The intersection between HR strategy and HR technology

The Realities of Integrated UI

Anu posted this image of simplicity for user interface designs.  While it’s a bit of a caricature on how Apple and Google have designed their UI’s, it’s really quite accurate at a basic level.  Everything you need to do is in one single step.

I’ve spent quite a bit of time sitting around on systematicHR disclosing my hope that at some point in the future, we’ll have a fully integrated portal system that includes core HR transactions, talent management reviews, recruiting, multidimensional analytics, worklist item notifications, social medias, etc…  But as we add on more functionality to have a one-stop-shop, are we deciding that we also need to have something that looks like diagram number 3?

How do we create intuitive applications like Google and Apple and have the usefulness that managers and business users require from HR?  Is there a necessary evolution in HR that forces us to grow functionality and capabilities before we can learn what is really useful to the business and shrink our portal footprint just that which the business user wants?  And if not, how can we present a UI that is simple and intuitive enough for the average business user, knowing that if we can’t present it simply, we’ll just drive that user away?  The last thing we need is yet another HR technology roll-out that goes unused.

9 comments

  1. One of the biggest challenges in simplifying UIs is that too many software products are already at the stage you’re showing in Diagram 3. Reverse engineering simplicity and usability is extremely hard, but we see a lot of companies attempting to do so, especially when going into the SMB market, and using their “enterprise” platforms to do so.

    The best way to get the results you’re describing in the first two diagrams is to start from scratch, make sure UI design / implementation is paramount in the development process, and have clearly defined limits on what you’re building and not building.

  2. thanks for this, actually had a belly laugh. What a great reminder for us all. Excellent.

  3. I have had this discussion a hundred times. Google and Apple work great because entering a seach term and playing a song are simple things to do, and making them complicated is stupid and wasteful.

    However, many things in life are not simple, and recruiting and applicant tracking fall into the not-so-simple activites. Wishful thinking extends to the desire to push a button or type a word to complete the job, but that is not happening right now.

    When you look at even the very latest interface design for something like say…..a Boeing 787 dreamliner…..you are still going to have hundreds if not thousands of function points.

    When the real-world reduces everything you have to do into one simple step, you can bet that most software will reflect that change.

    Now instead of the frame presented by Anu, which is really a waste of time, we should be talking about how to embed training for both the job and the technlology directly into interfaces.

    Actually that frame is more than a waste of time- its destructive because it leads people to buy underpowered systems all the time because they look easier to use.

    Of course, this does not speak to the notion of supressing anything a user is not needing at a given moment, which does reduce clutter. Recruiting however, being a people business, will tend to require multi-tasking and some situational ambiguity, which means leaving stuff on the screen.

  4. The challenge in building any complex application is to understand what humans are trying to do with it. Screens like the one shown above are usually the result of feature-focused design where developers or designers focus too much on the data being captured. In contrast, stepping back and considering the user’s goals will result in a far simpler and and much more obvious interface.

    Saying that complex applications require complex interfaces is just an excuse to not fully think about human behavior. Having the right people who specialize in this field (such as interaction designers) is necessary to create simple interfaces to complex applications. The result might be that the most common goals are very easy to accomplish while less frequent goals are more difficult. This is perfectly acceptable.

    If you look at the new Microsoft Office UI you will see that they used exactly this approach… and they were right to bring in the experts at Adaptive Path to help them do it.

  5. Ha ! The new MS Office interface is just about the most hated thing around these days… I hear nothing but complaints about it. They threw away billions of hours of learning, which by itself increases interface friction.

    Who says complex applications require complex interfaces ? I said that the more complex the activity, the more complex the interface will need to be (one way or the other).

    Instead of pointing to simple activites supported by simple interfaces, how about some examples of complex activites supported by simple interfaces ? Oh….there arent any that come to mind ?

