As a total devotee of next generation design methodologies and web technologies (and other cool sounding -ologies), I’m psyched about blog.arc90.com and the opportunity to bring some of my insights to the party. You can call me Chris LoSacco. I’m an interface designer (among other things) at Arc90. Today, I want to step back and talk about why interface design is important at all.
More often than not, design is the odd man out of the software engineering process. A business analyst who took a print design course in college might throw together some ideas that wind up becoming a product, or a coder will mockup a rough prototype to display functionality which never gets changed before the shipping date. A laissez-faire attitude toward design usually results in sub par software and a huge reservoir of uncollected profits.
How can good interface design impact a business’ bottom line? Let’s consider the numerous ways that a design effort for internal software can boost returns, without even considering the customer-facing output (where perhaps even more is to be gained):
- Productivity. This one’s a no-brainer. If the part of the software that the employee interacts with 100% of the time–the interface–is designed for the best possible experience, productivity goes up because the user can spend less time battling with his tools and more time on actual work. Actual work means actual profits.
- Fewer errors. Easy, intuitive interfaces help users accomplish tasks without making mistakes. More of the work being done is translated into usable result as erroneous entry decreases, so quality output goes up.
- Reduced labor and training costs. Ever heard of anyone taking a course in Google or Amazon? Of course not. But the bills for labor and training on bloated software are exorbitant. Well designed software doesn’t require a three day retreat for training or on site experts drawing a healthy paycheck every month. These costs accumulate, too: as the business grows, new employees need to be trained and support staff may need to expand. Rather than planning for these costs, taking the time to architect a good design up front translates into significant savings down the road.
- Low barrier of adoption. People will not want to use software that makes them feel stupid. An interface that isn’t designed with the user in mind (often the side effect when a programmer designs an interface to show the features of his program) will put the user off and drive him away. "I can’t do anything in that program. It hates me," says an employee. That’s terrible for business, and wastes a lot of money.
- Morale. Business 101 dictates that happy employees will work better than their unhappy counterparts. (It’s why Microsoft stashes Xboxes around their campus and Electronic Arts has a garden labyrinth. Perks are important!) With bad design, as Joel Sposky writes, "[Users will] try to accomplish things, and either fail, or struggle, and for very real reasons this will literally make them unhappy." Irritated employees aren’t as productive, and the bottom line suffers.
It takes great ideas and a hint of black magic to come up with a solid interface design, but spending the time and money to solve design problems up front and create an effective solution can turn into tremendous returns on that initial investment down the road. A good design can, quite directly, make a lot of money.