When UI is about experience – and when it is not

The same objectives driving 'higher' level steps of strategy translation must drive all steps right until the end. The steps include the task of designing the user interface (UI) architecture.

When it comes to watching a movie, playing a video game, or even shopping online for certain types of products, it’s almost all about experience. If the experience was good, some amount of pleasure was involved.

However, when you want to book a cab on your mobile app, you are not looking for experience in the sense of pleasure. You are looking to get the task done as quickly as possible. The same is true when you want to fill out your employer’s time sheet software.

Role of UI in strategy translation

Strategy translation matters more at “higher” level steps such as the step involving the discovery of a “reservoir” (a set of processes that, if done further work on, has the potential to generate strategic objectives). But the same objectives must drive all strategy translation steps right until the end. The steps include the task of designing the user interface (UI) architecture.

While designing the UI for your tech, there are two broad factors to consider. And while your tech’s UI may need to address many or most of the design principles that span both of these broad factors, only some will be the key ones – when you are laser-focused on achieving strategic objectives. The question therefore is: which ones?

UI factor 1: experience

In the old tech-centric era, programmers created the UI. They did so viewing the UI merely as a medium to access the functionality they created. Software with such a UI was hard to learn, hard to use, and error-prone. So, experts in human factors were introduced to create the UI. The contribution of these experts was game-changing. They viewed the UI as a medium for human-computer interaction. The code for usable software was cracked and software adoption improved.

This success, however, created in the minds of practitioners such a strong UI-Usability association, it led to over-specialization to the point of hindering other perspectives from being explored and used. The only thing that kept changing was the label: from ergonomics and human factors design to usability and user-centric design to user experience design and to – you won’t believe this – design thinking. Regardless of the label, the older design principles have not gone away: easy to learn, easy to use, and good aesthetics. But “experience” connotes something new: the presence or absence of pleasure or pleasantness. For example, in our “book cab” example, the customer experience discipline will try and ensure passenger pleasure during the ride.

Coming back to UI, it is fair to assume that the conventional term “user experience” includes the traditional UI principles as well as pleasure. Thankfully, this set of principles can be learned because there are lots of literature, training, and experts available. What’s often missed is the other one of the two factors.

UI factor 2: process-view and productivity

Tech used by organizations and their stakeholder institutions such as suppliers encapsulates business processes. Interestingly, a lot of the process tasks encapsulated in these technologies are executed through the UI – often with, and in some cases without, human interaction. Although the UI has no life of its own without the backend, the UI is process – from the standpoint of an organization’s users.

 

From the organization’s perspective, productivity and speed are more important, relative to, say, aesthetics or pleasure. Think of certain types of tech, say, a bank’s loan system that encapsulates origination, processing, underwriting, and closing. If the UI could be designed using a process view, the steps could be completed faster, thus allowing more customers to be served in a shorter time.

Using a process view means we design the UI like we would a process – an approach that determines how work itself gets done. So it’s important for tech teams to also have access to process-centric method and skills.

End note

For process-focused tech used by organizations, using the experience factor alone might lock key value. Learning from the design of everyday products such as coffee mugs is good; learning from the movie analogy too is good. Cross-disciplinary skills are always helpful. However, they may have limited use when it comes to technologies used in organizations. In fact, moving farther and farther away from processes and organizational strategy can be disastrous from organization standpoint.

So, start by identifying which UI factor and which principles are key – the ones that contribute to strategic objectives. Then, focus your best efforts on them.

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