Archive for December 13th, 2006

UI Musings

There has been a lot flying around the blogosphere this last week about user interfaces.

It was kicked off by James at Redmonk with his review of a case study of a Flex app linking to SAP. Dan then left a great comment. Thomas, Craig and Anne all jumped in and then James posted again based on Craig’s post.

The joy of blogging – Naked Conversations indeed.

Well for what its worth. Here is my take on user interfaces.

I love the old Apple logo which had the users face slammed into the into the computer monitor. Its symbol that the user should be able to work easily and closely with the machine rather than having a fear of it.

I fully appreciate Thomas’s point when he says…

The user of the system is not always the customer. To put it bluntly, a financial system should not be designed to make accounts payable clerks happy. It should make the real customers happy, the CFO and the owners and investors in the business. They should have the confidence that the numbers in the system reflect the business reality. It should designed to track, control, record and predict the financial status of the business. Most of the data that flows into a finance system does so without user intervention. The end-user is not the centre of attention, but that doesn’t mean you should ignore them.

I hope by not ignoring them Thomas allows for making the process efficient and thus increasing productivity.

As The Other Systematic said in the comments…

If my usability expert saves one minute daily for 150,000 employees by making their workday more efficient and reduces call volumes by 30-40%, it’s an accounting exercise, not a group hug.

This is the nature of UI at the enterprise level. Making the back end process efficient. One of my recent customers was needing to reduce headcount and thus more transactions were flowing into the financial system via interfaces rather than via the AP / AR teams. At the same time there was a process to make those entries that did need to go via the data entry teams as streamlined as possible.

It doesn’t need to be flashy. It needs to save a mouse click here and a screen there. All these small saving add up.

To me the use of accelerator keys is critical in user interface development. I am a heavy user of accelerator keys, but I am a tech geek who sits in front of a computer for a living. The user should have several ways to access a particular function depending on how they like to work. A button if it is a key function like printing a document, a menu item (File->Print) and a shortcut key stroke (Alt+F, P) or a direct keystroke (Ctrl+P). The menu item should have the accelerator keys underlined and the direct keystroke should be next to the menu item and in the tool-tip of the button. That way a user can do tasks the easy way, by click on a button and then learn the quicker way.

The best advice I read to learn the direct keystrokes was to rollover the menu and then read the keystroke combination and then stop using the menu and use the direct keystroke.

User Interfaces don’t have to be flashy, but they do have to be functional and they have to make it easy and dare I say easy and intuative to use for the new user and fast to use for the expert.

I think I will be musing more on this subject.

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Craig sent me an invite to yesterday.

All it seems attempting to do is answer the question – ‘What are you doing now?’

It is of course a social networking type thing built with agily type methods and probably RoR.

What is cool is that it is effectively a broadcast system. If I link up my mobile phone or IM then any message I leave will be sent to my friends, either by SMS, IM or an RSS feed.

Why is this useful? Not sure yet. I think the jury is out on it but hey, you could check it out too or you could view my profile. Ahh, except I am in secret mode so I have to let you in to my inner circle.

It certainly is doing something very simple to appeal to the largest possibly audience, as Niel explains in this post and the UI is very clean and easy to use.

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