While the title of this site is Interface Matters (because I thought it had a good double meaning to it and it reflects an area where many Notes applications have issues), I'm really more inclined to think about the entire user experience (UX). Now certainly, the user interface is one important aspect of the user experience, but UX is much more than just what the screens look like and what the user sees. I'm an advocate of taking a holistic approach to the art and science of application design. I want every aspect of the process to be all about the user...making them happy and productive. Let's be honest here. If you are reading this blog, it's most likely because you are a developer in a corporate capacity in some shape or form. And that means that the users don't necessarily choose to use your software. They may request that it be written for them, but not because they are looking to have fun. In many cases, they are unwilling victims that must use it, no matter how bad it is. If that's the case, then I think we have an imperative to make the user experience the best it can possibly be.
I think I'm going to explore this in more detail in subsequent posts, but let's lay the foundation for what user experience is all about. In my definition, the UX is every interaction that a user has with a software application, from beginning to end, cradle to grave. Thus, the user experience encompasses:
- The project request
- The initial meetings with the customer (business/requirements gathering, proposal)
- The design phase (prototyping, usability testing)
- The actual software itself (the deliverable)
- The implementation phase
- Post-implementation (bug reporting, feedback, enhancement requests)
As you can see, using my definition, we're talking about the entire lifecycle of the project. And how you engage and interact with the user at those times when you are not even dealing with code is just as important as when they are sitting in front of the screen. In some cases, those events are even more important. The reason for this is simple. Our brains are great at associating events. If you start out a project on the wrong foot, even the best deliverable in the world might not be able to keep the user from thinking that the application is not that great. I've seen this happen in my own experience. I used to have a co-worker that was quite arrogant and rude. This person thought they had all the answers and subsequently alienated every customer we talked to. While the project this person engaged on was delivered ahead of schedule (and was quite good, I begrudgingly admit), the adoption of the application never took off. After this person left, I inquired as to why when the project was eventually resurrected. It turns out that the people in the department knew there were going to be other phases and more enhancements, but they didn't want to deal with this person! So here you had money spent, people's time invested and an inefficient business process that could have been much better, but people rejected the application because they didn't like working with the developer. That, my friends, is a breakdown in the user experience and it has absolutely nothing to do with bits or bytes.
I know that many traditional application developers claim that they don’t "do UI” almost as a badge of honor. As such, the idea of designing for the User Experience is probably even more foreign to them. However, I think it is vitally important to start to overcome these challenges. This will come about only through an organization making the necessary cultural change. Before app developers can actually start making progress in developing a good user experience for corporate applications, the process needs to support this objective. This means that designing for the UX needs to be injected into the design methodology. Whether they use traditional methods or an agile methodology, thinking about and designing for the user experience needs to be woven throughout the process. When your organization steps up to embrace this idea, it's amazing to see the transformation that takes place.
Have you followed a user-centric approach in your design process? Has it changed how you work? If so, I'd love to hear your story. I plan on sharing some more of my ideas in this space next time.