    Click on this link to examine the work of some of the world’s best designers in trying to present the very best interface to handle a complex set of tasks, and find one that is radically simple…..oh yea, when life or death is on the line too …..

    http://www.flightsim.com/cgi/kds?$=main/howto/getreal3.htm

  6. Tabitha /

    I have heard a lot of people complain about the new MS Office UI too but when you dig into the complaints they are almost all relating to problems finding items that used to be on the toolbar. Superficially you could say that this is a failure of the new UI. However, from what I have seen, the people complaining have not actually tried to use the new UI for more than 5 minutes. This brings up a good question about redesigning a product vs. designing a new product. At some point in a redesign you risk confusing current users who get emotionally attached to the way they currently do things. The risk of this is something to consider but shouldn’t deter you from redesigning a product to make it truly more efficient.

    I think flight simulator/cockpit interfaces are at an extreme end of the spectrum just like Google’s search interface is at the extreme simple end of the spectrum. Most software falls in between those two. What you think of as a complex business application can certainly have a simple interface. One reason that it is hard to think of an example is because in really good interfaces the complexity is hidden so you might not realize that a simple interface is on top of a complex system.

  7. Tabitha you are 100% right that aircraft cockpits are at an extreme end, just as Google is (was). I am guilty as charged. The extremes are interesting and sometimes informative, so we are drawn to them. Thats why we are having this discussion ;-)

    Reducing pilot error and workload is a high-stakes affair, so one might expect that interface design lessons learned in that arena may say something about design. I think they do say something just like what you did about the new Office: put things where people have been trained to expect them or risk problems.

    All those cockpits share certain elements, because moving them around could be catastrophic, so your statement that “The risk of this is something to consider but shouldn’t deter you from redesigning a product to make it truly more efficient” requires more qualification.

    In fact, many things we (people) do in life are based on seemingly arbitrary patterns set by various past events. Sometimes change costs are too high to make a change worthwhile, and that math is not always rational.

    Hiding complexity may or may not be a good idea, depending on the situation, and doing it is easier said than done, as the effort creates its own complications.

    I return to my original point: complex tasks require complex interfaces, all other things being equal. The goal of good interface design should not be in reducing complexity per se, but on shaping the learning and labor demands of the system to best match the rewards provided for each user.

    In my mind, that means that the interface should teach and learn, both implicitly and explicitly. Software has been focused on the former, but needs to move toward the latter.

    I have been impressed with Authoria’s approach- while not ideal as executed today, they are thinking along the right lines and I’d like to see more of that goodness in our own offerings.

    That said, from years of experience actually having to sell these things on the street, I think the most important thing to remember is that the job comes first. If a tool cant do the job, all of its design features mean less than nothing.

  8. We tend to forgot that Google actually has two UIs:

    1) http://www.google.com
    2) http://www.google.com/advanced_search?hl=en

    The default UI is, of course, #1. The problem with enterprise applications is that we expose advanced UI to all users, even the users who need to do simple task (like approve/reject/submit) in the application.

    The ideal approach is to design two UIs…one for advanced user and one for ‘business’ users. The fact that business users already are familiar with one ‘complex’ UI i.e. Exchange, Lotus Notes, etc, the application designer can take advantage of that and provide the UI for business users in Lotus Notes/Exchange. This way the business user never has to leave his/her Inbox to do simple task in the enterprise applications.

    If you think about it, Google does the same. Most people don’t go to google.com to do search…they simply search Google from the search bar in their browser.

    The reason enterprise application designers don’t go the ‘extra mile’ and create a second UI that is integrated within the UI that business user already lives in is probably because of resource constraints and lack of integration platforms between enterprise application platforms and Lotus Notes/Exchange.

    I am with SAP and we are trying to bridge this gap with Alloy (for Lotus Notes) and Duet (for Exchange).

  9. We tend to forgot that Google actually has two UIs:

    1) http://www.google.com
    2) http://www.google.com/advanced_search?hl=en

    The default UI is, of course, #1. The problem with enterprise applications is that we expose advanced UI to all users, even the users who need to do simple task (like approve/reject/submit) in the application.

    The ideal approach is to design two UIs…one for advanced user and one for ‘business’ users. The fact that business users already are familiar with one ‘complex’ UI i.e. Exchange, Lotus Notes, etc, the application designer can take advantage of that and provide the UI for business users in Lotus Notes/Exchange. This way the business user never has to leave his/her Inbox to do simple task in the enterprise applications.

    If you think about it, Google does the same. Most people don’t go to google.com to do search…they simply search Google from the search bar in their browser.

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