The pandemic fundamentally shifted the retail landscape. Overnight, Microsoft customers lost that vital tactile connection with our premium Surface products. Before, a customer could walk into a store, experience the cool precision of the aluminum, examine the fluid motion of a hinge, or discover those thoughtful, almost hidden design details that set Surface apart. These interactions were essential to understanding not just the technical specifications but the essence of the product.

That in-store experience was a core part of the Microsoft brand promise, a commitment to elegant design and quality craftsmanship. Suddenly, online was the only option for many customers, and we faced a pressing question: How could we translate that experience - to not just inform, but to evoke that same sense of delight and excitement as unboxing a Surface for the first time?

This is where my team came in. We were selected because of our proven ability to think beyond conventional solutions, to understand both the product and the customer journey in depth. Our diverse backgrounds - from engineering to visual design to user research gave us a unique perspective. We knew the solution couldn't just be a digital replica of the showroom; it had to be something different, something transformative. We were determined to build an online tool that would spark genuine engagement with both our brand and the Surface lineup.

Case Study

Shop in 3D

Microsoft's Immersive Online 3D Shopping Experience

The Exploration

  • Customer-Driven Exploration
  • Deep diving into user research and understanding customer pain points fueled our exploration, allowing us to identify the interactions that would mimic that 'in-store' sense of product discovery online.
  • Prototyping for Progress
  • Prototyping became our tool for experimentation, helping us visualize concepts, solve technical challenges, and ultimately deliver a seamless, customer-centric experience.
  • Technology + User Experience
  • Understanding that the technology was the means, not the end goal, allowed us to use 3D capabilities to solve human problems, not just create flashy visuals.

While we didn't follow a rigid design process, our approach echoed the core design thinking principles of empathize, define, ideate, prototype, and test. Thankfully, Microsoft's amazing user research team provided a wealth of insights. We began by immersing ourselves in that data, understanding not just customer pain points but their language and expectations. This helped us define the core problem:
How to recreate the multi-sensory, self-guided joy of discovering a new device in a purely online environment.

Ideas flowed rapidly, from 1-on-1 video calls with a personal sales representative, and in-person device seminars, to AR-powered simulations and elegantly simple 3D models. Web-based 3D technology held promise, but most online examples of 'virtual retail' were clunky, confusing, and limited to users with fancy video cards. We didn't want this... we wanted to 'empower' customers, not 'overwhelm' them. My natural inclination is to build and visualize, so I created quick-and-dirty prototypes as we debated whether to pursue Web 3D or to find a different solution. These interactive models allowed us to test our assumptions, ask 'what if?' questions, and get a sense of which interactions felt most intuitive and accessible. Each 'aha' we gleaned from those tests, each 'ouch' we learned from, brought us closer to a solution that felt truly transformative. This wasn't just about technology it was about understanding our customers.

Turning Point

  • The Power of Self-Discovery
  • We realized that empowering customers to explore products on their own terms was crucial in recreating that in-store sense of discovery and excitement online.
  • Pitching With Passion
  • Focusing my pitch on the customer journey and visualizing results with impactful demos allowed me to convey the potential of Shop in 3D with passion and conviction.
  • Securing Buy-In
  • Translating the vision into tangible customer benefits, visualized through demos and data-driven insights, allowed me to secure the buy-in and enthusiasm of key stakeholders, ultimately doubling our funding request.

Our breakthrough moment was almost tangible. It was the shift from 'maybe, this might work' to a collective 'Dang! This is totally going to work.' We realized that the magic lay in letting customers drive their own experience. Imagine how you unpack a new gadget, the anticipation of each discovery - we wanted to replicate that online. No guided tours or flashing arrows, just pure product exploration driven by curiosity.

Securing the funding for a bold idea like this takes more than just slick renderings. I built my pitch around the actual user journey. Key visuals from my prototypes and those demo videos weren't just eye-candy; they breathed life into the concept. You could almost 'feel' customers interacting with the Surface. I wanted our stakeholders to experience the potential as vividly as we did.

Their response was exhilarating. Our one million dollar ask was instantly approve and bolstered to two million! They didn't just hear our proposal; they felt the impact, the excitement, the potential to elevate Microsoft's entire online retail game. What a rush! My core design team was elated while at the same time anxious to get started on turning our ideas into an actual service.

Building & Collaboration

  • Iterative Agility
  • Rapid iteration cycles and a 'fail fast' mentality allowed us to refine our vision and deliver top-notch results quickly.
  • Winning Over Decision Makers
  • Storytelling through demos and prototypes allowed me to clearly demonstrate the potential of Shop in 3D, securing the investment needed to bring the vision to life.
  • Going Global
  • Collaborating with international design partners required clear communication, proactive problem-solving, and a willingness to adapt my style to bridge cultural differences.

Turning a bold concept into a reality is undeniably a team sport. With the green light secured, we switched gears from exploration, to laser-focused execution. Daily scrums were our lifeline, keeping even the smallest design tweaks aligned with the larger vision - like 'air traffic control' to keep things humming and avoid mid-air collisions! While designers kept refining the customer experience, developers were optimizing load-times and file-sizes.

Communicating upwards isn't always easy. I learned to pitch in a language executives understood: customer benefits, not tech jargon. Visualizing the impact of our work was key and hey, a well-timed prototype demo never hurts when you want to build trust and enthusiasm.

Things got even more interesting when we brought in our external design partners from across the globe. Timezones? Check. Language barriers? Sometimes! Clear briefs, relentless follow-up, and translating feedback into actionable direction became my superpowers. It was exhilarating to see our vision resonate globally, knowing a customer in Singapore or Berlin could experience the same Shop in 3D magic.

Mentorship + Results

  • Fostering Designer Growth
  • My emphasis on mentorship and fostering a collaborative environment empowered my team's growth, elevating their design skills and ensuring Shop in 3D exceeded expectations across the board.
  • Upholding Brand Standards
  • Prioritizing quality across both the user experience and the visual presentation reinforced Microsoft's commitment to exceptional products and a seamless online journey.
  • Impact-Driven Mentorship
  • My mentorship approach centered around empowering the team to solve real-world problems, enhancing their skills and building their confidence as impactful designers.

As lead UX designer, my role wasn't just about delivering my own work, but ensuring the entire team was reaching their full potential. Through both one-on-one guidance and hands-on design sessions, I actively fostered collaboration and knowledge-sharing. It wasn't about being 'the expert', but creating an environment where everyone felt encouraged to ask questions, iterate on ideas, and learn from each other.

Seeing that sense of shared ownership in my team was incredibly rewarding! And the results spoke volumes. Customers resonated with Shop in 3D, evidenced by a [226mil or 3% fy22]% increase in Surface sales within markets unable to visit stores. However, for me, the biggest success was how Shop in 3D sparked a sense of excitement and possibility about the future of online retail, both within Microsoft and the larger industry. This kind of transformative work is what fuels my passion.

Thank you!