Streamlining Success

Designing the Smartsheet Shortcut Bar

A Client Piece
Programs & Skills: Design Studio, Contextual Inquiry, User Sketching Session, Photoshop, Axure

We created an efficient way for advanced users of Smartsheet to navigate through the files they manage, by giving them the ability to place their highest priority files and projects within their reach at all times, while keeping their established workflow untouched.

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The Opportunity to Streamline Success

Smartsheet is a cloud-based spreadsheet & project management tool. They provide their users with a vast set of ways to structure their work and are continuously looking for ways to help their customers feel more pride in what they do. They approached my team looking to find a way to improve their customers’ workflow. We met with a wide variety of people who were fluent in Smartsheet and had perfected their individual workflows.

Through observation and conversation one thing really stood out: 

Each user, regardless of their familiarity with Smartsheet,  kept multiple tabs open - so many that they couldn’t see the document name displayed on the tab and had to click through each one to find the file they needed.

Further discussion with them shed light on the opportunity to improve upon the amount of time it took for them to navigate through their files. Often, people would be interrupted in the middle of clicking through their tabs and have to guess where they left off. Bouncing in and out of their flow for various reasons made it harder for them to get around their Smartsheet workspace. 

We sketched with each user we interviewed, held a design studio with Smartsheet, and had internal sketching sessions. After we filtered down and analyzed our work, we developed and tested the Smartsheet Shortcut Bar. 

In testing we found that this new feature allowed people to navigate between their most used pages, reduce clicks, let them flow almost seamlessly in and out of Smartsheet, all while leaving their established work patterns untouched. 


Learn more about my process below.

The Research

Smartsheet is used in many different industries and organizations. As our first stop, my team and I visited a few sites to interview some of the biggest Smartsheet power users at work. 

Through a hybrid combination of contextual inquiry, user interview, and a sketching session, we were able to get a better understanding of each person’s pain points, successes, and moments of pride in their work while using Smartsheet. Having such a complex and diverse interview process was an exciting challenge.

  • Through conversation I was able to hear what they had to say.
  • The contextual inquiry shed insight onto deeper, less conscious painpoints.
  • The sketching process with each user was my personal favorite. By putting pen to paper, it allowed the user to show me exactly what they needed from Smartsheet to be more successful.

Post interviews, my team and I gathered to analyze our findings. We produced an affinity map and key take-aways.

This lead us to create our persona, Janae Kun.

  • Janae is a Project Manager
  • She needs to get to her current projects quickly with as few clicks as possible
  • Janae has access to thousands of files within her company
  • She needs the ability to streamline her workflow
  • She wants to give her team her full attention when needed, and jump back into Smartsheet without missing a beat.

"I need to know what is coming up next and to get the rest out of my way."

  • On average, Janae is clicking through 30 tabs to get to the right sheet, multiple times a day
  • There is a long load time in her home tab, where all files are stored
  • Janae can’t set the save location when she makes a new sheet

Design Studio & Sketching

Once we got to know Janae a bit better, we brought our findings back to the stakeholders at Smartsheet and completed a design studio. This was an important step for us. Meeting with the stakeholders helped us to further refine our scope and to ensure that we were understanding all of the massive capabilities that Smartsheet offers its customers. We left with a collection of ideas and feedback for our metaphorical design bucket.


My team and I sat down for our own design studio next. We came up with the idea for a collapsable shortcut bar that would allow Janae to keep important sheets and files within a one-click reach.

Janae has patterns of work and a flow established, so it was essential for us to leave her process undisturbed. It was crucial for us to make the shortcut bar as unobtrusive but accessible as possible.

We explored different options and made the final placement of the tab on the right-hand side so that it would be visible in any screen size without obscuring other navigation. When expanded, Janae can still view and access anything within Smartsheet without having to close the shortcut bar.

The New "New Sheet"

While the shortcut bar was our main focus, there was another pain point that needed to be addressed.

When creating a new blank sheet, users didn’t have the ability to set a location for it to save to. They were having to look for their newly saved sheet and move it to the correct location. Although a seemingly small annoyance, when added up, this wasted a lot of valuable time in users work-flow.

In the existing new sheet overlay, we implemented a drop down list so that users could save their sheets exactly where they wanted them during creation.

The Design

Within the shortcut bar, there are three sections:

Projects is big-picture content, i.e.: project folders and workspaces.

Recent Sheets is an auto-populating section that shows the last five files opened.

Favorites -originally titled “References”- holds any sheet or document that you might not need daily, but is important to have on-hand.

In order to prevent cognitive overload for Janae and have her end up with all of her files in the shortcut bar, there is a limit to the amount of  files that she can link to within the shortcut bar.

We established user flows and built the prototype in Axure.


User Tests were completed in-person and through We did two rounds of testing and iterated our design after the first.

In after our first iteration, we made changes in taxonomy and cut an entire feature that didn’t prove to be useful. People weren’t fully aware of what each section in the sidebar could do, so I implemented a tooltip function. On hover, a brief description of capabilities appeared next to the respective selection.

"I just want to click on things less to get to where I am going. The Shortcut bar does this for me."

-Participant 7

The Prototype

You can checkout the prototype and click through it here:

Going Forward

My team and I had a specific audience to focus on. We researched, designed, and tested over the course of our sprint and found a solution that was effective for Smartsheet power users.

In future rounds of testing, it would be important to research how non-power-users interact and understand the shortcut bar. Is it still intuitive and helpful for them?

Implementing and testing an “Add to Shortcut Bar” right-click action or a keyboard shortcut to further reduce clicking and time spent completing actions is also crucial.

Third, exploring the customization possibilities within the shortcut bar to really hone in on what each user needs within their Smartsheet workflow.