I remember the first time I used an iPad. I was in an Apple store and, after hearing so much hype about this new tablet product, wanted to see what it was like. I was immediately struck by how intuitive it was to use. I had never seen one before, and yet I knew exactly how to navigate the “space,” how to launch an app, and what to do when I wanted to leave it and look for another app. I didn’t even have to think about it – I just tried what made sense to me and found that it worked.
We don’t usually get to have that experience when working with enterprise applications. The extensive functionality, complexity, and huge amounts of data collected and displayed in Enterprise Legal Management (ELM) systems often lead to interfaces that aren’t exactly welcoming to users. But it doesn’t have to be that way. When we began our Passport® interface redesign, I knew that we could give users a more intuitive, seamless, and simple experience that would be more reflective of the consumer electronics we’re all now so used to. And I knew that good usability wasn’t just a “nice-to-have” for an ELM system, but way of delivering critical value to our customers.
Our Overall Approach to Usability
I have always been interested in optimizing user interfaces, so I’m grateful to work for a company that is committed to providing great user experiences on all products. Not all ELM providers are so conscientious, however, and customers should watch for red flags. When comparing potential ELM partners, there are some questions you can ask to get insight about whether usability truly is a focus:
How do you find out whether or not your users are happy with the usability of your solutions?
A technology vendor that cares deeply about the user experience is always, constantly, seeking feedback from users. They should conduct periodic formal surveys asking users what they do wrong as well as right. In between those surveys, the people who make decisions about the system’s evolution (usually product managers) should speak to users directly via user groups and personal conversations. While designing new features and modules, the team should consult users at every step, making sure that all screens and workflows are simple to understand and navigate.
What are your near- and long-term plans for usability improvements?
The answer to this question will reveal whether the vendor thinks of usability as a short-term project or an integral part of their design approach. If they say that their user experience cannot be improved, that’s a red flag – they simply have not done enough research with their users. If their answer is vague, similar to “we are always looking for ways to make our user experience better,” it could mean that they don’t have any usability work on their roadmap. Go ahead and press for some specifics; there is no such thing as a perfect interface and they should acknowledge this.
What investments have you made in the user experience?
A company with a true focus on the user experience will have made a number of investments. These could include working with design firms, hiring usability experts in-house, training their product managers and developers, or devoting roadmap resources to usability. Most important is a commitment to usability as a “team effort.” Every person involved in writing requirements, designing workflows, and developing screens should be dedicated to building in the best possible user experience at every step.
Critical Components of a Good User Experience
Of course, good intentions aren’t enough and the proof, as they say, is in the pudding. I know firsthand from working with customers as we developed the new Passport interface that some aspects of usability cannot be compromised. For example:
- Simple navigation: Navigation should be intuitive. It should always be clear which area of the screen provides access to other modules, information, and workflows.
- Context awareness: Options such as menu items, links, and buttons should be tailored to each user’s role and the particular area of the application they’re in. A contextually intelligent interface presents only commands and actions that are relevant to the current task.
- Actionable alerts and indicators: Information displayed should be directly related to the work users are performing, enabling decisions about the current task or future steps. Alerts should provide a direct link to the area where the user can perform the necessary action.
- Responsive screen design: Menus and other elements of the interface should optimize screen space by flexing to the browser window or device size. Users of mobile devices across all platforms expect good usability and well-designed screens.
My passion is ensuring that our users can do their jobs efficiently, with a natural, intuitive, familiar, and simple user experience. The goal is to offer workflows and solutions that are so well designed users never even give them a second thought. As someone who is responsible for the user experience, that’s the highest compliment I can get.