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Advocating User-Centred Design to Your Company? 56

Bertie asks: "I'm a UI designer at a small company who has recently found himself sidelined on certain projects. It seems that they've been sold without enough consideration given to providing a good user experience, because the deals were done on the cheap. From my point of view, providing a satisfying user experience is not an optional luxury, it should underpin every other aspect of the project. If you were me, and you had a couple of hours to promote the importance of what you do to various people — execs, sales, developers, project managers, and the like — how would you use the time?"
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Advocating User-Centred Design to Your Company?

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  • Be sure to word your presentation in a way that they feel they will benefit. Show them what increased weight in your job can offer them, rather than explaining what you want.

    Better yet, apply this to other aspects in your life. Everything will be much more successful.
  • Show Them the Money (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Dunx ( 23729 ) on Sunday September 10, 2006 @08:20PM (#16078027) Homepage
    In this situation, saying your company should spend money to do something because it is the Right Thing is not going to work.

    Instead, show them how a poorly considered UI is going to cost the company money, eg through more support calls, or through lost sales because the tool is unusable.

    If you can't think of ways in which spending money on UI design is going to get money back, then you will not be able to justify the work to your employers.

    And if push comes to shove, you can always take your ideas to a competitor.
    • Absolutely. Every single management-person I have met has seen one thing the best--money. Show them how your job will save them money, either by making repeat customers or by less support staff, and they will listen. Your job will be saved.
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by dubl-u ( 51156 ) *
      In this situation, saying your company should spend money to do something because it is the Right Thing is not going to work. Instead, show them how a poorly considered UI is going to cost the company money, eg through more support calls, or through lost sales because the tool is unusable.

      Absolutely. And if this guy has been advocating things because it's the Right Thing, the best thing he can do to restore is credibility is to say not just where good UI effort will make the company more money, but also whe
  • Users? Who are they? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Cassini2 ( 956052 ) on Sunday September 10, 2006 @08:21PM (#16078028)
    Speaking as an engineering professional, user's are what ultimately make or break a project. They determine if it will succeed or fail.

    Often you can ship a project without user approval. The people that will use the program/design/machine will not see the results of your labour until it is installed and operational at the customers site. As such, users do not have much impact on many of the initial stages of the project.

    People forget that users are the ones that actually use your project. If they raise hell, or if they refuse to use your new technology, then the project is often left unfinished. The company will eventually see the project as a failure. Often the vendor is blamed. It can then be really hard to ever sell another program to that company again.

    Users make or break an engineering project. Users determine if you will ever sell a second piece of software to a company again.
  • UI does a few things (Score:5, Informative)

    by miyako ( 632510 ) <> on Sunday September 10, 2006 @08:21PM (#16078030) Homepage Journal
    Here is the way I've always looked at UI, and why I've always viewed it as important. The first thing of note is that the User Interface is the way that the consumers access the functionality of the product. If the user is unable to access the functionality, then for all intents and purposes it's not there. Trying to sell (or give away) an application with a poor UI is akin to trying to promote an undocumented library or API. There will be a few hard core people who will invest the time, but the majority of people, if they are unable to see the funcationality they want up front, will simply move on to something else.
    Looking at a UI from this perspective, it's obviously important because if a client can't access the functionality they need from your product, then they will simply think that your product is lacking this functionality (I would argue that it IS lacking it, since being able to access some function is part of that function working). Of course, this only goes so far. Following the above argument one could simply put a button for every possible function and let the user sort it out. This is where you get into the second big thing that a UI is good for. Marketing.
    I've heard it said that, for any company, half of the advertising budget is wasted- the problem is nobody knows which half. For software, having a good UI is great for marketing. If anyone doubts this, promply smack them upside the face with a print out of all the people switching to OS X, or the feature list for Vista. This is where the eye-candy comes in.
    Finally, for an application to really be successful, you want it to become industry standard. To make it to the point where your application is considered industry standard (or just a really good alternative) - or if you are in the business of designing software to order, then for your company to become a common name for C*Os as a development company, then you need to consider efficency of the UI.
    What it comes down to is first you have to have a UI that isn't completely braindead, so that people can access the functionality of your application. Next you need to make it pretty so that people will try it, and finally you need to make it an efficent application so that people will continue to use it and buy updates.
    A lot of applications are really good at one or two of these, but the ones who master all three really become big players in the software industry. It really applies to all areas of software, and product design in general. You wouldn't ship an MP3 player that required you to open up the machine and analyze the circuts to figgure out if it can play Ogg Vorbis. You don't see any new cars that are shipped from the factory with the weld seams not filed down and the body unpainted, and you don't see many cell phones where you have to go through 12 menues to be able to dial a phone number. Why would you ship software that had analagous flaws?
    In the end, I think a lot of people underestimate exactly how much a UI matters, and I think that a sane argument can bring it to the attention of a lot of people. However, if you find that your arguments are going nowhere, then it might be time to start looking for a company where your talents will be valued and put to use.
    • To the assertion that an undocumented API is better than a fully documented, unimplemented API?
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by miyako ( 632510 )
        I think that an undocumented but fully implemented API is better than a fully documented but completely unimplimented API, if those are really my only options. However, if I am looking do so something and I find a well documented, complete (or nearly so) API that does what I want to do, I am very inclined to use it. On the other hand, if I am presented with an undocumented API, I am much more likely to look at other options, roll my own, etc. There might even be cases where a fully documented and unimple
        • by Bastian ( 66383 )
          I'd differ with you in that I've found cases where an undocumented but fully implemented API can be almost useless if the source isn't available or is poorly commented. I can think of a couple cases at work where I've tried to use a library that was written by somebody who is no longer around, and found that it was so arcane that after spending several days of trying to make sense of a commentless and overcomplicated pile of over-abbreviated function names and single-letter variables for the sake of makin
  • by Anml4ixoye ( 264762 ) on Sunday September 10, 2006 @08:24PM (#16078036) Homepage
    Here's one of my favorite posts [] on the subject. And darn good advice.
    • by RicRoc ( 41406 )

