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Great user interfaces shouldn't connect to a lousy user experience

05 Dec 2017 - Miguel Valdés Faura

A well-designed user interface on your customer-facing applications may be a great user experience. Will the experience behind the interface live up to that promise?

The user interfaces on your customer-facing applications may very well be the first encounter a user has with you. It’s definitely the first encounter they’ll have with your application.

User interface design is both an art and a science.

A good team can make those interfaces a good experience – clear, attractive, easy to use, maybe even fun. A really good front end developer can craft a good interface even without great tools – but hand them some great tools, and they can create great results! (Have you seen Trello, airB&B, Booking.com, Amazon Fire TV?)

There’s more than meets the eye about user experience, though. The user interface is quite literally just the beginning. What else goes into making a great user experience? In a business application, once an individual has taken an action - hit submit, for example - what happens next? The user’s action kicks off a business process.

The process or the business logic behind the application may engage the user again at different points as the app proceeds step by step. It is also likely to engage internal actors as well – employees, and also automated systems such as databases, communication platforms like email, CRMs, and so on. How smooth that process is, how well it works affects the “user experience” way past the interface.

Poor technical choices can make a user experience a poor one

From end to end, beginning with the user interface and moving all the way through the back end of an application, we can see how development choices can produce experiences that frustrate and do not help the user.

For example, consider a form in an internationalized application that was originally designed for American users, asking for driver’s license information that is not consistent with, for example, French license format. The widget used in that form was designed for one set of users and is not applicable to another set of users! Replacing it with another one customized to the new set of users immediately improves the user experience of French customers.

Or, imagine that a call to an API in a form to retrieve data is simply  taking too long. No one likes to see the whirling circle of death spin on and on while trying to complete a transaction. What if a system administrator is able to intervene and update that API when needed?

Then, behind the interface is the routing of information to the right people and systems in the company, known as the business logic. When information is not routed correctly, or is sent to someone who is unavailable or too busy, or when a business transaction is not working and the  process needs back up a step or two, a system with hard-coded business logic doesn’t allow an easy fix, and again can quickly lead to user frustration and abandonment. The decision to develop an application on a business process-based platform instead of hard-coding can make a difference not only in the immediate user experience, but in the longer term when updates, maintenance, and modifications are needed.

Process-based applications allow good choices behind the UI

In process-based applications, the entire process behind the end-to-end application is mapped and can be very well integrated at each step with each of the appropriate information systems specific to any enterprise – both new and legacy -- necessary in the process. For example, a company may use Salesforce and SAP for customer information and resource planning;  gmail and Slack for internal communications; Active Directory for escalation paths; SQL and proprietary  databases for business and other data, plus other systems unique to their domain (such as a laboratory information management system in a research organization).

A good application designer will put themselves in the user’s shoes to map the entire experience end-to-end. When and where will the user be asked to take an action, provide an input, submit, accept, change…?

Data entered by the user and compiled through interactions with these systems is carried forward and built up along with the process, step by step. It’s all saved, raw and processed, in the business database and in the appropriate connected systems.

Connections to any of these systems should be promptly updated when there are changes, as new systems are added, when systems are updated or replaced, when APIs change, and so on.

The process or business logic of the application can also be improved over time, and more easily than hard-coded logic can be updated. This means that continuous improvement of the end-to-end user experience allows the company to keep up with changing environments and maintain the best possible end-to-end user experience.

Remember too that customers are not the only ones who interact with business applications. For internal applications - for onboarding new employees, managing purchasing, developing budgets, for example - “users” are employees. The manner in which employees are able to handle the next steps of any applications, whether customer-facing or internal, determines the general business efficiency of an enterprise. The smoother the process, the more efficient employees can be!

Further, as users of applications both customer-facing and internal, their experience with the application can make or break their “job satisfaction” – and in a competitive and dynamic job market, can make or break your employee retention.

So back to the user interface design for a moment

Recall that with great tools, user interface designers can create great results.  With this in mind, the process-based application platform like Bonita are specifically developed to offer a range of options to create the user interfaces for applications. Forms, pages, and portals can be built from the ground up using HTML5 and state-of-the-art UI implementation tools like AngularJS, React, jQuery, Bootstrap, Sass, and GitHub, OR with an out-of-the-box UI Designer (which can also be used as a design/mockup tool) with a collection of commonly used widget and the capability to create just about any other widget a developer would want, OR on the native portal that can be customized.

The engaging, satisfying user experience

A truly great user experience, whether for customers or for employees, starts with the user interface and continues all the way through to the last step of the process. From the user’s point of view, a great experience with an application means:

  • It allows me to do what I want or need to do
  • it’s easy to use
  • I don’t have to keep re-entering or repeating the same information multiple times throughout the process; and everyone I interact with has key information at their fingertips
  • my data and interactions with the process are secure
  • If it doesn’t work for me I have a fast and easy way to express dissatisfaction and even pinpoint why
  • And ultimately…I get what I want!
  • customers  get what they came for
  • employees can do their work; reach objective; enjoy their jobs!

Engaged employees, happy users, great companies – when the quality of the end-to-end user experience is the best possible, everyone wins.