Monday, December 15, 2008

Fun was never a requirement

Once in a life before Mzinga I heard those exact words in a meeting when I asked why the user interface and experience of an application was so boring and uninspired. I was told this is a real business application – fun was never a requirement.

Then I wondered – why did people feel fun and work had to be mutually exclusive? They don't have to be! Having some fun at work doesn't make people less productive; in fact, I would argue it does just the opposite. To me great user experiences are: Fun, Simple, Easy and Relevant.

Several years ago I designed the UI to a web application – I had used color (not like a circus, but I had a liberal use of color) and icons to give visual cues to the user what was going on. I thought it looked pretty slick (design is always subjective though) and had a rich enough feature set that the geeks were happy too. To me, it was kind of like a pair of Cole Haan heels with Nike Air – sure it's a slick and stylish patent leather heel, but it functions well too.

I showed some folks the mockups I had made in addition to the detailed functional specification I wrote to back up the pretty face. Many thought it was great and ready to move forward, but then there were others that were hesitant. They said it had too much color and too many icons. That it looked great for a consumer product, but for a business product... well to be taken seriously there I was told, I needed to have an all gray color scheme and text only menus. No one would take an application seriously with a menu of icons. No business would buy that kind of application. I said but it has all the functionality one would want, why wouldn't they buy it?! I can understand that argument if it looked really slick, but then didn't have any decent functionality – but that wasn't the case here at all – it was packed with great functionality. Wasn't it an added bonus that it looked nice too? It didn't matter. Nor did it matter that it was PEOPLE not businesses that used this software, and at the end of the day all people are consumers. I lost the argument and we ended up with a colorless, boring UI with text only menus. *sigh*

When was it decided business applications had to suck to be taken seriously? Can't something look fantastic AND function? Anyone who still believes it can't hasn't walked into an apple store lately. They are proving users can really have their cake and eat it too. And with social media tools proliferating into businesses it's happening to web applications too – people want tools that are easy and fun to use, can be configured to how they work, have slick user interfaces, and function well. And contrary to some folk's beliefs – you can really have that!

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