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A kind of ugly system

This Monday, we finally deployed one of my projects. Due to a number of factors, we've delivered a couple of months late, but with better support for our processes. The system we're implementing is a process support system, and we hadn't really understood how much our process differed from the default system in this customizable standard system which we implemented.

The implementation will mean huge benefits to the users, automating a fully manual process and including new functions which means that we can improve ourselves by basing decisions on real statistics and data.

There is just one problem. The system is kind of ugly. Or at least, not very aesthetically pleasing to my eyes. There are no fancy icons, colors or buttons. On the UI level, you just see simple HTML. This is a good thing. We need this system to work from any browser, on any Internet connection so this is a strategic decision from the supplier. A decision which I support. It's not that the user interface is bad. It just don't look 2010. So, I've found that during all the training sessions, I start by explaining why the system does not look better on the surface. Why?

Well, one reason is that users tend to think

Nice icons and colors = advanced functionality

We know that this is of course not true. Too many systems are too much focused on the surface and leave poor quality and faulty business rules. But still, we know what the users first impression is. First impressions are important. Feelings are important and do you think that the user's view of the system will be affected by the surface design, address that so that they can put that behind them. I've almost gotten used to it. But just almost.

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Categories: Agile
  1. 2010/02/12 at 9:33 pm

    Hi Anna!

    Glad to see you writing about users. I fully agree that our users take their GUI seriously. And they should! They deserve to work with beautiful, useful tools that make their day both easier and brighter. To them, the GUI _is_ the system. It’s not just a “first impression”. It’s the impression they get _every day_ when they start it. It’s rather immoral to give them poor systems if they have no choice but to use them.

    Another reaction I get from reading your article is that you seem to have been seriously BS’ed by your supplier. “The system is kind of ugly… work from any browser… so this is a strategic decision from the supplier.”. Have you thought about what you’re saying? I am sure you are well aware that, today, we can make really nice-looking web apps that work everywhere. I’m sorry, but that just sounded like a _very_ lame excuse from them.

  2. Anna Forss
    2010/02/13 at 7:01 am

    For me, users are everything. I think I need to clarify that the usability of the system is very good – with my background in software training, I would have in no other way. When it comes to the system being ugly, well that is probably a matter of opinion. The design is sleek and minimalistic without unnecessary imagery and design.

    The excuse is not lame, because it’s contextual. We’re not talking about a system which should work in a common office environment in Sweden, Europe or even just the Northern hemisphere. In our use cases, a use should be able to go into any Internet café anywhere in the world and not be affected by slow Internet connections or that the web browser is outdated and does not have specific plug ins installed. The users don’t have their own corporate computers and can be anywhere in the world. In the choice between web page loading time and nice images we need to chose loading time.

  3. 2010/02/28 at 9:59 am

    Hi Anna! Thanks for the clarification. I understand the situation better now. Still, I believe you can improve the graphical design a lot without resorting to visual gimickry.

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