Last night I attended the Barcelona Design Week event. The first night kicked off with a round table discussion about design management and speakers of sexy companies such as Google, Vodafone and Lékéu shared their opinions on the importance of design for their companies.
The fourth speaker was Prashanth Padmanabhan, product manager for human capital management software at SAP. He was the last to present himself and started with an apology that his products weren´t as exciting as those of the other speakers . He went as far as saying that the software that SAP produces is so boring that actually you want to minimize the time interacting with the software!
This made me smile because I can relate to this. In general most business applications are not much fun to use. Is this because business applications are per definition boring as they are used to execute work? I don´t buy this. For the work I´m doing, I use Adobe Photoshop a lot and I truly enjoy it. A pilot probably enjoys flying a plane and I cannot imagine cooks that do not like their knives and pots.
So what makes most business software so tedious to use that it can cause mental weariness? Here are a number of factors that come into mind when you think of "boring":
- Impersonal: the software does not seem to care about you and does not want to adapt to you
- Arrogant: the system treats you as if it´s your fault when things go wrong
- Technology driven, not human: yes, the software runs on an application server, pulls records from a database using SQL and is written in Java but guess what, I do not care!
- Fear of failure: the application does not give me confidence. I´m afraid of doing the wrong thing, losing data or looking like a fool to my colleagues
- Does not speak the user´s language: why do I have to talk the system´s language? Who´s in charge here? Hal? Hal?
- Hard to learn: unless my boss lets me do a one week course, it will be very hard to get to know the system
- Gives information you don´t need: reminds me of the Windows XP message: "You have unused icons on your desktop"
- Does not answer your questions: I´m sure the answer sits somewhere in the system, I just don´t know how to get it out
- Inefficient: do I really have to do all this to complete my task?
- Visually not pleasing: only moms like to look at ugly babies
At Openbravo we realized this a while ago and since then we have been working hard to improve the user experience and with our upcoming 3.0 release our users can enjoy a whole bunch of usability enhancements that will make working with our software much easier and perhaps even enjoyable.
Later I had a chat with Prashanth about his remark and he explained that SAP is also aware of this and that they are going to invest heavily in the end-user´s experience, rather than designing for decision makers who buy the software.
This is all good news. If we, as software designers, point and keep our focus on the end users, everybody will benefit. Our users will enjoy their work more, they will be more productive and will have more time left for creative and interesting tasks. The companies that employ them will see less employee turnover, more happy faces, less sick days, more employee-led innovation and will become more profitable at the end of the day.