Putting People First: Designing System Solutions for Humans

November 7, 2019 Ryan Staley

When you design system solutions, you have a lot of components to consider: security, automation, data, business rules and processes, etc. A component that’s often only given a cursory thought, however, is the end-user experience.  

Human-Centered Design People Meeting around a Table

On a large enterprise project, team members may exist solely for that purpose. However, for most projects, the “who” of using the system is often lost. Emphasis is placed on the “what to accomplish” but not “who will accomplish this.” 

Humans are an interesting lot —we all have our instinctive tendencies. No matter how much training is provided, we often have a set way of doing things. For example, from over 40 years of using, and 20 years of designing, software solutions, I instinctively look to the top-right corner when I want to close an application window. If I’m using a PC-based mouse, I expect the right click to help perform a specific task, and the left click to select something on my screen.  

Imagine how confusing it would be for me to have to right-click in the bottom-left corner to exit an application! Therefore, we want to build a solution with human tendencies and certain bias in mind. This matters because the human-centered approach to designing system solutions garners several benefits — for both users and companies. 

Increased user adoption 

First, having a human feel comfortable with the software user experience is the first step to adoption. There is no better way to increase comfortability than to have it built right in. This means fields labeled in a way that makes sense.  

To do this, you must know your audience. For example, formatting dates and numbers appropriately. The United States has a much different approach to dates than the rest of the world — MM/DD/YYYY — whereas most of the world uses DD/MM/YYYY. European standards use commas in place of decimals in a number, etc.  

When users see something “that just makes sense,” they’re less likely to resist change. With reduced frustration comes increased solution adoption.  

Cost reduction 

When things flow logically for the user, the business can reduce training costs both in terms of time and money. A confusing solution requires extensive training guides, long training sessions, and refresher courses, all of which increase the tendency for trainees to lose focus.  

The loss of focus means the cycle repeats itself. When you must repeatedly explain how to complete a previously simple procedure, due to the new solution, you’ll will generate resentment and hostility towards the new solution. What naturally follows is that people use the solution less than was meant. 

Streamlined processes 

A third benefit is the ability to more efficiently streamline processes. Even if a user completely understands the software and how it works, a complicated interface will make for a complicated process.  

Fields that aren’t grouped in a logical order makes analysis difficult. Clicking too many places to accomplish a task is not only time consuming but also frustrating. This harkens to the three-click rule of website development: A user should be able to accomplish a goal on your site in three clicks or will get frustrated and leave.  

At the same time, ease of use means employees will spend more time doing their jobs and less time trying to figure out HOW to do their jobs. 

In summary, when you design a solution for humans, make sure you actually design for humans. A good example is an Automated Teller Machine (ATM). The first time you ever used an ATM, it was likely self explanatory; people often do not need prior instructions for using ATMs. Although not always possible, this design approach is a good rule to keep in mind.  

In general, the simpler the solution, the better. This will increase the adoption rate, boost morale during a time of change, and help reduce costs to the business. In other words, everybody wins. I will cover the HOW to do this in a future blog, so stay tuned! To learn more about Appirio’s human-centered approach to solution design, get in touch with an Appirio consultant today. 

About the Author

Ryan Staley

Ryan is a Technology Professional with extensive experience and knowledge of a broad range of technology products and market segments. He has several years of experience implementing and configuring FinancialForce products; the past couple of years focusing on the PSA solution.

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