In a discussion some years ago with the product owner of a newly acquired company, I commented that the entry screen of the demo he showed me looked clean and easy to use, but the rest was a design disaster. The colors and fonts were different from the entry screen, content was crammed into long tables, and the one image on the screen was squished out of proportion. With a patient sigh, the product owner explained to me, “This screen is for an expert user. Expert users don’t care about a nice UI.”
I know what he was getting at: expert users working in their core domain care most about getting their job done as quickly and error-free as possible. Everything else is secondary. But secondary can still be very important! A user’s primary interest in efficiency is by no means a license to subject them to bad design!
Let’s banish this myth that expert UIs by nature must look terrible. This is the lazy way out! Here are some basic design principles to which all users, whether expert or not, have a right.
- Consistency in visual elements such as fonts and colors
- Correct usage of UI controls (ideally following the appropriate UI guidelines)
- At least a bit of padding and white space
- On-screen labels and text that target users can easily understand
- Progressive disclosure to move less important information off the screen and let the user concentrate on the task at hand
- And finally, a design that adapts to the device being used
In his essay, Emotion & Design: Attractive things work better, usability guru Don Norman states, “Positive affect makes people more tolerant of minor difficulties and more flexible and creative in finding solutions.” In the same article, he later emphasizes, “Good design means that beauty and usability are in balance.”
I understand that a user interface which has been designed for an expert with specialized domain knowledge and highly optimized tasks may not appear understandable or easy to use to someone who is not an expert in that field. But when I look at any UI, I expect to see that the product team has taken the time to respect the points above. That is basic courtesy for one’s users and fellow human beings.
That said, we designers can go a step beyond observing the basics. We can design great concepts that optimize experts’ experience of our software by supporting their typical tasks in the best way possible. Part of the goal of SAP Fiori, the design system for SAP software, is to provide design concepts and guidelines that support expert users. A host of enhancements to the user environment promises to reduce cognitive load and better support all users in many ways, whether they are on a mobile device or working with a very large monitor.
Good design does not have to be only for lightweight transactions. Everyone has a right to a well-designed workplace, even experts! I firmly believe that a more pleasing design will help us all get our work done better.