Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Designing Software Blind

Chris Blatnick talks in his blog about how important interface design is in making software a success. Recently I became aware of a major development project that broke many of the guidelines that we use to design interfaces.

A major retailer started implementing a new POS software for their stores that was suppose to revolutionize their operation. You would think that they would work with store employees who will be using the POS systems to design the best solution, run test pilots to make sure that the software met the needs of the store employees, and have a detailed implementation and training plan. Answer NO NO NO. Software that are created by developers who live in a box and never get the customer (users) involved with most likely fail.

Here are a few example of why getting users involved in the interface design is so important:

Since the screen sizes of POS system usually are small you would think that they would be very concerned about font sizes, no. The designers decided to put as much information on one single screen as possible. The fonts were so small that even people with 20/20 vision can barely read the information. In the retail industry, some of the employees are older, retired and need bifocals or read glasses to read like myself. So in order for them to read it, they have to practically put their face against the front of the screen. Not a good image for their customers to see.

The designers decided to use colors like blue and green together, so that individuals who are color-blinded cannot distinguish between different parts of the screen. How much did that increase errors?

The developers decided to use words that were not commonly used in the United States so that the average store employee would not understand what they are talking about. I would not be surprised if the software was outsourced overseas.

The screen is populated with dozens of tabs so that users had a hard time finding things. At least it is not as bad on the one that Chris showed at Lotusphere 2008.

Instead of having trained technicans install the software, they had store employees who have minimum knowledge of computers install the software.

They forgot to train the help desk on the new system so when the store employees had problems and call they did not know how to response.

They did not train the employee how to use the new POS software. I guess they will learn by trial and error.

So as a result, the implement has been a huge drain on the stores and on their resources. Lesson learned hopefully, software has no value unless users can use it. It might be built using the latest and coolest technology, but if you do not have users participate in the development process it will be just a book end and at the very best a bad one. Good planning and training would also help.

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