How much does design matter?

by admin on August 6, 2008

in General,Innovation

Sam Lawrence has an interesting set of interview style posts that talk to the issue of design in technology and in particular that of the user interface (UI.) I know several of the interviewees like Laura Fitton and Matt Zeller professionally and I rate what they have to say. However one person, Dr Natalie Hanson, is someone I have not come across before. She makes the point that:

Unfortunately, when I think of Enterprise and UI in the same sentence, the words bland and unimaginative come to mind.  I think it has something to do with the word enterprise itself.


For the most part, an EUI doesn’t have to win over its users.  An employee is essentially trapped – they need to get their job done, and there is only one system available to execute their work.  So for business systems, we may not see poor UI reflect in adoption statistics, but the problems will show in time-to-task completion, data quality, or lack usage for non-required tasks.

When I pitch the importance of user experience at work, I talk about the need to consider technology, business, and user requirements simultaneously. Generally speaking, the idea of user requirements as distinct from business requirements is a new concept for many executives from traditional IT or consulting backgrounds.  In the end, I don’t think we’ll see a real focus on user-centered design until we can quantify the business impact of not doing it.

I’m surprised. In the SMB world, users do not tolerate poor UIs. They simply eschew the products. And while it is true that in the large enterprise users have (almost) no choice it should be blindingly obvious that poor design has a direct impact on productivity. Why else do you imagine that car designers spend fortunes on understanding ergonomics? If a car is considered as much an essential tool as a computer system, does Natalie’s employer really think that design should be a secondary consideration? The answer of course is no but then I see so much crap out there, I sometimes wonder whether software designers are taking the piss.

I agree with others that the influx of Gen Y employees is creating a situation where poorly designed solutions will come under heavy fire. That’s one reason why solution designers do well to take a leaf out of Google’s playbook. The search engine UI hasn’t changed in 10 years but it didn’t have to, it is so brilliantly simple yet totally functional. On the other hand, goodness knows what Microsoft was thinking about when it messed about with the Office 2007 UI and created the ribbon menus. And therein lies the rub. When you do make changes after years of one style of design, however crappy that was in the first place, it throws people completely.


Laura and I will be speaking at the upcoming Going Solo conference in Leeds.

Matt Zeller is ‘scrum master‘ on Project ESME in which I am engaged – critiquing design, among other things.

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Comments on this entry are closed.

Dennis Howlett August 6, 2008 at 6:04 am


Krupo August 6, 2008 at 6:14 am

I was going to say, given the design disasters, it's so refreshing when people actually do listen to your feedback.

I love being a self-appointed in-house beta-tester. :)

Galit August 10, 2008 at 2:00 pm

We're an ERP software company and the latest version of our ERP solution, launched in June 2008, is a web-enabled SaaS ERP system based on WPF technology.
The reason we use Microsoft's advanced development tool, .Net Framework 3.5, is primarily for the ability to design a truly unique UI.
Does the UI really improve the software's functionality? No. But it does make it beautiful, and beauty counts.
The bottom line is that many clients select an ERP solution based on their initial visual impression and not based on the software's functionality or suitability. They are attracted to the software’s UI, and then build their case complete with evidence, to prove it is the best solution for their needs.

In addition to the selection stage, we believe the appeal of a 3D, beautifully colored, dynamic UI will encourage end-users to adopt the software more quickly, efficiently and effectively. Eventually, every employee will do what they need to do, but doing beyond that requires incentives. An attractive UI will not make the system work better, but it will add a certain level of comfort that may encourage end-users to make the most of it.

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