarios like tracking specific branded foods, scanning nutrition labels, food suggestions based on health goals and access the full library of food information people have to pay a premium$$$.

My fitness pal is the most popular app, most people sign up for $9.99/month subscription as its the
sweet spot to unlock the giant food library, barcode scanner and exercise tracker.

Experience goals

With datatypes people can get nutritional, exercise and recipe information on their fingertips in Excel which can be connected to mobile platform of your choice. I think there are several opportunities, however, it was critical for us to consider our role in this complex landscape. We wanted to

Facilitate existing tools.

Connect with mobile ecosystems and seamlessly share data tracked in excel templates.

Offer useful personalization.

Excel should offer tools that allow people to set and track goals.

Modular, like a modern app.

We envision a family of templates that can be combined as needed.

Template system

A family of mini-apps

I wanted to make templates feel like mini-apps, visually and functionally. Adopting UI patterns and elements from modern apps, I wanted to make these templates familiar and friendly.

[about type] - Users should be able to glance and get the gist without feeling overwhelmed. I used type size and color to create a hierarchy that is easy to navigate and quick to grasp.
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[about layout] - I wanted to present the full template as a single scrollable page like modern day websites. About section, calculators and personalization section are collapsible such that most useful information like the dashboard and tracking sheet have most real estate available.
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[about interactions] - I had to carefully consider technical possibilities of excel. I decided to go with button like UI elements to help orient and guide users action on the page. We built these buttons and guiding ui using excel formulas for shipped templates.

Meets you where you are...

People prefer to track health and fitness on the go. I wanted to make templates easily usable on desktop & mobile. Making templates compatible across platforms will helps us increase NPS. historically we have focused primarily on web and desktop but unlocking template scenarios for mobile can help us garner a wider user base.

Modular by design.

A modular system of components would unlock new possibilities of customizable templates. modular templates would mean users can customize templates by combining diverse components as well as combining diverse templates to make a master template acting as a frontend of all connected templates.

Personalized to your goals

Some templates have calculators designed with help of Excel formulas to helps users with personalization and goal-setting.

Contextual and responsive.

Calendars picker and auto-suggestions demonstrate contextual understanding of what user is intending to do.

Connected to other platforms.

Each template can connect to mobile ecosystem through public APIs or specialized connections to offer best extensibility to users.

An open platform.

A store able to share their weekly price list through food datatype will be pretty sweet. Templates helped us recognize potential of datatypes to be an open platform where any data provider can participate.

A scalable system

Template toolkit

We have partner teams that makes templates for Office suite. Smart templates was a unique opportunity where Excel product team was given the charter to lead with first batch of smart templates. I wanted to design a system which can scale and help our partners design a cohesive set of templates. To help facilitate this process I made a toolkit with design components & guidelines in Excel. Toolkit helped us distribute Excel native, formula based components, making the process of making new template as easy as copy/pasting components from toolkit to a fresh workbook and updating formulas.

a timelapse of using template toolkit to build a nutrition tracker from scratch in ~20mins. Most time consuming part was to update formula connections between dashboard and tracking sheet.
CUstomer feedback

What do customers think?

From concept testing to shipping, we constantly tested smart templates with consumers. There's a laundry list of changes we made to each template, however, there were some key insights that helped us strategize a plan to constantly build and ship templates.

Customers

70

Templates

9

Session length

~40m

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Customers couldn't grasp concept of datatypes.

Datatypes are at the heart of smart templates. Customers were confused with where data was coming from. Datatypes is a novel capability, we can onboard customers on datatypes before we introduce them to core template.

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Lots of perfomance issues and content bugs.

We were building data pipeline with Wolfram in parallel to coming up with templates. Our expectation with user-testing was to constantly test templates and performance of data connection between Excel and Wolfram. User-testing helped us discover and fix content bugs on Wolfram's end.

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Overwhelmingly positive feedback about topics and content.

We asked, what did you think about your experience today? They said: Innovative, Organized, Unexpected, Helpful, Simple.

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Loved UI elements similar to modern day apps.

UI elements like dashboards. labelled input boxes, navigation buttons, dropdowns, help UI were effective in guiding users. It was awesome to see users positive reaction as we spent a lot of time hacking Excel to build each element as robust as possible.

Refinement & Shipping

What's next?

Experimentation and shipping in waves.

Its fulfilling to see our customers appreciating the smart templates. ย Testing with users has given us a good understanding about value vs effort when it comes to development resources. We have divided the feature set in two waves based on the amount of engineering and testing resources we will need. We have v1 ready to rollout, we will continue to iterate and pack Wave 1 capabilities to specific templates.

Teaser of smart templates shipped so far...

With fitness tracker you can track workout for range of today / 7days / 30 days.
We hacked excel by pre-fetching a list of several hundred activities to simulate a seeming autocomplete experience.
Nutrition tracker has a higher degree of personalization combined with a nutrition calculator (as per institute of medicine).
This template is more visually consumable with a prominent dashboard and charts.
As a hobby template, customers loved being able to curate movies and find interesting patterns on the dashboard. I found out I was heavy on tarantino movies ๐Ÿ˜‰
Being able to analyze cost of living, demographics and crime stats from within excel saves a ton of recon for customers.
'Plan move' list was particular favorite of people who plan to move.
My personal favorite has got to be this periodic table, Wish this I had this when i was in classroom.
Periodic table template best showcases combination of datatypes with excel conditional formatting and formula magic.
We designed us college planner in collaboration with students graduating high school.
We plan to bring more useful stats like majors/minors offered, placements, extracurriculars and more with the next iteration.

Enhance discoverability and build intelligence.

Smart templates are useful and desirable, however, we have some work to do in order to make these templates discoverable. Excel will be able to hand raise when it detects user is working with data related to any available datatype.

We are also working in tandem with Office suite to come up with a consistent UXย to insert and browse among various available templates. Users should be able to search and use a preview any template before they commit to use it in the main file.

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