Recently at the Tekom yearly conference in Stuttgart, I heard a great presentation by SAP on its new UI design principles encapsulated in SAP Fiori Design.
It has quite an impact on me, especially as it was presented by a Technical Writer rather than a UX designer.
The key takeaway from the presentation was that the UI design of SAP applications sucked! SAP knew about it and wanted to change it. They brought in an expert designer to completely rethink and redesign SAP UIs.
At first there was some resistance from long time users of SAP. They liked, at least they knew, where all the functions where. That didn't mean new customers felt that way or even some long time users. Sometimes people just accept crappy design because that is the way it has always been. But it doesn't mean it has to stay that way.
Expert users of a product may know how to do things with a UI but it does not mean they are happy about it. Consider this written by Esther Blankenship, a User Experience Evangelist at SAP SE.
"Let’s banish this myth that expert UIs by nature must look terrible. This is the lazy way out! Here are some basic design principles to which all users, whether expert or not, have a right.
- Consistency in visual elements such as fonts and colors
- Correct usage of UI controls (ideally following the appropriate UI guidelines)
- At least a bit of padding and white space
- On-screen labels and text that target users can easily understand
- Progressive disclosure to move less important information off the screen and let the user concentrate on the task at hand
- And finally, a design that adapts to the device being used
In his essay, Emotion & Design: Attractive things work better, usability guru Don Norman states, “Positive affect makes people more tolerant of minor difficulties and more flexible and creative in finding solutions.” In the same article, he later emphasizes, “Good design means that beauty and usability are in balance.”
I couldn't agree more. A user interface does not need to look terrible. Good design makes people more willing to work with a product that may have some minor problems. They will overlook a small flaw because the product is just so darn easy and great to work with.
As a technical writer, I see good design and bad design all the time. Its part of my work experience. Documenting a product with good design is so much easier and quicker than documenting a product with poor design. In the later case, I need to be the interpreter and guide to help a user navigate poor UI design.
Good, or even great, UI design needs less documentation. Just consider the documentation that comes with an iPad. Is there really any documentation for it? Not really in the sense of a proper user guide.
So, at its heart, a good product needs to be usable, and at the heart of usability are basic design principles that encompass both beauty and a functions that are easy to work with to achieve specific outcomes.
Some useful references: