Redesigning drug design in 3D

How Schrödinger avoided drug design software user adoption problems by carefully understanding UI perceptions

The Story

Schrödinger wanted its clients (large pharmaceutical firms like Merck) to have an outstanding user experience with its new ‘homology modeling ‘ software. The new application aimed to simplify the process of protein prediction. These are protein sequences where no accurate 3D model exists. A high intention to purchase was critical, tied to usability and how credible and familiar the software was for users.

They turned to Experience Dynamics for our ability to scale to new and complex problem spaces such as quantum Chemistry.


The Challenge​

The new product needed to address the following issues:

  • Concentrate on drug discovery, not the user interface.
  • Get the software to work how users work.
  • Intuitively understand how to access the application’s powerful features.
  • Be able to rely on a product that’s so easy you can train new drug designers with it.

Customers represented the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world. As with most B2B software sales, it involves lots of dollars and long-term trusting relationships. Schrodinger didn’t want to jeopardize relationships by bothering customers, let alone having them interact with a clunky interface.

The Turning Point​

Having done usability testing in the past and seen the benefits, Schrödinger knew what they needed to do. Test the app with users! Specifically They had to go out to customers and spend an entire week listening, observing and understanding how the application could improve the customer experience and successful adoption of the new product.

Schrödinger had a unique understanding of the customer group since the company was founded and run by PhD’s in Advanced Chemistry. So when they said they knew their customers, they did. But there was more to discover from the customer site visits.

The Execution

We took our portable usability testing lab to four large pharmaceutical companies and had target users perform real-world drug design tasks. Through careful interpretation of the cognitive behavior of Schrödinger’s users, we determined stumbling points, strategic design enhancements, and overall reactions to the proposed user interface. The Schrödinger product development and UX team accompanied us, allowing them to carefully understand the new changes’ why, what, and how.

Schrödinger’s customers were delighted to be involved in the research. One drug discovery Director at Merck told them that he wished other vendors would also usability test their software products.

Although we had a general idea of what our customers wanted, the usability study that Experience Dynamics conducted revealed things that most certainly would have gone unnoticed. Having the chance to go out to customer sites and watch them use our software was invaluable. We saw exactly what problems users had with features and functionality and what needed to be changed to make a better software product

-Ramy Farid,
Then, Ph.D. Vice President, Scientific Development and Program Management, Schrödinger, LLC. now President and CEO


The Result

“We consider the Experience Dynamics’ usability studies as an essential component of our product development process. We fully intend to use them again on upcoming projects”.

-Then, Ph.D. Vice President, Scientific Development and Program Management, Schrödinger, LLC. now President and CEO

Our usability testing solution identified twenty strategic enhancements to enhance the UI’s ease of use, including icons, menus, screen behaviors, and changes to key features. Users scored an average success rate of 84%, allowing the development team to focus on the areas of the design that were most confusing and re-work functionality that under-performed.

One of the biggest problems identified by users was that the menu felt too simple, making the overall tool feel questionable in robustness. Users wanted “credible” menus like they found in IE, Word, or other familiar software tools!

In addition to the actionable design recommendations in Experience Dynamics’ Usability Test Report, Schrödinger gained insight into usability needs that competitors had missed.  Understanding user perceptions of the UI allowed Schrodinger to mitigate user adoption risks while boosting overall approval and intention to purchase the B2B software.

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