Yesterday I met up with the team from iPayroll at the small business expo in Christchurch. I’ve been pretty critical in the past of what their offering looks like – the best analogy I can think of is that their offering looks like a Ford Edsel that someone has stuck an Audi V8 into – functional but ugly.

I’m not the only one to say that Nik has posted a well thought-out and helpful list of suggestions to make iPayroll slightly more – well SaaS like in appearance. (Thanks to Daniel for the heads up).

Speaking however to the MD and sales manager was interesting. Their perspective can be summed up pretty much with two main points;

  • Most small business users aren’t Web 2.0 evangelists – they really can’t see the difference between a high level 2.0 offering and one that is less so
  • It’s all about the solution – iPayroll users report excellent satisfaction with the functionality of their offering – that’s all that matter

While I can appreciate their perspective – coming as I do from a background of user-centric design, I can’t help but feel that some of the suggestions made by Nik in the post above would do nothing to detract from functionality, but everything to add to the allover experience.

What do you think iPayroll?

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 can understand the comment that most people don’t know the difference between a high level 2.0 offering, and I agree.

    I feel their issue is less one of needing to ‘align more with 2.0’ and more just poorly executed layout and flow of content.

    It impacts heavily on useability & legibility – one would think a key driver for uptake of the average small to medium business would be ease of use.

    I would love to get my hands on it and give it a makeover!

  • Design is everything! and its nothing! If you have function without form, people are slow to adopt and will tell people your design sucks.

    If you have form without function, people tell people the tool is awesome (even if it doesn’t meet their needs). So you’ll get higher signup rate with higher churn.

    But then forget all that because all industrys treat design differently anyway. πŸ˜‰

    Good design can help viral spread in (for example) vertical creative and IT sectors as people like to ‘be seen to use the cool tools’, however interestingly enough… in the general SME market that XERO and IPayroll are approaching, design means diddly squat – it’s functionality and usability that matters (design is just the icing on the cake).

    Yes you need a tidy design, but the SMB market will be captured by meeting their needs at an afordable price with pee’ing them off through usability issues. It could be a wet fish with a screen for the SMB market – but if it ‘does the job’ it’ll sell.

    Simple as that.

    I’ll put it differently…

    If approaching vertical markets like creative or IT, it’s the ‘slickest solution’ that gets the rave reviews. people are fickle in verticals and chase the ‘new hot thing’ so if you don’t ‘meet their needs’ you won’t be in the game for long.

    But in the general, wide SMB market, it’s the solution that ‘does the job’ that’ll sell. These people can’t be fooled. If it doesn’t work, they’ll drop it. Forget pretty buttons, 72pt type, mirrors and glows. the SMB market just want you to ‘fix the problem’ whereas many vertical niches want to ‘look cool first, then fix the problem second’

    Disclaimer. I’ve been selling to thousands of SMB’s and verticals for 5-6 years and the secret to closing a sales is whether you use design, usability, functionality or pain as the ‘sales closer’.

    Knowing which approach to use and when comes with broad experience and experimentation.

    Maybe someone should start a business doing ‘Design As A Service’ specifically for SaaS business wanting to use Web2 approaches on new platforms?

    We’ll call it DAAS for SAAS on PAAS!

    Oh! and FYI… this is an example of exactly what not to do designwise…
    Check out:

    God Awful! When Web2.0 design goes bad! Cutesy bubbles, shadows, pink and HUGE type (cos we’re all blind). This is an example of design not being applicable to their market. And there’s no relationship between their site design and the product design.

  • As a designer i’d say look and feel is important. But what all designers need to know is that it’s actually marginal.

    What is really important is GUI and that all of the interface and design elements support and accentuate the workflow

    Too much design is counter to the interface and usage, at that point it’s worse than useless. Following the trend of web2.0 design is just as useless unless it supports the workflow.

    Personally i don’t need another gently mirrored primary colour logo/site thank you

    give a site to a designer, and of course they’ll want to re-do it! Sometimes though things should stay the same and just be tweaked, migrated and reviewed. Either way the workflow should come first

  • Sure to stir debate – was designed in Wellington

  • Hey Ben,

    Thanks for linking me up πŸ™‚

    The idea behind my post was to give them a couple positive suggestions to improve. Regardless of where you stand on Web 2.0 look vs Efficacy, the suggestions I made would improve your offering.

    Subsequent to that, I’ve prepared a more detailed report for iPayroll. It’s not easy to move something that so many people use every day and are used to, but they are surprisingly responsive to suggestions from this young upstart πŸ™‚

    Hopefully anyone who uses their awesome service (I would literally not start a business without it… upcoming post though) will notice some improvements.

    Thanks again,


  • I think this post Mark Ramsey gives a good steer on how you some design can go a long way – particularly important for the piece on how can you give your audience something after they are already satisfied

  • Design is important, read Emotional Design (Don Norman) if you don’t agree. However, looking like a Web 2.0 app isn’t an important design criteria for iPayroll.

    The current graphic design was created by a graphic design firm who is also a long-time iPayroll customer. The colour scheme, layout and other design elements were chosen to meet a number of practical requirements (e.g. scanability) and also to evoke a certain emotional response in people using it. In user testing it was very well received, and when fully rolled out the response was overwhelmingly positive. It provokes a different emotional response amongst a certain web 2.0 / web design crowd which is not unexpected – actually its just an unintended bonus πŸ˜‰

    User-centric design is also really central to what we do. This most certainly doesn’t involve jumping on the latest bandwagon and changing the whole look and feel to conform to the current fashion. Rather its an iterative process of gathering information from users and using that to feed back into improving the entire business (including the web site). That information comes from many sources, for example Nik made some constructive suggestions recently on his blog and in a more detailed report. We’ve already implemented over a dozen changes based on his input. We have seven years of experience with that now, and it would be a slow week if there aren’t at least one or two changes made to the web site.

  • iPayroll, you just keep improving in my estimations – I love it how you use your customers as well. How cool is that?

    I also like how you stick strongly to your design, I am on the web 2.0 bandwagon – but not just the shiny stuff – I think underneath the buzz, there are some logical, sensible trends that make the internet better… But I think a lot of people miss that point!

    I replied to the comments on our website design over at my blog (didn’t want to clutter yours!)

  • Design and functionality does make an odd couple for most sites and SaaS offerings. Me, i like simple but not the drab kind of way. And as John Maeda pointed out, there must be balance between simplicity and complexity. “On the one hand, you want a product or service to be easy to use; on the other hand you want it to do everything that a person might want it to do.”

    Hope we do get that dose of our own medicine as we just unveiled a new look for our site. Do check them out f you’ve got the time –


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