I read with great interest the brief comments on software User Interface “UI” in the June 15th 3 Geeks story, UX Matters … A LOT, and Jeff Brandt’s comments on PinHawk Law Technology Daily Digest.
The issue is that all the people reading this story and most of our friends in the legal community use software every day, and much of the time it is a frustrating experience. So, what is the problem? Many software developers are feature-function oriented. You absolutely need these developers, however, most aren’t skilled in the Human Factors element of software development. They attempt to focus on functionality, not end-users. Therefore, you can almost picture the screens; they have hundreds of options, little consideration for workflow or user friendliness. They do not take into consideration that some users are power users with everyday chores, vs. casual simple task users. It’s normally one-size fits all. The result is low adoption rates, frustration and a high cost of training with missed expectations.
As most of you know, I joined Aderant last October when they acquired RainMaker Software. I’m amazed at the way software is developed at Aderant, specifically the Aderant Expert product. The Expert product has 6 Human Factor engineers working with the normal software architects and feature/function developers. I can tell you from my personal experience in developing software for many years without a Human Factors team; these people can do great things.
If you take a look at the recent rounds of Aderant Expert product introductions including Found Time, Time Management and Matter Planning you can clearly see the work done by the Human Factors team. For example, time entry sits on almost every attorney desktop, yet most systems have few features that actual attorneys ask for. Expert Time Management has an option to allow an attorney to see time entries in a spreadsheet format with the ability to quickly filter by project, client/matter or other options and edit or add from there. This just one example of many I could cite. The Human Factors team made this feature really cool. What does really cool mean, it means that users find screens very appealing, will more readily adapt to usage and become more productive. Expectations are met or exceeded.
The Human Factor team does the following:
- They work with the “product owner”, who is not a programmer, to collect and develop a set of end-user and technology requirements for a new product or major enhancement.
- They develop “wireframes” to portray the user interface experience and functionality before any code is written. Wireframes are screen designs without any real code behind them to show non-technical people (users) what the software will look like and how it operates before it is actually coded.
- The team has tremendous graphic artist’s skills to make sure the screens all look “cool”.
- The team then provides their wireframes to a client user group technology team where the users group discusses the screen designs and navigation, along with the functionality. This end-user visibility is a key differentiator.
- After discussions with the users group and approval, a final set of specifications for the product and how it will be tested are developed and approved, before any programming is actually started.
- The product is coded and returned to the teams again for final review before releasing for internal training.
- Once internal employees are comfortable it is then released to clients and the process starts all over again.
It might be difficult to explain Human Factors in software development, but it is really easy to see the difference.