Interesting post over on Dennis’ blog about design. He quotes some peoples perspectives on whether UI is an important attribute for an offering. In relation to enterprise UIs, Natalie Hanson says;

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

Which I agree with – the fact that enterprise solutions are generally decided upon from on high, leads to a degree of entrapment and the acceptance of a poor experience.

Dennis then comments that;

I’m surprised. In the SMB world, users do not tolerate poor UIs. They simply eschew the products

Which is interesting given some previous posts here about UIs and whether they really matter. The fact is that I believe that Dennis is wrong when he says that SMBs are any less trapped than enterprises – the pain to change for an SME is similar to the inability to change in an enterprise – so the bottom line is that while UIs matter, they matter most when getting folks to sign up to your offering – thereafter your UI could look like a cross between the back end of a bus and the awful face of your first grade teacher but you’d still persevere.

Don’t agree? Just have a look at the mass market around you!

Ben Kepes

Ben Kepes is a technology evangelist, an investor, a commentator and a business adviser. Ben covers the convergence of technology, mobile, ubiquity and agility, all enabled by the Cloud. His areas of interest extend to enterprise software, software integration, financial/accounting software, platforms and infrastructure as well as articulating technology simply for everyday users.

  • I think Dennis simply refers to the fact that users often have little say in picking Enterprise software, while in smaller businesses they will likely have a strong influence on the buying decision.

    Even at later stages, a lot of SMBs don’t enforce standards, just “get the job done”, so users may pick whatever they are comfortable with.

  • In part your right. Enterprises, in my experience, have an approach with internal sites of design by committee…the result being users having to put up with the proverbial. Changing this is the same process….committee design, accommodating “all needs” meeting none. I don’t they they don’t consider UI, but in an effort based on “compromise” everyone’s “bit” of UI is met, but the whole isn’t. Many will argue that this is not the case, they have internal “specialists” etc… the end result is the same, they have to “discuss” the needs of many groups, come up with a UI for all…”camel”

    I agree that SME’s are limited by money, but as noted in the posts discussed, taking the Google model…less is more, so with an approach like this, money shouldn’t be an issue.

  • there’s a hell of a lot of lock-in for data and pre existing software, so I don’t think that the UI is a major issue for many bits of software. It’s probably not the first thought about new software and it’s often well after the fact that the annoyance comes out about the nuance in any interface: workflow is the biggest issue IMO. It’s possible to skin a lot of things if you’re willing to tinker with stuff, and if you don’t mind getting a little code on your hands, you can fix a lot of UI issues even if you can’t fix the workflow.

  • It’s not a black or white issue. Whilst it’s always important to continually strive to improve usability, the UI is less important than the actual working processes of the application.

    And every vertical industry has a different perception of UI importance. For example, in web based project management software like our, it’s important to designers and creatives to have a good UI, but the engineers and cleaners using the tool don’t really care about UI.

    That’s my two cents…

  • (wow, what timing as I have a post just about to go out that is so related 🙂

    I think the UI is part and parcel of how ‘useful’ it is.
    If the app is hard to use (because of UI issues) it becomes less useful.

    And being useful is what it’s all about, no?

    As for people in ivory towers making decisions for those below that use the s/w … probably what on see’s as useful is different (or disconnected) to the other. Where was the true collaboration around this?

  • Isn’t one of the defining charactoristics of SaaS apps that people buy them because they use them as opposed to on prem – people use it cos they bought it…

    If thats true the UI is very important

  • Falafulu Fisi |

    Google is the most ugliest of any kind I’ve seen in everything UI. But it is the functionality that keep users using Google’s apps & services because what they offer are more important than how they look (ie, not worry too much because it is not a UI beauty contest). I think UI is still important, but I wouldn’t want to spend huge amount of time to make it beautiful only to come second in functionality contest.

  • Well said Falafulu Fisi!

  • Google spend millions on their (ugly?) UI knowing that it is not separate and distinct from the functionality but wrapped up in it (a fish without water is a dead fish; “fish” can be either the UI or the functionality and “water” the same – you choose)

  • Describing Google’s UI as ‘ugly’ utterly misses the point. Google spent a lot of time getting it right. It is clean, simple, draws the user to where they need to be and does exactly what it says on the tin. Why would you change that? Especially given the speed with which Google returns results. Again – part of Google’s design. You simply can’t refresh with complex screens and especially if they’ve a ton of overhead like AJAX.

    The problem is that the ‘make’ people have had very little access to business. UI’s have almost always been an afterthought. On our ESME project, UI design is an integral part of the design methodology. We have several non-geeks on the team, precisely to ensure we get it right plus a usability expert.

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