In 2003 a Forrester research report stated "Companies need to make usability a priority when talking to vendors: they need to ask when, how and if usability tests are conducted, they need to ask for test results (ideally reported by third parties), and they need to suggest that vendors add usability professionals to their staff."
The situation has not improved greatly since then. ERP users continue to grapple with unfamiliar terminology, ill-designed navigation, and poor contingency design. The net effect of this is that organizations incur unwarranted productivity, IT, and maintenance costs. Let us look some of the problem areas that plague ERP systems.
Factory workers are under tremendous cognitive load. A poorly designed ERP system will only add to their woes. The ability of a worker to quickly identify the task he needs to perform and within acceptable time hinges on how user-centered the software is:
- Is the task flow in the ERP software aligned with business processes?
- Are icons and imagery intuitive?
- Is the terminology used in the ERP software based on industry standards?
Extending the same example, terminology plays a big role in user- interaction with software. Users deal with text more than they deal with graphics. Labels, menu text of the ERP software has to account for the user’s context. For example, use of ‘Domicile’ where ‘address’ would have sufficed, was widely prevalent until recently. ERP users who are already under a heavy cognitive load can surely do away with new concepts and ideas that an ERP software brings in. It is critical for software vendors to ensure that the ERP product terminology matches with that of the target users. Failing to do so will result in poor adoption.
There are a quite a few voices that say “we can handle that with training.” That is a myth and it involves additional costs. Users don’t recall. They recognize. If your ERP software flouts this thumb-rule, again, user-adoption will suffer. Think about it, do you remember which door you pull and which, you push to open in your office? If you can’t recollect that, you can’t expect your users to remember complex ERP terminology. And, used well, icons and other graphical aids can help in getting users to ‘recognize’ what a label or menu text means.
Contingency design is the design of error messages, warnings, and information messages: in shot it is ‘when things go wrong design’. You can safely include how your support executive engages a customer in distress too. However, for the context of this article, let us focus on error messages.
Users, while interacting with a product attribute a personality to it. Users classified some software products as ‘psychotic.’ One of the main reasons for it was the error messages. Error messages that implicated users. Error messages that spewed code and gibberish at users. Oft ignored, error message design is central to user experience of a product. Here are some quick tips to ensure your product’s error messages are usable:
- Never implicate your customer
- State the problem. Offer a solution.
- Use standard icons
Emotion and Design
Aesthetic design is often ignored while designing complex systems like ERP, but aesthetics offer a crucial advantage: subjective satisfaction of your user. What this means is that if your ERP users ‘like’ the software, they would want to work with it more. Which means productivity enhancement. Employees hate to work with unusable software systems. While a user-centric software system allows users to go about their tasks with ease, and is non-intrusive, poorly designed software interrupt a user’s thought process and hampers his workflow. Over and above navigation, messaging, and terminology aesthetics plays a crucial in winning the hearts of your employees. Color, auditory feedback, icons, graphics need to fall in line and offer a favorable experience to your employees.
See other recent postings for this blog:
- Product Recalls and Social Media (Posted on 1 Dec)
Product Lot Tracking - ERP to the Rescue (Posted on 13 Nov)
- Collaborative planning for a smarter enterprise (Posted on 4 Nov)
- Strategies to ensure a speedy ERP implementation (Posted on 8 Oct)