Product & Company

Create global tags that span projects with extensions

4 minute read20 August 2019

Research is often conducted in projects. Sometimes these are isolated; other times they contribute to a larger context or shared knowledge base.

Dovetail takes a project-centric approach to organizing data. This enables teams to work autonomously and maintain tag sets that are highly contextual to the work they’re doing, while avoiding the chaos of making everything ‘global’ and therefore often irrelevant.

With our new feature Extensions, researchers now have the best of both worlds. You can continue using your highly contextual project-centric tags, while also leveraging a separate set of ‘global’ tags that allow you to contribute to a shared knowledge base.

Extensions also help the research team standardize sets of tags for other teams to use in their projects. Use cases include:

  • Building up a data set to create a standard set of personas.

  • Tracking pain points at the ‘platform’ level across products.

  • Contributing quotes to product feature requests.

How extensions work

By default, tags in Dovetail live in a specific project and can’t be shared across projects. This keeps things simple for most people. The architecture looks like this:

Three projects with no extension.

Extensions enable you to ‘pull’ common tags out of a project so you can re-use them across projects. In the example above, we may want to pull Personas out into an extension so we can re-use the personas tags across projects:

Three projects and an extension with tags.

When you create an extension, it’s not linked to anything. You’ll need to link the extension to one or more projects so each project can use the tags in the extension:

Three projects with an extension linked to all three projects.

Inside a project, nothing changes – extension tags are seamlessly integrated with existing tags inside a project. You can create highlights like normal, choosing extension tags or project tags without too much thought.

Extensions are ‘live’ – changes you make to tags in an extension will immediately be reflected in all linked projects. In this sense, extensions in Dovetail are similar to Masters in Keynote, Symbols and Libraries in Sketch, and Components in Figma.

Extensions walkthrough

Let’s use the personas example above. First, we’ll create a new extension for personas. Just like projects, extensions can have an icon and a readme.

The readme in an extension.

Next, we’ll create a few tags in the personas extension that represent our personas. These tags will span across projects. They’re all orange here, but you can change the color and organize them in whatever way you like.

An extension tag board shown in the context of an extension.

Not all extensions will be relevant to all projects in the workspace. We need to create a link between our personas extension and the projects we wish to use personas in. Linking an extension to a project is as simple as clicking a checkbox and a button.

A confirmation dialog about linking an extension to a project.

Once linked, the tag boards and tags from the extension are visible, and usable, inside the linked project. Note the sidebar shows we’re inside the ‘App usability tests’ project.

As we’re tagging data in the project, we can choose the relevant tag – whether it’s a project tag or an extension tag doesn’t really matter. We can also create tags inside the extension at this point too, assuming we have the correct permission.

Usability testing notes with tags applied, including an extension tag.

When you open an extension tag while inside a project, Dovetail adds a default filter which limits the highlights to only the ones in that project, preserving the context of the sidebar.

A dialog showing an extension tag with a filter applied to the highlights.

However, you can remove the filter, or open the tag as a page, to see all highlights on that tag, across all linked projects.

An extension tag shown in the context of the extension, with no filter applied.

Behind the scenes

Adding support for ‘global tags’ has been a tricky undertaking – both from a technical point of view, but also from a product design point of view.

We made a lot of assumptions about project-centricity in our codebase, which meant that tags were never meant to work across projects. This simplified things for us and made features like access control a lot easier, but we heard from customers that cross-project tags was an important missing feature. As we started working on ‘global tags’, we explored many different models for how we could solve this problem for customers.

A key consideration for us is how we balance simplicity, power, and scalability. Dovetail needs to be intuitive to new users yet feel powerful once you get to know it. We want Dovetail to work well for teams of five and teams of 500, so it has to start out basic, but not break down when you get to hundreds of users and projects, and thousands of tags.

Truly ‘global tags’ or ‘cross-project tags’, where you can pick from any tag in any project at any time, results in a mess for large organizations. While some tags are common and should be shared across projects, many tags are specific to a particular project, and we didn’t want all users to have to search through hundreds of irrelevant tags from other projects, teams, and departments every time they make a highlight in Dovetail.

In the future, we’ll release custom fields and note / insight templates, and extensions will help our customers standardize these features across projects, alongside tags.

Start using extensions today

Extensions are available for all customers right now. In addition to this blog post, we’ve written a migration help article that will help you re-architect your workspace to leverage extensions, and a comprehensive help article about extensions in general.

If you have any feedback on extensions, or need any help working with extensions in your workspace, don’t hesitate to get in touch with our support team.

About the contributors
Benjamin Humphrey
CEO and co-founder, Dovetail
Kiwi and classic mini enthusiast.
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Bradley Ayers
CTO and co-founder, Dovetail
Tech obsessed Queenslander.
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Christopher Manouvrier
Principal Developer, Dovetail
Product centered engineer.
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