In my travels I have witnessed numerous, seriously flawed attempts by major industries to create usable user interfaces. Now a new user interface is sweeping the banking industry. The browser, the up-and-coming “look and feel” of both new and old products, represents the perfect opportunity for vendors to “get it right” this time.
My observations have taught me three simple but valuable lessons that I’d like to pass on.
In the airline reservation and passenger ticketing systems created in the 1960s, speed was the key, and little or no thought was put into making these systems user friendly. Have you ever noticed what the gate agent enters when you check in? If you accept the assigned seat, the process involves a minimal amount of input by the airline employee. A few keystrokes, your boarding pass is created, and you are on your way. However, when a small change is required, such as altering your seat assignment, notice how many keystrokes the employee must enter. Ten seat changes could produce “War and Peace”! Although the system performs well, the net result of the design requires most airline employees to keep their “cheat sheets” to use it effectively.
A friend of mine just returned his two-month-old luxury German car to the dealer. He said he was frustrated with the car management system created by the manufacturer. He was just unable to master the single control for the radio, telephone, air conditioning, etc. The manufacturer likely spent millions to create a product that customers are unable to use. Amazing.
The remote control on my new high definition television set has about 300 buttons. My wife has trouble turning the set on, adjusting the volume and changing channels. She asked if I could make the remote for an old TV work on the new set. Guess what is on the old remote? Five buttons: power, channel up and down, and volume up and down. Guess which buttons we use on the new 300-button remote?
Now listen up banking vendors. Whether you are putting a little lipstick on the pig or creating a new product, here are six Design Concepts that will make sure your interface wows the crowd.
Design Concept 1: Keep the programmers, design experts, byte heads and others of a technical bent away from the user interface. They are really nice folks, but given a chance they will create “elegant” designs that only they know how to use.
Design Concept 2: Put a big sign on the wall that says, “The user only does five things 80 percent of the time.” Every time someone wants to put another function on the standard user display, make him or her listen to Johnny Mathis for eight consecutive hours.
Design Concept 3: Put your new design in front of experienced users. If they have to be told what to do or how to use it, start over, it’s too complicated. Your design should be intuitive to someone who is knowledgeable of the application.
Design Concept 4: Make the buttons, words, arrows, and other displayed objects big enough to be legible to employees who forgot their readers. It is tough enough to work all day without having to put your glasses on every time you use an application. If you are working with just five buttons, there is plenty of real estate to make this possible.
Design Concept 5: When users make errors, provide error messages that are easy to understand. What use is an obscure techie message like “String_error, code 1423-06B, line 14, re-enter input string”? Geez, the programmer won’t even understand this message a month later. If a lightweight user cannot easily understand the error and the required action to correct it, it’s too complicated, you fail the easy-to-use test and need to rethink the message. If the user has to look up the message in a book, you still fail.
Design Concept 6: Make it bulletproof. Every possible combination of input in every conceivable order cannot under any condition cause the application to fail. If your test/QA group cannot think up enough obscure scripts, let me know. My wife has successfully crashed every software application installed on our home computer.
I know a lot of this is old news, but the browser is the fifth or sixth method of visually interacting with a user, and none of the previous modes could be considered a screaming success. Vendors, if you can’t “get” the concept, think of my old remote control with five buttons. It is not elegant, it cannot initiate every possible function, but it is easy to use, it’s fast, and it never, ever breaks. Don’t let your new design end up on the heap of discarded “good” ideas.
Bankers, when your vendor solicits input from you for a new interface, keep these Design Concepts in mind. Be vocal about your expectations before ink is on the contract and money is in the vendor’s bank account.
‘Nuf said. I look forward to seeing the new interfaces.