Mom's Enterprise Usability Tip #1 – Avoid Option Overload Plague

At a recent client meeting I was stunned to see the results of user interface designs created for one of the world’s largest companies by an organization specializing in user exeperience.  The design was overly complicated and if put into production would create endless confusion for end users.

What may have been represented by a series of simple wizards, turned into a complex maze of button, links and other user interfaces components, all screaming for attention.

With a great design company and a large organization stressing the importance of an excellent user design how could this happen?

When finalizing the Lisa, Apple’s Steve Jobs encouraged the software developers to squeeze every ounce of performance possible to speed to the load time of the computer when it was powered on.  Steve said that if the hundreds of thousands of people everyone who turned on their systems had to wait even an extra fifteen seconds – imagine how many total hours of time would be saved by humanity!

Like a coffee cup, great systems work because users can use them with very minimal training.  If my mother cannot use it, your enterprise users are going to struggle.  For an ERP system some confusion is understanable given the inherent complexity with a non-custom user interface, but for systems that you control the user interface for, with a goal of enabling users to more effectively deal with information, user experience design should adhere to the following best practice.

Give Only What is Needed for the Majority of Interaction – No More
If we stood at a dinner party and everyone tried to converse with us at once, we would never be able to hold a meaningful conversation.  The web is much the same, we need to understand what tasks a user is trying to accomplish and do our best as designers and developers to provide privacy for that conversation to happen before moving to the next (at the dinner party that is).

Anytime a user interface element is placed onto the screen, remember that is has just as much potential to distract or confuse a user, opposed to helping them get to their destination.  Minimal UI is almost always the most effective option.

By abiding by my mother’s usability wisdom #1 your enterprise users can experience a more productive, engaging experience – boosting overall productivity.

On another note – yes – that is my actual mother!  I speak about her so much in meetings to illustrate this point, that I would not be honest without actually using her in this series.  Thanks mom 🙂

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