      From the above link, by Kathy Sierra (read the rest on that site):

      Here's my little unofficial guide to creating passionate users for those working in Big Companies. Most is from things a maverick (but cleverly disguised as compliant) group of us did at Sun, while we could. Only one of our original disruption team remains a badged Sun employee, but our legacy persists today in areas that won't make us famous, but do make a substantial difference in the experience that users get within the sphere we influenc

  • If you feel that the software in question is hard to use due to the lack of user-centred design then bring a suitable user in and the two of you demonstrate some of the problems to an audience of the bean counters. If you can show that bad UI could lead to lost sales due to user frustration then you're talking their language.
    • Why bring in users to show the "bean counters" that the UI is important? Challenge the bean counters themselves to use the UI.
      • by jjohnson ( 62583 )
        Because bean-counters are notorious rationalizers. All he'd hear is "no one's that stupid" or "so people should RTFM."

        Good user-centric design means making things as easy and obvious as possible for the user, treating the user with as much charity as possible. It's not imagining that users are really stupid, it's designing for the user who's in a hurry, or distracted, or just doesn't feel much like paying attention. It's going from relatively easy to seamless, something with definite costs that are hard
  • If you want to impress the MBA crowd with ideas, the ideas need to either earn more money (by increasing productivity for example) or save money (by preventing repetitive motion injuries.). The reason user experiences have gotten so bad is that purchasing decisions are often based on cost - which is why offices are full of uncomfortable chairs, cheap CRT monitors, bland cubicles, and bad software. Whatever you do, find a way to frame it around money. That's all MBA's really worry about.
  • Give them a few UIs. Show them good and bad examples, and ask them which one they would buy. Execs care about money, and they care about selling. They don't care about user experience or whether their product can be used at all, as long as it is being bought.

    The UI is the only really "visible" thing of your software. It is what the execs of your customers, i.e. the ones that make decisions whether or not to buy, will see. It is also the only thing they will maybe at least remotely understand. Yes, even if y
  • Some users just don't know what they want unless they are told this is what they want.
  • Poor UI costs money. (Score:3, Informative)

    by cgenman ( 325138 ) on Sunday September 10, 2006 @08:46PM (#16078093) Homepage
    Poor UI costs.

    There are support calls and e-mails. You'll get a lot for those for simple "features" that are as simple as calling "yourapp.exe -fksd ntfs C:/Windows/YourApp/ dD33145".

    It will cost the recieving company money in training, lost productivity, and generally making acquiring and retaining good employees that much more difficult.

    It will cost you in maintenence, as a poorly thought out UI is difficult to maintain in the future, and a poorly laid-out feature set is difficult to reverse engineer.

    Explain to your company that good UI is not necessarily adding flashy graphics or sound effects, but structuring the application logically in such a way that people with less training (and therefore, cheaper employees) can use it easily. Good UI is the difference between a well thought-out business report and a link to an excel spreadsheet with thousands of pieces of useless, unstructured data. Good UI is really expensive to tack on at the end, but can take as little as two days of planning ahead of time.

    Good UI is not flash. Good UI makes employees more productive and easier to support, and isn't as expensive as people might fear it to be.
    • I'd agree with you!

      I'd also add, if you compete in a sales cycle and the competor has a better UI than you, it could cost you the deal.

      Clients want an effective UI, and bad UI design is usually ineffective as well. It could make using the product more problematic.

