User experience: why and how it matters

I recently tweeted


so I guess I ought to blog on it…

For a number of reasons, most utterly justifiable, the Commission usually creates proprietary software for any identified task or set of tasks (budget management, document management, personnel management). And almost invariably, the user experience is pretty crummy. These systems seem to be designed with, for and by the people that want to get the information out, but with little thought for how they will be used by the people putting things in. This is important, because if you are relying on people inputting information regularly and accurately, you need to be sure that you encourage them and make it easy for them to do so. A crummy user experience will often risk inaccurate and/or incomplete information.

If you are developing an app for the iPhone, say a to-do list, there are so many such apps around that the one that will emerge from the mass is the one with the killer user experience (in a good sense). I’m certainly finding that with Mailbox, a new email app for iPhone that rethinks how you deal with your email. So simple and intuitive is the user experience that I’m now long- and short-swiping on my other email accounts and wondering why I only have one option.

All of this is why I love Martin Belam’s blog, and its regular posts on elements of user experience. I particularly like that he has always been prepared to try things, and for them not to work, rather than never risk moving forward. I can relate to that…!

It seems to me that in developing systems for an organisation like ours, you need to offer incentives for people to use them, as well as thinking about what you are getting out. So to be hypothetical for an instant, an activity reporting system could connect to the appraisal system so that your managers could see what you had delivered during the year, if they wanted to. In this case, there would be a clear incentive for the user to put the information in and for it to be as accurate as possible. The most irritating thing is having to put the same information into several different systems, all in slightly different format…

Of course the other thing about user experience is that not all users are the same. I know that I am very diagram or image-led. I don’t need categories for my email if I have a good search function. Some people are more comfortable with labels and folders. Maybe that’s another problem of proprietary systems – there is usually little potential for adjusting it so it suits you.

This post isn’t really going anywhere, it’s just something I have been thinking about for a while. My feeling is very much that this is not a problem only faced by the Commission, but by any large organisation that is trying to monitor, evaluate, archive and manage the huge amount of information and data that is now part of our daily lives. I’d be really interested to hear other people’s views and experiences.

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