Yesterday, the Solid Earth team crowded around the projector again for a presentation by UI/UX developer, Adam Campbell. Five slides and fifteen minutes later, we all had a greater appreciate for what UX means and why it’s a focal point in Spring.
A concept brought forth in the 1990s, User Experience is a reasonably new term to many of us in real estate software development. When placing features within LIST-IT (our legacy system) the user experience was thought of in much more utilitarian terms. Our focus in LIST-IT has been to get information to the user as quickly as possible and if that “experience” feels a little clunky at times, well that’s OK. Much like MS Excel, we’re out for efficiency and data delivery. We’re professionals right? Not art critics.
Spring changes things a bit. With the consumer walking the same online ground as the professional, the utilitarian approach needs to mature a bit. There are just too many well-funded resources out there to bring something ugly to the table and expect positive restults. It’s time to pay attention to what makes people not only use an online tool, but enjoy the experience in the process. Like driving a well-built, well-designed car.
Yes, the sensible economy model will get you from point A to point B, but wouldn’t the super-engineered convertible be a lot more fun? That’s UX and it’s a big deal when you invite the consumer into your website.
In many legacy systems (ours included), there are dark corners of the feature set that are rarely used. Every system has them. We ask ourselves and our clients if this is because these things aren’t needed, the user doesn’t understand how to use them or they simply can’t be found within the UI? Digging into the UX and usage analytics is the answer to bringing those features out in front and allowing the user (through clicks, or not) to make that determination. There’s a science here and while it’s new and still somewhat lost on even large-scale software producers, that doesn’t make it any less vital to active software projects like Spring.
So what did Adam teach us yesterday? We learned that listening to your customer is the first and most overlooked step in creating a positive and valuable UX. Start asking questions of your users. Staff, broker, agent. Not only HOW are people using what you’re offering, but WHY are they using it? Yes we’re placing features in easy to reach places within the design, but are they the right features and in the right place? We just can’t make every assumption without hearing from the actual user. Interesting idea, right?
We’re not Microsoft after all. We don’t build systems for millions of faceless drones. We actually know who our users are… literally KNOW them, by name. Why don’t we ask for their opinion? What a novel idea. User forums, testing groups and sales people like me asking the right questions to the right people – technology early adopter and laggard. They’re all users and Spring will speak to each of them through a friendly and simple UX.
At least that’s the idea.