Important Changes to Our User Interface

April 11, 2011

As some of you know, Zendesk is more than three years old. Which in some ways, can feel ancient. Software years are not unlike dog years; what we thought was hip and modern only a few months ago, is probably outdated and “aged” today.

Take us for example, three years ago our interface was revolutionary to help desk software. Today, that title may not be as true as we’d like. So we’ve had some work done, so to speak, to keep our interface as vibrant and taut as a Beverly Hills housewife.

The woeful neglect of settings pages and menus

One of the first parts of an interface to become neglected is usually the settings pages and menus.

Settings in help desk software, online or not, have a nasty habit of sneaking up on you and growing wildly out of control. A new feature? That needs settings. Enhancing a feature? That needs settings. People want more granular control over things? That needs more settings.

Alarm bells started ringing for us when we did some remote testing to simply ask testers, “You want to change the colors on this page, where would you do this?” and presented the following screenshot to them.

For those of you familiar with Zendesk, you’d click on the “Account” menu item. New users, however, find this very confusing. Here’s the heat map representation of where people click based on our previous question.

Users are confused. They’re clicking in the wrong place. We’re not helping them even at the very base level of naming menus, let alone our forest of settings pages. We needed to seriously reconsider our overall information architecture as well as the design.

Logical naming and the paradox of choice

We re-ran the test above with “Account” becoming the more logical “Settings” menu, with a much more acceptable failure rate since you generally “set” a colour or change “settings” of a communication channel. Our next battle? Paradox of choice in menus.

What you see to the left is the new menu. It has eight items and uses the simplest, most intuitive words we could possibly use. This compared to our previous menu is a huge improvement; the previous menu had 13+ menu items.

The paradox of choice is a simple concept. “Choice” is typically thought of as a good thing, but ultimately the more choice, the more complex things become, reducing the actual value of choice, thus choice becomes a paradox.

Paradox of choice is huge in interface design, where the more choice you have in an interface, the more your users are to get things wrong, get confused, or start hating the application. Photoshop is an awesome example.

Lipstick on a pig

Changing the name of a menu and rearranging some menus, as our President Obama would say, is simply lipstick on a pig. We also needed to go through the settings pages behind the menus, and improve them too.

Cue the grand entrance of tabs

There are a few ways to split up interfaces, dependent on the relationship between each interface section. Tabs help make a very clear distinction in settings pages. While branding, localization, etc. are all related to an overall “Account” category, they are actually rather exclusive of each other. So it didn’t make sense to put all this together.


There is not one person in the world that truly likes filling out forms (don’t try and prove me wrong, it’s like people that pretend to like the taste of white wine). Previously, we pretty much sucked at making form layouts that were easy to work with and consistent across Zendesk.

Now, we make everything very clear. The label is always set in one place, the input field is always set in one place, and we always include a description below each input field to address the “what is this?” question that normally comes with every element on a form.

The world is not enough

This is very much the beginning of a continued effort to modernize and maintain the Zendesk interface. These changes alone are a huge step in the right direction, but the settings pages really only make up a small percentage of the most used interfaces in Zendesk.

Our next challenge is the interface agents use the most…

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