Raising the bar on the user experience

Ever since Web 2.0 products like Flickr, Twitter, etc. and new design approaches from Apple shook up the market, there has been a lot of buzz around the user experience. Notice I didn't say "UI design" since too many people correlate that with "flashy and colorful, yet missing intuitiveness and functionality". User experience is really much more broad. One recent trend was well noted by Alex Iskold in his blog the rise of contextual user interfaces . And today, Mr. Iskold wrote more about how the user experience is King . What is interesting is how he categorized user experience as providing "value" with components like useful, desirable, accessible, credible, findable, and usable. He further makes a good point that if providers ignore these points, their competitors may not. Flickr, Twitter, Digg and others have redefining user interface standards with contextual design. So instead of seeing a page crowded with buttons, menus, fields, etc., the page is more simple and clean and delivers the menu or field choices based on user actions, only when needed. How else can these Web 2.0 solutions command millions of users overnight? Who reads training guides anymore? Not the younger generation, who have been moving into the workforce.

That brings me to the enterprise market. Lately, there's been buzz around Enterprise 2.0. The Enterprise 2.0 Conference in Boston this year drew a large crowd. Check out their definition of Enterprise 2.0. When speaking with large organizations, I have found that most of the focus has been around leveraging wikis, forums, company blogs, etc. What about the user experience? It's easy to make the argument that it's more about delivering functionality than that deliver business value. I think this is good, but isn't that what all vendors have been claiming to provide over the past decades? Why are many enterprise applications either collecting dust, getting shut down, or taking months or years to integrate with end users before it becomes seamless. Imagine if early Flickr users said hey, I really like the idea of sharing my photos, but trying to make it work sucks. Would there be millions of users today? Not likely. Large corporations have spent millions of dollars on feature heavy solutions and three times that on installation, customization, and user training. Wow! What a market for startups who can provide a me-too option with a much smarter user experience. Remember that Mr. Iskold included "usable" and "useful" not "everything under the sun".  Imagine an executive saying, let's not only spend millions, but let's improve ROI with increased user adoption.

My hat is off to 37signals for being one of the first in the Web 2.0 space to tackle team collaboration for small businesses. They did this with holding off on all the bells and whistles, focusing more on what's important, and providing a sweet user experience. At PIEmatrix, our vision is the same for the enterprise market.

If you're an enterprise looking for new software, consider the user experience as you would expect from Facebook or LinkedIn. Instead of spending weeks with a small team managing the list of RFP vendor requirements, cut your time in half and give the other half to your front-line users. Let them vote on user experience and give that a 50% weighted scale. If you're a software vendor targeting the enterprise, note the bar is raising. The guy across the street (in his basement) may find a way to your prospects' hearts more quickly then you will.

(I like this topic so much that I created a category called "user experience" and will write more in the future.)