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User Interface Versus User Experience

July 11th, 2012 - Posted by Jamie Thomson, Managing Director

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RedTie has been producing Web to Print software solutions for a long time, in fact we are probably the oldest SaaS Web to Print solutions provider around. In that time we have seen a number of changes in the way we plan for new development projects. In the beginning it was new features that where given highest priority on the list, which is what you would expect for a new piece of software in a new market. New features are always important but a few years ago they were overtaken in priority by User Interface, often referred to as UI.

By this stage development planning was not just about the next feature, considerable time was spent on how to present new features for our customers to use and because our system is also designed for their customers we started to take that into consideration too. UI is actually fairly well defined, for example take user input on a website, there are many ways to present a selection of answers but not all of them are sensible for all types of questions. The prevailing wisdom is that the way you present the question in based on the question itself. In the examples below the question of “Are you male or female?” is presented in three ways.

Method 1 – Radio Button


Male

Female

Method 2 – Checkbox


Male

Female 

Method 3 – Dropdown list

 

In this simple example it should be obvious that Method 2 is a bad UI choice; it allows the user to make the mistake of choosing both answers. Method 1 and 3 make more sense as they don’t allow this mistake to be made; however modern UI theory would suggest that for 2 discrete answers only method 1 makes sense. If the list of answers was longer then method 3 would become the preferred method.

At the end of last year RedTie started planning new features whilst keeping a relatively new concept for software design as our top priority, well at least it has been given a new name! User Experience (commonly shortened to UX), is more encompassing than just UI. It is not just about the how, it is also about the why and when. In fact UX moves past the reality and even considers the perception of a user's interaction with the software.

The overriding theory is that the more your users enjoy using the service the more likely it is that they will come back and use it again, which is obviously what everyone wants. However UX is a complicated subject, partly because it is relatively new and partly because one user’s perception of the software may not match up with the next user's. This means that even when you try to think the way a user would think you will probably find that you need to make tweaks based on your users' feedback (of course getting them to give you that feedback is an art in itself).

So what does this mean for the way we design our new features? Well the first thing we have implemented is getting a wider section of people to give their input on a new feature before a line of code is even written. This wider input has huge benefits in ensuring that new features are not just technically correct but they work in a way our customers would expect them to.

The second is that we don’t just finish a development project and consider it closed, once a new feature is released to all of our customers we plan to return to the project to make tweaks based on real world feedback.

Finally, we design new features with flexibility built in. Whilst we have an opinion on what is good UX we don’t try to force that onto our customers, they know their customers much better than we do.

A lot of companies in the Web to Print software solutions market have been guilty of only concentrating on technical features, in fact RedTie has been guilty of this in the past. The features we release this year will be testament to our new UX based development philosophy, helping our customers increase their usage of the system by getting those all important, repeat orders from the same person.