Is your web application ready for a facelift?
In this article we share a few quick win tips on how to improve the interface of your web application, portal or intranet and highlight the business benefits of upgrading your app to be more intuitive.
Whether it’s a customer database, an online portal, an internal scheduling system, a maintenance programme or a staff intranet, the purpose of having software is to make operations more efficient and often improve communications.
But if your system is dated and difficult to use, you will find that it frustrates your users, slows down workflows and people will avoid using it. By simply reviewing and improving the design of the screens that people need to interact with (i.e. the User Interface), you will find that information can be accessed more quickly, input more accurately and so users will be more willing to use it.
As people interact with different websites and software platforms their expectations evolve, users then come to expect all systems to be intuitive and easy to use, without any unnecessary distractions.
So why do businesses continue to provide old and non-user friendly systems for their staff and customers?
Here are some of the reasons we hear why companies are reluctant to change…
"It’s too expensive to change the entire system!"
Depending on the system you are looking to improve, you may only need to redesign the part that users interact with. Replacing a whole entire system can be expensive, but focusing on the user facing front-end can have maximum impact with more manageable costs.
Malcolm Maycock, Managing Director of Licence Bureau saw game-changing results after changing the interface of the company’s online driving licence checking portal.
"But people are familiar with the existing system."
The purpose of redesigning the interface is to make it easier to use. Just because people are familiar with the system doesn’t mean that they like using it or it works how they need it too. As well as knowing the system, they will also know what needs to be improved.
"How do I know what changes to make?"
Having experienced users of your system is a valuable asset. They will be experts on what aspects of the system work well and what changes can have significant impact on efficiency. Your management will be clear on the KPIs they need, and the operational team will be able to make suggestions on improving data input and access.
"There are different system users"
Most software platforms have different types of users. User types can be grouped in a number of ways, whether that is based on the type of information they access or how proficient they are at using the system.
To improve the user experience it may be possible to customise the content, tailoring it to the types of users you have. More proficient users may benefit from access to more advanced, detailed information, whereas light users may just need to see a dashboard of summary data.
What can you do to improve your interface?
To achieve the most effective results it is best to approach the task as a fully defined and scoped UX project.
If your budgets won't allow for a UX research-based project, a cost effective alternative is to invest in an Expert UX review. Your users have their expectations of features, content and functionality established, not only by the digital presence of your competitors, but also by every other websites they visit on the Internet. An experienced User Experience professional will asses your digital presence against the current cutting-edge and relevant best practice techniques that are influencing the expectations of your users. They would also undertake a competitor benchmarking exercise to reveal further possibilities and opportunities. This insight would be analysed inline with your business objectives and recommendations would be presented in a summary or detailed report or Expert UX Review
A few quick wins
Here are just a few suggestions of some simple techniques you can implement to improve the usability of your system.
· Align content – lining up content will look neater
· Increase consistency – avoid different font types, styles, sizes and colours
· Reduce clutter – if elements are not required, remove them
· Avoid unnecessary visual elements such as icons, shading
· Use hover and click functions to provide additional information if required, rather than having it all on the page.
· Don’t be afraid of blank space
Here is an example of two interfaces, which would you prefer to use?
The benefits to improving the UI of your system
· Increased efficiency
If a system does what it needs to easily, there shouldn’t be time wasted on workarounds.
· Increased usage
If it’s easier to use, people will engage with it more often. Surely it’s a no-brainer for those systems that directly relate to income e.g. customer facing platforms or membership portals.
· Increase accuracy of data input
Any database is only as good as the data stored in it. If the interface can chunk down information to be captured in a manageable way, it can increase the accuracy of data input.
· Reduced training
If a system is intuitive, new users should only need minimal training on how to use the system.
How to get started
When undertaking a project like this, our approach as a UX digital agency, is to first begin with a stakeholder workshop.
A stakeholder workshop brings together the key system users. This might include management who want KPI data, those who control and upload content as well as those who access the content. Whether it is a staff intranet, a customer membership portal or some other type of database system, there will be different user types that need to be consulted.
Once you have access to these stakeholders, understanding the goals, tasks, expectations and frustrations of these users groups will enable the most appropriate and relevant changes to be made to the user interface to ensure the most impactful results.