      • Probably not, because vendors that do UI on the cheap to sell to clients on the cheap, have enough data lock-in that purchasing a more effective product later is difficult or impossible. Those companies tend to think of customers as prey rather than partners.
  • Give each of them one of the devices or programs to use early on in alpha-testing, and perhaps a list of tasks to accomplish.

    Though I'm not a UI person, I appreciate the importance of user-centered design. I found myself advocating the very same thing in a project recently, but my comments were all brushed off as just not worth the effort, until the testing phase started. Then the list of confused calls for help on how to get the bloody thing to do what they wanted started, followed by endless lists of sug

  • You should just update your resume.

    I am an MBA: it's not just the money. No matter what the Slashdot-gestalt says. However, you have already indicated in your post that the projects have been sold without regard for user experience. That could mean a lot of things, but for you (unless your ready to do research on the market position of your products, what the target market wants in a project, etc) that means your management does not feel that user experience contributes to the value of the product. Tha
    • by shakah ( 78118 )

      ...that means your management does not feel that user experience contributes to the value of the product.

      "I am an MBA..." -- that's great, but aren't you drawing too strong a conclusion? Perhaps management simply "does not feel that the value delivered by the proposed UI changes offsets the associated costs (e.g. increased dev time, changes to docs, upgrade effort, downtime, etc.)". The poster can certainly go somewhere else, but couldn't he/she (attempt to?) engage management in an effort to understa

  • by Tsu Dho Nimh ( 663417 ) <abacaxi@hot[ ] ['mai' in gap]> on Sunday September 10, 2006 @09:58PM (#16078311)
    As far back as the 1980s, when I rewrote a user manual to give it a user-centric design, the immediate effect of the manual was a sharp decrease in the number of "how do I install and runt this" calls to the support center.

    That's the best justification: a small amount of effort, ONCE, on the interface can minimize the ongoing effort of supporting the product over its entire life cycle.

  • And start looking. Because when the UI skipping is not making enough profit, your lack of a raise will.
  • by Jason Pollock ( 45537 ) on Sunday September 10, 2006 @10:11PM (#16078368) Homepage
    As with many things, this question is very much situational.

    I've worked for organisations where the UI was very important. It was what the customers used day in day out. If the UI was hard to use, customer's noticed it, got it wrong and support calls went up. They would agonize over individual features attempting to decide if the customer would actually understand how to use it. They would even reject customer requested features that, while sounding like something good at the time, would have been hard to understand.

    I've also worked for companies where the UI doesn't matter at all. It's there purely to input test data into the system. It's poorly organised, hard to use, buggy and generally abusive. Amazingly, the customers don't care. The UI is only there to provide the purchasing manager a tick on their checklist - "Does it have a GUI? Yes. Is it written in Java? Yes." However, after purchase, every single customer then integrates it into their own call center systems and never uses the GUI provided with the system.

    So, in one, a UI designer is very important. In the other, GUI work never gets funded, and rightly so.

    Where does this company sit?

    Jason Pollock
  • A community that's perfectly happy with EMACS and VI? Who don't see anything wrong when they open the KDE configuration window? Who run an OS that can't even copy and paste anything other than text successfully most of the time?

    • by dbIII ( 701233 )
      Who run an OS that can't even copy and paste anything other than text successfully most of the time?
      Spend a few dollars and get a mouse with more than two buttons. The config bit is spot on however - the retarded registry clone that is gconf restricts you to using the gui to set up panel buttons, which is a big deal if ten people want the same menu layout.
      • From my Linux experiences, I couldn't copy spreadsheet cells even with a mouse with 600 buttons on it. It just plain doesn't work... text you can do, anything else is a big question-mark.
    • by wysiwia ( 932559 )
      A community that's perfectly happy with EMACS and VI? ...

      It's not the community that's happy with the OSS UI design, it's just the posters who aggressively voice there opinion here. Else the Linux desktop would be the number one desktop and users wouldn't use Wine, etc to run Windows applications. You don't believe me? Well why then shows the OSDL survey that a majority of the Linux users still wish for Windows applications ( .pdf [])? Or why use 60% of the Linu
  • I don't really see the point in slapping the best UI in the world on your application if it isn't stable and secure. UI is definitely important, but unless your application actually does what it is supposed to I'd certainly give it the back seat!
    • Don't you think that is kind of a backward way of thinking! The ultimate goal of software is helping user's be more efficient. If a user experiences a defect/problem in the software, that can be a frustrating experience, but it can be fixed and the user can move on. Bad UI is a daily frustration. I would personally weight it much heavier than you do.

      There's also a political aspect to it... This summer I finished leading the development of a replacement for my company's online order management system.
  • I think you need to argue that, in software, the UI is the product. Without a UI, or a bad UI, the product is useless.

