Business users (non-technical folks) hit challenges in executing core tasks like using formulas and executing lookups.


Through research we found that these users were used to certain Excel-isms that differed from how Sigma behaved. We needed to bridge that gap for them.


After making improvements we did follow-up testing and users rated the solutions are big improvements and these projects were incorporated into the product roadmap.

The unexpected reason users struggled executing formulas  ​


(Note: This research was done by Alex Kuo, one of my direct reports. We discussed the findings and bigger picture implications, but he did the work.)

Sigma touts its spreadsheet-like interface as something business users are familiar with and comfortable with. And it is, compared to SQL. However, there are key ways users behave in Excel that Sigma doesn't support, and it causes them problems.

Graph of When Excel Users Go To Execute Formulas

As seen in the above graph, most business users click into cells in an Excel spreadsheet to start writing a formula. We'd previously done surveys where users indicated that executing formulas was one of the harder things to do in Sigma. And before we followed up with this research, the team had thought we needed to make the formula bar more prominent. But the issue was people weren't even trying to enter formulas in the formula bar. They were trying to click into the data itself and start there. And in Sigma you can't do that. 

We discovered several other key areas where users hit obstacles with formulas. 1) They didn't know that they needed to add another column in order to apply the formula to existing table and 2) there were slight differences between certain common Excel formulas and how those formulas needed to be entered into Sigma. We worked with Product and Design to propose ways to ameliorate these issues for users. 

Improving lookups

(This project was also led by Alex Kuo.)

Another key behavior in Sigma was using lookups to combine data for analysis. Specifically, it enables users to pull columns of data from one workbook element into another.


We wanted to see if the new proposed flow for this worked for finding and adding data, and whether users could find the lookup function in the interface. 

Sigma Lookup Modal
Sigma Lookup Process

​Pain points & solutions:

  • Users looked for lookups in several places. They found them in the column menu and formula bar. Some looked for it in the left rail so we added a callout there, too. 

  • When adding data in the modal users weren't sure if they were doing it right. The team added a "% match" indicator to reinforce how well the data matched.  

  • Users didn't always know what data source they needed to find the data they needed to add. This was a blocker for numerous use cases. And it couldn't be solved directly in this flow as it was a more foundational issue for business users using Sigma. 

Sigma Lookups Usability Feedback