Steve Spencer's Blog

Blogging on Azure Stuff

Clicks Cost Money

In this ever growing connected world of computer automation the user interface is becoming more and more critical to the success of a business and the success of a business computer system. The world is moving towards a service-based architecture with the web being the conduit to link all these services together. Ease of deployment is a factor in the move to web based user interfaces for business applications and this move poses challenges for software developers around the globe.

Whilst the underlying architectures are changing the basic premise for a user interface is still the same: To make the business functionality easy and obvious to use. Vast quantities of Time and money are spent developing the back end systems and relatively little is consumed designing the user interface. Most user interfaces that are developed are functional in behaviour, but they are not always usable or appear “Clunky”. The developer is not to blame for this, as the whole development process does not necessarily make the user interface as important as the back end systems and architecture. No one spends real time analysing the way the data should be presented and the way the screens interact with the user; different teams of developers develop the screens so there is not real consistency to the designs and no time is spent assessing the needs of the user when designing the user interface. Quite often the user interface is too complex and is trying to accommodate all users all of the time and often makes the often-simple task hard to use.

One client termed the phrase “Clicks Cost Money”. In an organisation where the throughput of customers is the main factor in profitability the business needs to get the customer though the system as quick as possible so the more clicks the user has to do with the computer system the longer this process takes and therefore the less money that is received by the company.

The user interface needs to be consistent through out so that when the user is presented with a screen it behaves the same way in all scenarios. The number of actions required to complete an action needs to be as short as possible. A few years back I was reading an article (I can’t remember where) that stated that each user needs to do a maximum of 3 clicks to complete a task and that it should take no longer than 1 second.

The design of the user interface needs to be brought in to the forefront of the development cycle. When I talk about design, I do not mean the bit where you make it look pretty and have the right colours (i.e. styling), I mean the actual functionality and behaviour of the user interface. Thought needs to be given to this and the developers need to be given a style guide to work with so that each of the screens is consistent using the same styles and controls.

Designing the user interface has a lot to do with the way the business is run. Each screen needs to present enough information for the user to be able to make the right decision, ask the right questions or gather the correct information so that the real business benefit of the system can be achieved. The design documentation needs to spend more time on the behaviour of the user interface and the interactions. We should be concentrating upon making the user interface easy to use and responsive

During development it is not just enough to say that the user interface performs the function it was designed to do to be fault free. It needs to adhere to some common sense values as well. It needs to be responsive, it needs to be easy to use, and it needs to behave, as you would expect it. Getting these ideas across to the developers is difficult. Time needs to be spent designing the user interfaces and documenting them in a way that is easy to understand by the developers. Developers will develop user interfaces that are easy to build not necessarily easy to use, so we need to educate them in what makes a good user interface. We need to put guidelines in place so that the user interface can be evaluated which should include response times for actions. We need to have User interface Design guides to specify common actions to make the user interface consistent and we need to understand the business requirements for the user interface so that the information that is needed most is easy and obvious to get to and that the day to day running of the business is as efficient as possible. After all that is the reason for putting the computer systems in place.

Logging with Log4Net

A while ago I was looking for an alternative to System.Diagnostics.Trace and found Log4Net. I know the patterns and practices group have created enterprise logging but I find Log4Net nice and easy to use. I created some documentation and samples on my website at http://www.recneps.co.uk/log4net.aspx.

The BlackMarble.Diagnostics.Logging libraries encapulate both System.Diagnostic.Trace and Log4Net so that we can use a standard way of logging and then configure at runtime one we want to use.