Are We Wasting Our Time Writing UIs?
It is really worth it? We should learn from science fiction when we speak to the computer, android, or coworker you have a conversation with.
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A huge focus and time suck in the last 3 years has been how do I write a better UI, what is the user experience, how do I relate to the user via a screen with text, colorful shapes, and maintain the brand? Many companies have launched initiatives to make the software user interface more usable, aligning the user to the business process. All of these efforts are backed up with some ROI. The density of data presented on a page is changing, UI designers and User Experience teams are monitoring and trying to figure out how to get just the right data on a screen and make sure that there are not too many steps to complete a task. This is a long and never-ending road.
Looking back is it really working? Are users happier with the new UI? From what I am seeing no, users cling to old UI’s for ERP packages like Oracle and SAP, they are afraid to upgrade because they have to retrain the user on the new UI. Teaching people how to use an application and system is a daunting task. Even if the new SAP Fiori experience is better and role-based vs task-oriented, people still need to be trained on the UI, trained on the role, trained on the workflow, and people have to change what they are doing and learn something new and different.
The Cost of Updating UIs
It is really worth it? Is all of the time, training, money, and frustration really worth it? I have been in IT for many years and we always blame the user for not understanding the UI or question the user smarts when they can’t remember how to navigate to a screen to get or update data. Are we just fooling ourselves that all of the pretty UI is better? I think we are, if we look at the future no one in science fiction grabs as a keyboard and mouse, they have huge flat panels with odd-shaped buttons that they click around on but in reality, outside of navigation of the spaceship, the real communication between humans and computers evolved to spoken words and conversations with technology.
We have started the process of speaking to our phones and cars, lite AI that can sometimes understand a task and accomplish, but in many cases, it turns into the wrong action or dreaded I didn’t understand the response. I can set the timer on my phone via voice command and sometimes call someone if the name does not appear many times (repeated first or last names in the phone book). It seems every car I get has a 'new set of voice commands' I have to learn how the car's commands work to call, change the temperature or try to set navigation (it never works for me). The core problem still exists, IT people are expecting the driver to be trained by taking a class on how to speak to the car with a specific list of commands. A car has a discrete pattern of commands and values. As a driver of the car, I must learn to talk to the device in the specific language of nouns and verbs it understands.
Are we just creating a new interface with the same problem? The user must be trained how to speak to the car and say things like 'make it warmer,' 'increase temperature,' or 'turn on seat heater' with response command not understood try again. The problem is not the human it is the software and the desire to bend users to the developers and UX person way of working. We blame it on training, the user was not trained well, we gave the driver a gas card to come back to the dealership for a private lesson on the car's technology and they still can’t use voice command. The problem must squarely be the driver, not the technology?
Defining the Problem
In reality, the problem is the technology, UI, and UX approach. The combination of People, Process, and Technology must start with the People vs. the Technology. Starting with a conversation something that people naturally use every day.
Three keys in having a conversation in the context of requesting vacation:
- The user should have a conversation that that is natural to them. The conversation could be about holiday pay or PTO based on your location.
- The conversation rules can be easily modified by business vs coding. When the maximum allowed vacation days per months changes business should be able to update the rule.
- There should be a natural conversation not just pick 1 for yes and 2 for no, those are decision trees. Conversations can start with requesting vacation or asking them for the balance of vacation, the order does not matter.
In the future to free users from needing to learn or be trained on how to use the technology starting with People vs. Technology needs to happen. When the user asks for something like turn on my seat heater the system needs to learn and be trained to reply with would you like high, medium, or low temp?
The key to breaking away from the 'user is not trained' or 'the user does not know how to use the system' is not to try and simplify the UI or make pretty colors, mouse actions, and support portrait and landscape mode, it is to enable conversations. We need to stop bending the people to the technology's way of working. We should learn from science fiction when we speak to the computer, android, or coworker you have a conversation with. This is really the only reasonable solution to getting humans and computers working together vs forcing humans to be trained on how the software was built.
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