    It is, pardon the stupid analogy, like a car with a broken steering wheel. If the buttons, menus, toolbars, and UI renders 90% of the functionality of your software inaccessible, unusable, or difficult to use, you might as well save time and money and not develop those features.

    But we'll know in 10 years what that really means, because software development gets easier (and thus development c
  • but I'd use them revising my resume. A software company that doesn't understand that the users come first is missing something fundimentally important in their paradigm.
  • Make them happy (Score:4, Interesting)

    by AndroidCat ( 229562 ) on Sunday September 10, 2006 @11:21PM (#16078627) Homepage
    Give them a command line interface. If they complain, say "Ooooo! Look who wants to be Mister Fancy and Expensive!"
  • do you think this is a UI related issue, or maybe that your company doesn't do a good job of balancing short term feature needs with long term product development goals?

    how likely is it that someone in sales rammed these things through at the last minute in order to keep the customer beleiving that your company is paying attention to them and make his quota?

    its likely that everyone in management thinks that the user interface is important, which is why they are paying your salary. but they just dont have it
  • If you want to achieve anything with execs you need numbers to prove your case. I don't know in which business you are in but if you are in SW you might look at the links in this message ( i d=16079080 []). If you read more of my comment at Slashdot or at wyoGuide ( orm.html []) you'll find more numbers and hints.

    O. Wyss
  • If you tell businesspeople that good UI is worth doing on its own inherent merits, you'll lose your audience. The reason they are businesspeople is that they like making money. So tell them how to make money with it.

    The answer is, brands make money, and good UI makes brands work.

    Why is the iPod successful despite other MP3 players being cheaper and having more features? Branding and UI.

    Why is (or perhaps: was) the Tivo successful despite other PVRs being cheaper and having more features? Branding and UI.

  • Others have already remarked on the competitive advantage in sales of a well-designed UI. You could also look at the other side of the ledger.

    If your company is involved with product support, take the support call logs and identify specific examples of how the design of previous products could have been done in a way to reduce or eliminate the problems people call about.

    If you have access to the codebase (or to friendly developers), take a look at how much wheel-reinventing happens on successive projects, a
  • You don't really provide enough info to form a comprehensive strategy.

    What kind of competition do is there? Are the products custom applications or commercial products?

    One thing to touch on is "People will use that which works well and is easiest to use". That is where you must direct the discussion. Show how poor UI will result in low sales.

    It all comes down to the bottom line
  • Lets say for an extra $2000 (either software or development time) you can improve the UI to the extent that it would save users an average of 5 minutes per day. If you have 20 users, that's over an hour an a half of labor saved each day. That 416 hours and 40 minutes in labor savings per year. If your median employee cost is $30/hour it would be a savings of $12,500 per year. So ask your boss if they still don't think it's worth it.

    And the same holds true for larger solutions too. A $40,000 discount is wort
  • What you will ultimately have to produce is a CBA (cost/benefit analysis) to support your position. Just having the management try to use the software will not do it.

    To get cost, you will first need to define your strategy for implementing a User Centered Design model. Does this mean bringing in actual users to work with the designers or using a usability lab? In the former you may need to pay a user for being part of the team, in the latter you might get volunteers to test but you'll have to pay for

  • This is just one of those non-functional "-ility" type problems.

    If you know that deals are getting done that don't meet your domain standards, whether it is security, usability, scalability, disaster recovery, etc.---you need to educate decision makers as to why your issue matters to them. If you feel they have heard your message and continue to make bad decisions, and defend the decisions to you on grounds that 'we need the business' or some such, then you have two choices:
    - try to work with what you are
  • ...and give examples with charts.

    The example you should give is iPod. Say this:


    All Other MP3 Players: MMM MMM MMM ...tell them it because the iPod has a good user-focused design. Then say: "simplicity, complexity, common use cases, easy to use, reliable, etc" It should be easy if *YOU* can remember to be customer/user focused when you present your argument.

    But don't get your hopes up. Unless you are golfing with the CEO/CTO, you are already an outsider, an
  • Generally speaking, if you are working for a company where your philosophical outlook doesn't match theirs, it is unlikely that you will be able to change their minds. The best thing to do would be to jump ship, and find a company that is more aligned with your ideas. For example, in my company, a huge emphasis is put on everyone coding in the same style, at least for the code that is actually delivered in the product. Utility tools that are written to support the product (compilers/debuggers,test system
  • to your company. The clear evidence is that they are selling projects without a heavy UI design component to them. The customer is always right, at the end of the day, even if they are ignorant.

    I ran a web development shop for a few years, where one of our differentiators (we hoped) was our clear superiority in UI design. Sadly, most customers didn't want to pay for the time for high end UI design. It was just a fact of the market. Some did, and we worked hard to educate all customers as to the benefit

Don't tell me how hard you work. Tell me how much you get done. -- James J. Ling