“As far as the customer is concerned, the interface is the product,” says Jef Raskin, an interface expert who drove the early development of the Macintosh system for Apple Computer.
Developers of consumer web sites have always understood this, but for business software there is a significant void of good user interfaces. There’s a growing recognition that the best business software starts with the goal of an awesome user interface and unparalleled user experience. But it wasn’t always so.
Decades of Focusing on Functionality
Early in my career when I was actually writing code, I thought it was important for the user interface (UI) to make sense. I’m dating myself, but this was in the late ’80s when what primarily existed was character-based interfaces. In those days, most engineers simply mapped information on screens without giving much thought to the layout, sequence or flow — not to mention the “feel” of the system. For me, it was always intuitive that real people would use these systems and that it was ultimately their acceptance and love for these systems that made my work fulfilling.
I always wanted software to be as visually pleasing as and usable as possible. Beyond those early days of green-screen displays, the introduction of colors allowed for improved UI capabilities. Later, client server systems powered by Microsoft Windows interfaces allowed developers to do even more.
Crude Early Browser Experiences
When the World-Wide-Web emerged, everything took a bit of a step back in terms of UI. The early web browsers were very “page-driven,” rudimentary tools that couldn’t support a complex interface. And for business, there was a point where Internet Explorer ran away with the market, so everyone wrote for Microsoft and Internet Explorer.
Apple Revolutionizes Software’s Look and Feel
Most of our true web-based competitors, the few that exist, architected and developed their software during that era of the late 1990s.
But the reality is that the world has changed vastly since those days. A proliferation of broadband Internet, an exponentially more powerful software development toolset and the involvement of graphic designers has led to a user experience revolution. And now we have four dominant browsers; to be truly cloud based, you have to develop to support all of them.
When Apple came out with iOS on the iPhone and iPad, they really redefined software. They showed that the best product not only needs to be functional, it has to be equally beautiful and useable.
A series of Do’s and Don’ts for Apple UI design includes formatting screen content so users never have to zoom or scroll horizontally. Intuitive aligning of content, use of color and contrast to make site navigation easy, and ideal text size and spacing are among the best UI practices for iOS app developers, Apple says.
Attention to these little details is what makes the difference with users. Today if you download an iOS app and it has ANY glitches, users will quickly abandon it because it doesn’t live up to Apple’s standard and is simply not taken seriously.
CareCloud Makes a Deliberate Choice
When founding CareCloud, we saw that. At the time, developing beautiful enterprise software was not as common as it is today. There wasn’t even a name for the movement yet. But our belief from day one remains that software is as much art as it is science. If users in a medical practice are going to spend 8–10 hours a day using our software, why would we make it ugly? Would you want to spend a third of your day having an ugly experience? Of course not. Imagine the power of spending those 8–10 hours per day looking at a beautiful screen and using a system that makes you feel smart rather than dumb.
User experience was part instinct, validating what I knew from way back, and part leveraging the capabilities that had now emerged.
UI for Clinicians
I believed in this so much that I sought out a very specific person to join me on this crusade as our first team member. His name is Mike Cuesta, and although he is an amazing executive, digital marketer and an overall great guy, he is foundationally a graphic designer who shares my passion for disrupting enterprise systems through beautiful user experiences.
Mike took the lead on the product design and I took the lead on product vision and requirements. We also created the CareCloud name and brand out of that initial collaboration. Beyond that, our entire company, product and culture grew.
Traditional medical systems focused on the needs of non-physician users such as practice personnel. Once the primary user also became incredibly busy and time-constrained physicians, the usability requirements grew tremendously.
“Usability is currently one of the primary concerns of clinicians and a key factor in their decisions about adopting HIT for routine use,” says Jan Horsky at Harvard Medical School and colleagues in their study of what makes a great UI design for clinicians. EHRs with decision support can be powerful and effective, they say, but “their performance level and ensuing tangible benefit to clinicians … can be significantly reduced by poor or outmoded design, incorrect implementation and inadequate data maintenance.”
“Rather than increasing the quality and safety of care, inadequately designed systems may become disruptive and give only marginally-relevant guidance that is largely ignored or, at worst, irritates and impedes the flow of cognitive and clinical work,” they added. In other words, cumbersome health IT not only doesn’t improve UX and the clinical workflow, but it can make things worse.
“Employing appropriate design strategies and adhering closely to principles of optimal human-computer interaction is crucial for creating systems that are responsive to the dynamic character of clinical work,” the researchers conclude.
‘Consumerization of Enterprise Software’
Now that elegant product design has permeated different aspects of enterprise software, a term has been coined for this movement — the “Consumerization of Enterprise Software.” This has become a disruptive force in business as companies are choosing smaller and more nimble entities for their software and services needs. They are demanding modern systems that enhance usability and productivity while driving frequent improvements to the product, rather than old software that rarely gets better.
We ask ourselves these questions: When you go to work and use enterprise apps, why can’t they work like Amazon, Facebook, or Apple’s iOS? Why can’t business apps be aesthetically pleasing and easy-to-use?
Great UI Also Fast Tracks Training and Makes Support Easier
The answer is they can. The reason many others don’t work this way is because, most of the time, those systems are old, designed only by engineers, and focus on functionality at the expense of the user experience.
Speaking of social media like Facebook, we built a social communication aspect into CareCloud solutions as well. When you’re dealing with complex medical organizations, working as a team is essential. Your team should all be collaborating and communicating together more easily through the software.
One must ask themselves: why wouldn’t a software company shift the cost of support and implementation to hiring designers and user experience experts? The answer to this is unfortunate,and does not align with customer success. It’s because they make money from large professional services engagements related to implementation and because they charge for ongoing support and maintenance.
How easy or difficult it would be to train your staff and any new employees on the software is a great metric for UX. They should be able to make sense of the system quickly, without the need for hours of downtime or a lot of user manuals.
Software that is less expensive to support and easier to implement becomes less expensive. In other words, it’s good business for a software company.
Originally published at https://www.linkedin.com on December 15, 2015.