It isn’t about the features, it’s about the design

The iPad continues to provoke a whole load of interesting discussions about the fundamentals of computing and of course that causes us to reflect on our ELN on other platforms, not just the iPad.

I’m intrigued how using an iPad causes me to think differently about user experience, and perhaps raise my expectations of what is a possible and indeed necessary.

I was reminded of¬†this post on the ACM talking about “Why Features Don’t Matter Anymore” from 2006, where Andreas Pfeiffer talks about “the age of user experience”. He gives 10 rules about user experience:

  1. More features isn’t better, it’s worse.
  2. You can’t make things easier by adding to them.
  3. Confusion is the ultimate deal-breaker.
  4. Style matters.
  5. Only features that provide a good user experience will be used.
  6. Any feature that requires learning will only be adopted by a small fraction of users.
  7. Unused features are not only useless, they can slow you down and diminish ease of use.
  8. Users do not want to think about technology: what really counts is what it does for them.
  9. Forget about the killer feature. Welcome to the age of the killer user-experience.
  10. Less is difficult, that’s why less is more

We’ve just had one of our regular consultations with an Information Architect (IA) and even though we’ve attempted to keep PatentSafe as clean as possible, the results were enlightening. A fresh pair of eyes asking “Why are you bothering the user with that?” is always enlightening (and humbling!).

More features, especially when shoved in the user’s face, do not make for a better user experience. The user experience is one of the most important factors in the ability of any ELN project to deliver the return on investment it promised to stakeholders. That ability to deliver a return is a key aspect of any project’s success.

Interestingly we get two different reactions from customers when they look at our PatentSafe ELN.

  • In the sales process we often get asked “Is that it?” in a rather disappointed tone when we’ve demonstrated the product – of course it isn’t but we don’t overwhelm people with features in the Demo – we talk about the things relevant to to their business problem. PatentSafe¬†is designed such that you don’t have to wrap your head around everything to understand the positive impact PatentSafe can have on your life.
  • Later when training, we get the same “Is that it?” but in a much happier way. Yes, with 15 minutes training and very little disruption to your existing workflow you can stop having to cut and stick, and move to a completely electronic world with all the benefits that brings.

One small anecdote might serve: We periodically survey our customers and one of the questions is “How long does it take to train your users”. One large pharma customer responded (slightly tongue in cheek I guess)

“45 minutes. 15 minutes to show them the system, and then another 30 minutes to convince them they already know everything they need to know”

Just because a product is powerful and can deliver a great ROI doesn’t mean it has to be complex. In fact, that’s the whole point of good design… I can’t claim we’re perfect but a good dose of Information Architecture really helps.

(most IAs work freelance – we are lucky to have worked with Karen Roles of Nidbe since we’ve started, and would highly recommend her to anyone. She delivers the sometimes painful medicine with a distinct charm… and you know it is doing you good)