The 5 Key Characteristics of User-Friendly Software
Blog: Interneer blog
We live in a world where we’re increasingly immersed in digital technology. As a matter of course, that has required us to figure out how to interact effectively with computers and other digital devices. Over the past few years, as software has grown more and more complex, a great deal of attention has been focused on the overall user experience.
There are some very important reasons for this intensive focus on usability. A well-designed user experience allows for less training & support, results in fewer errors, and provides for more efficient use of the software in general.
We’ve come a long way since the early days of punch cards and green-screen terminals that called for users to type in cryptic command line instructions. Even early Microsoft DOS PCs operated on that “command line” UI model. Given those primitive methods of interacting with computers, applications were necessarily limited in scope and utility. “Friendly” was simply not a word that many people would have applied to those early days of computing.
Eventually the first Graphical User Interface emerged from Xerox‘s PARC laboratory, was later popularized by Apple, and was subsequently adopted by Microsoft with its launch of Windows. With the introduction of the iPhone, the iPad, and similar devices in the early 2000s; UX design evolved even further.
Nevertheless, significant challenges have remained, largely because applications have grown more complex; but expectations have increased. In the past, it might have been acceptable for a new application to require multiple training sessions, even for casual users. In today’s world, people expect the software to guide them through whichever process they are working on. They want software to be intuitive.
So what characteristics go into software that make it a delight to use? Here are some key elements:
#1: It’s Easy to Implement
In the old days, installing a new software system often meant bringing in a team of experts to set up and configure a server, install client applications on each workstation, and customize the software to the extent possible. Those kinds of processes are expensive and time-consuming, usually requiring specialized expertise. Unfortunately, this approach is still the norm for many software applications and vendors.
So what should the implementation process look like? Today, software installation can be significantly faster and easier. In fact, modern cloud platforms enable businesses to do away with installation altogether. Even for on-premise deployment, the installation process can be vastly simpler than it would be for applications built on older technology.
But installation is only one piece of the implementation puzzle. The bigger picture includes reviewing the company’s existing business processes requirements, matching those that to the capabilities of the new software, and making the necessary adjustments to make it all work.
Although that sounds like a lot of work, that doesn’t necessarily have to be the case. At Intellect, we placed a heavy emphasis on what we call “extreme configurability”. We’ve made it easy for our customers to understand the capabilities of our software and align them to their organization’s unique needs. It shouldn’t require a high level of IT expertise. In fact, we don’t believe it should require technical skills at all. Extreme configurability brings the implementation process down to earth, putting our customers’ quality management experts in full control, without extensive training, and regardless of their level of technical expertise.
#2: It’s Intuitive
Software has evolved from a highly utilitarian approach (character-based “green screen” systems) into a far more aesthetically pleasing body of work. User-friendly software is visually appealing. It’s uncluttered; screens don’t contain a lot of extraneous information. Important information is clear, obvious, and visible.
But that doesn’t mean that less-critical information is available or accessible. It’s carefully tucked away, ready to appear when it’s needed. User-friendly software makes it easy to find the right information at the right time. So-called “tool tips” and similar helpers anticipate potential questions and problems, automatically guiding the user in the right direction. Whenever there’s a question, user-friendly software makes it easy to find the right answer.
Perhaps most importantly, well-designed software guides the user through each process in a way that makes complete sense. There is an art to this; but fortunately, the tools used for developing software have evolved to help facilitate good design.
#3: It is Forgiving
At one time or another, we have all encountered cryptic error message that has left us feeling utterly frustrated. You might, for example, have seen a message box at some point that says, “Invalid input”, – or worse yet, “The procedure returned error 1234.” To an end user, that’s just not helpful.
Well-designed software, in contrast, handles unexpected conditions elegantly, again, it guides the user toward the correct behavior, rather than displaying cryptic error codes. If the user has a question as to how they should proceed, good software makes it easy for users to find the information they need quickly and easily, without outside help.
User-friendly software is also easily supportable, – that is, it includes troubleshooting tools, allows for remote access when technical support is required, and incorporates other features that help technicians to zero in on a problem and solve it quickly.
#4: It’s Available Anytime/Anywhere
Nowadays, almost everyone has a mobile device. For software systems to truly be user-friendly, they should fully support mobility. In many workplaces, it’s still common practice to gather important information with a clipboard and paper, and later to key that information into a desktop computer system. Unfortunately, people simply can’t be fully productive when they are tethered to a computer workstation, or even a laptop computer.
Mobile apps make it possible to collect data in the field, in the warehouse, or around the shop floor; without the need to carry around a bulky device. Mobile devices enable scanning of barcodes or QR codes, and make it possible to attach photos, videos, or audio recordings to a document record.
Mobile apps are a critically important factor in the modern workplace. This is especially true in the case of quality management systems. For software to be truly user-friendly, it should be available any time, anywhere, on virtually any device.
#5: It is Highly Configurable
Earlier, we mentioned Intellect’s philosophy of “extreme configurability”. We firmly believe that software should be easily adaptable to the way you do business, rather than forcing your organization to change they way you do business.
Let’s take a very simple example. Most organizations have their own unique language. They have a specific nomenclature that has evolved over the years. People shouldn’t have to learn a new language just to accommodate their new QMS software. By making it easy to adjust field names, tool tips, and instructions to fit the way your company already works, software designers can make life just a little bit easier for everyone in your company.
Extreme configurability goes much further than that, though. At Intellect, we believe it should be possible to tailor business processes to fit the way the organization already works. Administrators should be able to hide features and fields that aren’t needed, reducing clutter and eliminating confusion. A quality manager should even be able to design and implement an entirely new process from scratch, without programming skills are any other specialized technical expertise. That’s extreme configurability.
At Intellect, we help companies design and implement quality processes that are user-friendly, efficient, and streamlined. “Extreme configurability” makes our software unique in the QMS market. If your organization is looking to supercharge your quality management programs, contact us for a free demo, or to discuss your company’s needs.