|By Adrian Bridgwater||
|April 12, 2014 01:00 PM EDT||
We all want usability, that's a given right? We exist in an enterprise world, but we want to behave as naturally as possible with all of the technologies and devices that we come into contact with every day.
The co-called ‘consumerization of information technology' suggests that we as users have adopted powerful devices for our home and personal use. These devices will in many respects out-perform those devices that we might be using or have used in the workplace.
The corollary or upshot of this reality is that workers themselves start to perform their work-related tasks more effectively if they are given a user interface that feels familiar. When we say familiar, let us be more specific - we are talking about making enterprise application user interfaces more attuned to those we might have found in consumer-style applications.
This (somewhat nauseatingly) is often termed part of the User eXperience (UX) factor that has become so crucial in all aspects of software application development and systems management as a whole.
What this means is that software application development teams must now balance UX-related usability along with a core devotion to true functionality. It also means they will have to balance the ROI needed to pull off the UX goals with the still-essential security (and compliance and governance etc.) requirements set by the IT department as they strive to create a user experience that employees will love.
The Hardest Chasm to Cross
One of the hardest bridges to cross here is the fact that the UX for most enterprise applications is formulated during the age when desktops ruled. This is of course no longer the case and we naturally talk about mobile-first as the defining factor, which must drive all application creation at every level.
While some of this discussion edges on the arguably rather fluffy borders of user experience design consultancy, there is a reality to embrace here and that is the fact that the user now becomes a much more dynamic force in terms of the way we build software applications. If that almost sounds stupid, then it should - and perhaps we should have been this responsive to users' needs years ago.
We know that optimal application design can help retain users, improve user productivity and lower customer service costs.
This truth means that we have to use another word that has been sullied by over-use in terms of PR spin and hackneyed repetition: intuitive.
Intuitive user interface design means being able to use an application well, of course, but what does it really mean?
Jared M Spool wrote a brilliant piece almost a decade ago now where here said, "To those who police the English language, interfaces can't be intuitive, since they are the behavior side of programs and programs can't intuit anything. When someone is asking for an intuitive interface, what they are really asking for is an interface that they, themselves, can intuit easily. They are really saying, ‘I want something I find intuitive' [to use]."
How to Make a Great GUI
The secret to making a great user interface great is complex. There are basic points to mention though: keep it mobile first, keep it consistent (so that users do the ‘same sort' of action on all pages of the GUI), keep it fallible (users make a lot of mistakes, accommodate for that factor), keep it conventional (there are many de facto standards that we are all used to such as a trash can for a delete action), keep it simple and ... perhaps most of all... keep it functional and personalized.
If we get all these elements right, well, even if we get most of these elements right or at least make sure that we have been thinking about them then there is every chance that our GUIs will shine and that this particular revolution will be televised.
It might end up being televised on a tablet or smartphone first, but the GUI revolution will be televised.
With so much going on in this space you could be forgiven for thinking you were always working with yesterday’s technologies. So much change, so quickly. What do you do if you have to build a solution from the ground up that is expected to live in the field for at least 5-10 years? This is the challenge we faced when we looked to refresh our existing 10-year-old custom hardware stack to measure the fullness of trash cans and compactors.
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