How often do you refer a friend, close ex-colleague or someone within your network for a role within your company? In my experience — I don’t think I ever have! The means in order to do so are rarely clear and concise and each company has a slightly different process on how that works. This has given rise to a number of platforms that have been created in order to address that problem and smooth the overall process of internal company referrals.

This leads me to introduce Links, the me and my team have worked with over a two and a half week sprint. A startup founded in Jan 2018, they have developed a platform which they sell to companies aimed at an employee base of 250 or greater and this platform is used as an internal jobs referral platform but utilises gamification elements to encourage employees to make referrals for roles being advertised across different departments within the company.

Being a fairly new company, they faced issues related to user retention, signing on/ registering to the platform, overall navigation and un-engaging gamification of their leaderboards which they implemented to keep users motivated to use the platform. Our task was to look into all these elements and come up with a way to address and improve these elements to provide a fuller and engaging experience to users.

The Approach

The double diamond approach — a common UX Design tool to guide the from beginning to end.

As a team we decided to use the double diamond method to guide this project. We were given a brief and it was key to understand the background of the company, the product and expected deliverables before starting the UX process.

I will follow the same theme going forward in this write up as it will outline what tools, methods and steps was taken under each “D” of the double diamond approach. The D’s being — Discovery, Define, Develop and Deliver.


Competitive Analysis

We started the UX process by looking into the competitors of Real Links. What were they doing to address any issues that Real Links currently faces and what additional features have they included to set themselves apart from the other players within the internal referral platform pool. We were able to identify some direct competitors, shown below.

What we found from the research is that most of the above platforms are effective at providing continuous updates on activity, this means utilising newsfeeds, HR updates and board updates. Additionally, 50% of the competition already use gamification which addresses some of the issues faced by Real Links. They do this by having incorporated point based leaderboards, time limits, tasks and badges to keep users of the platform engaged.

User Interviews

Our next step was to understand users attitudes and behaviours towards referrals and what drives them to either make referrals or not make referrals. What puts them off participating or what they enjoy and what’s more key is — WHY?

We sent out screener surveys which focused on mid- weight employees as oppose to HR/ Senior Managers to make sure when we move to face to face interviews, we were addressing the correct demographic throughout the rest of the design process.

On the left, you can see 80% of responses stated that their current company does have a platform for internal recruiting. Middle, shows that nearly half of the responses have not participated in the process of referring someone. Right, shows the most common method users have used for referring people.

Using these responses, we contacted 15 users for face to face interviews and contextual enquiry (watching users use the Real Links platform and note frustrations or positives based on their actions). From the face to face interviews we received a stack of key findings and we affinity mapped all our findings as there some clear trends in issues or thoughts amongst our users!

“I don’t really refer people to work in my company because it’s not part of my job!” — Jess

“When I refer a friend, I want to receive feedback on where they are in the process” — Ben

“It’s more fun to compete in teams!” — Riikka

We were able to use to the findings from the contextual enquiry to map out the emotional path of a user when using the Real Links platform which really provided insight as to how they feel from beginning to end.

Current journey experience map of the user based off of contextual enquiry findings.

We found users to be initially unhappy and immediately frustrated due to multiple signing on states and multiple verification emails and having to input their account details 3 times before actually being able to use the platform. Eventually, when the user was brought to the landing page and able to use the platform, their emotional state become a bit more neutral but nothing more. This was due to the fact that there were clearly pain points to be addressed in terms of confusing content hierarchy, navigation was not as refined and the leaderboards and referral updates section was a bit underwhelming and still not polished.



Using the key findings from the interviews, we were able to develop a proto-persona which helped focus our attention when it comes to designing. Meet Julie. She is a representation of our users based on our user research and we used the behaviours, goals and frustrations as a focal point moving through the design process.

Outcome Statement & Storyboarding

We storyboarded Julie’s current situation in the format of a outcomes statement to help us realise the outcome we want to achieve as well develop empathy for Julie in her current state.

  1. Situation: Julie has a platform to log on to and she can refer people for jobs.
  2. Problem: Julie has no motivation to use the platform.
  3. Solution: The platform correctly incentivises Julie to get involved.
  4. Outcome: Julie is more motivated to use the platform and am happy to engage!


We went further to refine our focal point of this project when moving into the initial design stage by developing two main scenario’s which will help guide our prototype.

Scenario 1 — Julie wants to register on the platform, once registered, she wants to refer a friend for a role.

Scenario 2— Julie has been using the platform for a few months, she wants to see the progress she and her team has made on the leaderboard and how close they are to the prize.


Design Studio

Design studio with both the team and the clients.

In order to create an effective design and bring the team together on ideas, we used the two scenarios mentioned above and sat with the client to conduct a design studio. This exercise is an extremely useful to quickly ideate on potential solutions to a focused problem. It was both fun and challenging to bring the clients into this as they will have had no experience doing an exercise such as this and I know how nerve wracking it can be to sketch out a bunch of ideas and show them to people who you not had a lot of exposure to! So our initial challenge was to get everyone to relax and have a but of fun. We started with some basic exercises to warm up such as drawing apples and then cones to get into a creative mindset. We then followed that with 5 minutes of sketching as many solutions to scenario 1, 10 minutes of explanation and critiquing each others work, 5 minutes of refinement based on the critiques and finally a final 10 minutes of further critiquing. We used the same process for scenario 2 and we were able to finalise two key take-aways that everyone was happy with:

1. The landing page was not effective and we should utilise a dashboard idea.

2. Competition is a tricky subject for most people and considering our initial feedback from users we should steer away from individual’s competing against each other and focus more on teams vs. teams as this is more of a social approach and allows people to participate without feeling that they might be judged on yet another thing at work performance-wise.

