Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Usability in business

While my blog focuses on usability in open source software, it's important to note that usability is important everywhere. Cloud systems such as Gmail, Evernote, and Dropbox could not exist without good usability. In these systems, it's unrealistic to expect users to be trained before they can use the software. These applications need to be easy to use "out of the box," without any training. At most, the software needs to be "learn as you go," in a way that allows users to uncover and discover functionality in a natural way. People just want to use the software to get their work done, quickly and easily.

In business, most corporate applications have not been managed that way. In corporate culture, the desktop is highly controlled, including which applications you can use to do your job. And the software isn't always friendly. Before you can use the financial system to run reports, most users would expect to attend a training seminar. It's just that hard to use.

But that is all changing. I was glad to see this article in CIO Magazine from design consultant Harold Hambrose, about a new dawn for system design. In brief, Hambrose asks. "Are you building business apps that employees love to use and can pick up without training? If not, you need a different kind of design team."

Hambrose highlights one important difference between corporate software and consumer applications: "Technology outside the enterprise is strikingly different because people want to use it." (emphasis mine)

To answer this challenge, Hambrose introduces the design researcher. From the article:
Their perspective is different from a business analyst who will ask, “How do you do your job? What data do you need?” Instead, they may inquire, “Why do you do your job this way? Tell me about the decisions that you make. Why are these important? What is success for you? For your organization?”

If you are interested in usability, you can leverage your experience towards the new design researcher role. Forward-thinking CIOs will be looking to make their enterprise software easier to use—and something their employees want to use.

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