My pal Jon Reed posted a 2 part series on the topic of User Experience for enterprise software. Part one is http://diginomica.com/2014/02/13/enterprise-user-experience-overhyped/ and Part two is http://diginomica.com/2014/02/14/enterprise-consumer-grade-ui-part-2/ . You should read both – in fact you should read pretty much everything Jon posts. If it is not worth reading, Jon would not post it.
Since mid 90s – I have been fighting the good fight on UI and at some point after that, I have been fighting the fight on UX too. And I have not won that battle other than for short periods in time. This is true for packaged software as well as custom development projects I have worked on. However, solutions I helped create in late 90s are still used by customers in some shape – which honestly amazes me. If they went by the social media wisdom on UI and UX – there should be no such solution alive, and customers should be chasing me with an axe in their hands 🙂
All that said, I readily admit that my own first hand experience should not dictate anything given I have not worked with a statistically significant number of projects. And while I appreciate good design, I know that I am not a good designer. So what follows is strictly my personal opinion at this point in time. My opinion on UI and UX have changed with time – and it probably will change again.
Design philosophies have changed over time. When I started – the idea was that you offer every possibility to the user in an application – and let the users choose what they want to do. Now that pendulum has swung the other way – make it as lean as possible, and don’t give the user more than the absolute minimum required. There is one thing that I find fascinating in this swing – users of enterprise software are pretty smart people who can think for themselves and use most software. These are people who have figured out the deepest functionality in Excel and Access that most people would not know it even existed. They don’t need dumbing down – they just want things straightforward.
How big of a deal is UI in the overall UX? It is not everything – but it is significant. But of all things that change in technology – UI takes the cake when it comes to speed of evolution. Roughly every two years – there is some new UI thingy that is the “best ever”. Underlying technology changes just about as fast too – remember flex, silverlight etc? We barely knew them by the time they got obsolete. HTML5 is the new cool kid – but for how long ? Will we ever see an end to HTML vs native ? This is the dog chasing its tail scenario – you cannot catch up and take a lead for very long.
Stellar UX always comes at a cost. Either the vendor will charge for it – or a customer will pay contractors or internal IT to do that. So where exactly will we draw the line on how far we chase the ultimate UX at any given point in time ?
There is an additional aspect of UX that one needs to consider – not everything about UX can be controlled. I have one of the better global data plans available in US – and I can’t even get email in some parts of the country. And this is a crippling problem when I travel abroad. And I am talking about email – nothing fancy one would think. What about OS updates on mobile devices? I have not had a single upgrade where some app I use daily would not get screwed up. So how exactly does one fix something one has no control over?
Lets fast forward into prediction territory. IT moves to and from Suite to best of breed and again to suite with time . Now the swing is to best of breed – which means users will again have more than one app to deal with for a given business process. Even if every app has stellar UX when taken in isolation, all of them daisy chained together will have limited consistency. And by the time people get to know the new experience, world would have moved on to a new paradigm. Such is life in the wonderland of enterprise software.
So that was my long winded way of answering Jon Reed’s original question on whether UX in enterprise is over hyped. The short answer is – yes it is, and needlessly so. Good UX is a must to get work done without trouble. But when people move beyond “good enough” – they tend to approach the “diminishing returns” area very quickly. No one wins there – not vendors, not customers, nor spectators.