We also looked at the current site-map of Real Links but considering that our design was focused on employees, there was not a lot of navigational options so we decided that nothing really needed changing within the site-map.

We also developed a user journey (see below) with our persona in mind in order to find the most efficient way for them to navigate through the platform however we found that when users are on a platform such as this and on desktop — there is no linear path for them to follow. This is extremely different to mobile designs where users jump around between pages a little less. So it was difficult to develop an ideal path as this is a data driven platform and users activity is difficult to predict as it depends on what they want to see at any given time.

The ideal user journey focusing on what the users see (dark blue) and what they do (light blue).

Key Iterations

We created paper prototypes based on the ideas collectively generated from the design studio and we tested them with users to gather insights into what works and what doesn’t. We tested with 5–6 users and affinity mapped our findings to realise what we need to focus on as priority and what can then come secondary. We used these findings and went straight into developing a mid-fidelity prototype as the difference between low and mid was copy and in order to get the most out of testing we required copy to provide context as to what the user was seeing and what action they might take.

Below you can see the various iterations we did and changes to certain elements moving from paper prototype to mid-fidelity to high-fidelity:

Landing Page

Changes made: We changed referral breakdown to notifications as user testing showed that this feature caused some levels of confusion and duplication between seeing this and the “Referrals” section in the nav bar. We also added a breakdown of the users points based and how those points were earned to bring a bit more of a personal feel to the dashboard of the user so it felt that that dashboard had been created with that specific user in mind.
Changes made: We moved the top navigation bar to the left so it allowed more space for content within the centre of the screen and also user testing reflected that it was a little hidden and squashed at the top which visually just did not help users.
Changes made: We focused on teams only and removed individual ranking and company ranking as user testing found this to be inconsistent with initial testing where users did not enjoy the fact of individuals competing against individuals. We also added in countdown of when winners will be announced to add a layer of excitement and motivation for people to get involved as it provides a time frame. We kept the breakdown of how each time got the points they did but visually made it a little more interesting as it appeared a little plain before which was brought to our attention in user testing.
Changes made: On the original referrals page, the details on the table were a bit plain and user testing found that this provided little stimulation to the users and no real context of what is going on with people they have referred. Our interviewing showed us that people really care about how their referrals are going so we introduced more relevant table headings and a progress bar which showed a breakdown of points based on the activity. This ranged from Share, application received, 1st interview, 2nd interview to being hired. This visually helped users keep a track of their referrals better and provide immediate feedback to engage users.


Once we had all our relevant changes in place based on user feedback, we had a working prototype in place to deliver to the client. This prototype was able to provide an idea what what the platform could look like when you design for users as user focused design along with efficient testing helps produce the best version of your product and ensures that the user feels more engaged and connected with the product.

Did we help Julie?

From the findings to the actual prototype, we were successfully able to address some of the key issues faced by users when it comes to making referrals in order to assist them and stay engaged with the platform as well taking other concerns of users into account that we initially discovered during user interviews. We were also able to address our brief and the what we originally set out to do for our client which was —create an easier signing on process, improve navigation across the platform and create more engaging gamification than what currently exists.

We did this by:

  1. Cleaning up and refining the signing on steps and onboarding.
  2. Implementing a dashboard idea that allowed the platform to be more personalised towards the user as well as incorporating visuals that stem from gamification to allow more linking between pages of the platform which increases familiarity.
  3. Providing immediate feedback on referral action made by employees so they can see what is going on through each stage of the hiring process for their referral.
  4. We altered elements of the leaderboard and points system to make it more user orientated and focused on friendlier competition (teams vs. teams) as shown from our user research and this brings more collaboration instead of segregation.

Future Steps

Considering this was only a two and half week sprint and how many insights we found, we were only able to address and implement a handful of changes. We definitely believe more can be done to really polish this platform and some of the things we would have loved to look into given more time on this project would have been:

  1. Customisation of job updates and emails — this provides a more personalised experience and minimising the effort the participate and time taken out of the working day to get involved.
  2. Mobile design — consider mobile and how we can get a responsive mobile app that reflects the desktop platform without losing functionality.
  3. Auto-matching candidates — our initial research and interviews showed that people were apprehensive sharing their network (such as LinkedIn) with the platform so it can identify candidates within your network based on their skillset for referral making it easier for the user. Users found the idea helpful but they were unsure of what their data would be used for. It would be an interesting next step to figure out how this could work so that the user fears were alleviated and the platform could successfully identity people that would be suitable for a potential role as long as users were comfortable with how the platform uses their data.

I hope you enjoyed reading this as much as me and my team enjoyed working on this project! Thank you for time. Please feel free to get in touch with me to discuss the project or anything else via the email address below:

[email protected]

Alternatively, you can find me on LinkedIn:

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