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Best UI for a System? Eliminating the Need to Use the System

by Craig Roth  |  March 28, 2012  |  Comments Off on Best UI for a System? Eliminating the Need to Use the System

I wrote back in January about the Attentional Experience, a specific slice of the broader User Experience concept that focuses on how a system helps users notice important information or push less important information back.  A good user experience design should do this, but it’s hard to think outside the box when the box you’re given is to design the best user interface you can.  What if the best user interface is one that many users never have to see? 

It takes a lot of guts for the designer (or foresight by the system’s business owners) of a new system to acknowledge that many users shouldn’t have to go into their system.  There’s a bias for UI designers, programmers, and the system’s business-side owners to assume their system is important.

I’ve found the attentional experience is worst for casual users of systems.  These are people that only go in every few months, navigate through logons and multiple screens, and just grab a few reports or bits of content.  These users often have value larger than their proportion of usage would dictate.  They may be executives or people with tangential (but important) relationships to the main process handled by the system.  These are often people that handled exceptions and unusual circumstances that make the difference between 99% success and 99.99%.

Part of the problem may be that the broader user experience (and attentional experience subset of it) falls between the cracks.  The UI designer may say “Well, that’s not UI design.  That’s programming.”  And programmers are pleased that the data and reports now exist at all and are busy doing the work to handle the transactions.  They don’t think in terms of multiple channels to publish the data or how to handle personal preferences in rules, notification, and publishing.  And the owners of the system that are providing requirements think first about core users, not casual ones. The business isn’t used to thinking about attention and dynamic communication channels.

Here are some ideas on how to improve user experience of a system for casual users (those who use a system only 15x per year or less compared to hard core users that use it almost daily):

  • Use notifications to pull casual users in only when needed: Don’t make a user login and navigate an interface on a regular basis just to check to see if anything important happened.  Allow them to assume nothing important has happened unless they are notified through the mechanism of their choice (email, IM, SMS, RSS, or maybe task lists if your users all use them).  This implies the user or management can set up thresholds or rules that determine when a notification is sent.
  • Feed your data to other systems the users use more often: Many casual users just need a data dump every now and then, such as the account info for a client or a report.  If you don’t need a UI to navigate through this info, then think of how you can feed it to other commonly used systems instead of forcing users to go into your system to get it.  Options include emailing it, attaching it to calendar entries, dumping it in a document library or repository (like in SharePoint).
  • Scan logs for users that go through the “forgot password” process every few months: Casual users hate systems without SSO.  How do you remember your id and password for a system you only touch every few months?  A pattern of using “forgot password” for each usage is a sign you have casual users whose needs are not being met.  If you find this, contact a few of those users and find out what they are using the system for and whether you can feed them data some other way.  Or get the SSO working.
  • Use email forms for users that just feed small bits of data: Some casual users only use a system to feed small updates now and then.  For example, updating status on a task to a system every few weeks but not being part of the management group that consumes the data.  Creating an email form that allows these users to quickly update an estimated date or delivery status or check off an order allows them to quickly send the update without interrupting their work flow.  They’ll be happy and you’ll probably get better data quality as well.

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Category: attention-management  user-interface  

Craig Roth
Research VP, Tech and Service Providers
7 years at Gartner
28 years IT industry

Craig Roth is a Research Vice President focused on cloud office suites, collaboration tools, content management, and how they are being impacted by digital workplace and digital business trends...Read Full Bio

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