Taking User Experience to the Next Level

Jan 17, 2013

Have you ever thought that to deliver a software application all you need is to write a list of business requirements and then develop the code to satisfy each requirement in turn? Should be easy, right? Wrong. Even something as apparently straightforward as buying one or more products from a simple website list can pose many challenges.

We’ve all faced the frustration of shopping online when you are guided to the crucial payment screen only to find that you can no longer see what you are paying for. Or perhaps this isn’t the final payment screen and there will be a confirmation page before my order is finally submitted? With uncertainty as part of the buying process, the chances are you will cancel the order and shop elsewhere.

Any user interface, whether on the web or in an Enterprise Application environment, can provide functionality according to system requirements, but when it comes to good references and repeated sales, it is user experience that counts. A good user experience providing ease of use, results in increased efficiency, simpler staff training, and end-user enjoyment. This produces a positive effect for the end-customer experience, with consistency of service quality and a quick resolution to a wide range of issues and tasks.

User Experience (UX) has become big business, with a whole ecosystem of consultancies, associations, conferences and publications, all dedicated to making a wide range of complex technology systems intuitive and enjoyable for the user.

A key building block of UX design is the use of mental models – what does the user expect to happen? For example, how often do doors open in the way you anticipate? The same applies to Enterprise Applications – learned behaviour often dictates the way users expect systems to work. Adding to this the client’s actual functional requirement of the system, designers come up with a proposed solution.

UX design methodologies also use the psychology of end users to produce the most ‘pleasant’ result possible. The user journey is key: the least amount of work needed to get the result; providing users with only the information they need; providing default values for each user and the ability for the user to change their own defaults.

Furthermore, anticipating user errors is a crucial part of the user experience, making it easy to undo where required, with confirmation boxes if the user’s actions will be final. And just as importantly, if there is something going on in the background before the user’s next step, inform the user what is going on, and that the system hasn’t crashed. Feedback from the client users themselves provides valuable inputs to the user interface design process. In addition, clear fonts and colours all enhance the experience further.

Here at Cerillion, we have continued to invest in usability improvements to our software applications and have seen the positive impact this has had on the user experience. Not only has the enhanced CRM Plus module enabled streamlining of key business processes and more productive call centre users, but the application has become more attractive and accessible to a wider range of Enterprise users.

The field of UX design and methodology has never been so important to differentiate from the competition. The ever changing technology of user interfaces including touchscreens, smartphones, HD and 3D technology, motion detection and augmented reality, all provide new and exciting ways to interact with computer systems, with game-play now frequently introduced to further liven the user’s experience.

But not everyone gets it right either. Microsoft’s new Surface RT tablet and the Windows 8 OS have been heavily criticised for significant usability problems, not least in this review from Nielsen Norman Group. Contrast this with a study of The $300 Million Button which shows how even the smallest of changes can make a massive difference to the user experience, and in this particular case company revenue.

So if you just want to get a system delivered, you can design it against a simple list of business requirements, but for real long term benefits, revenues and reputation, you must bring on board the users and end-consumers, and make them stakeholders in the whole design lifecycle.

Experience Cerillion’s user interface for yourself, by visiting us at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, 25-28th February 2013, Hall 7 Stand 7G104.

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