пятница, 10 октября 2014 г.

User's Expectations and Business Process

During a recent discussion with my friends I have faced an interesting contrast between what looked like the right thing to do in a mobile application and what a more traditional UX common sense suggests. While the way I thought the application should work seemed pretty reasonable from the business point of view, my friends were reluctant to accept it. The strength of their resistance to my approach descended me into doubtfulness and made me search for flaws and the ways to align the app’s behavior to the expectations of potential users without losing the emphasis on the business process.

My task was very simple and can be described in general terms without diving into details. The application deals with jobs, which user is supposed to create. In addition to that, he needs to do some work with the existing jobs – particularly assign workers to them. In terms of UI, this boils down to several application pages, only two of which are of interest now. The first one provides the inputs to set various attributes of a new job. The second view comes with a list of jobs, which were just created but haven’t been assigned a worker yet – user picks one there and selects workers for it. Once this is done, the job leaves the list and moves further along the pipeline. The problem sits right between these two pages: views on how the transition between them should happen when user fills all the properties of a new job and presses Create  might differ a lot.

One approach, which you will find in many widespread feed-based applications and which looks quite natural, suggests that once the job is created it should appear on the top of the list and be the first thing to draw user’s attention there. That happens, for example, when you post something to Twitter or Instagram – when you tap Post in the corresponding application, you are transferred back to the feed and see your new photo or message added on top of it. This is the approach that my friends were proposing. It actually has lots of benefits: user sees the item they have just added and can not only check that everything is correct, but also take some action. For example, right after publishing this entry I will want to look through it to locate things like typos or extra blank lines between paragraphs, and it is great that the blogging engine shows me the latest post first. However, for my application it didn’t feel suitable.

What I have chosen to do instead was to keep the list sorted by creation time in ascending order – the older the job the higher it appears in the list. Moreover, the app doesn’t scroll the list down to the newest item when the user adds it. For my friends this made an impression that when the list is already long new jobs just vanish unnoticed somewhere under the tower of older ones. While that certainly looks like that, there are some reasons to lean towards this approach. In my opinion, these fully justify the initial confusion that can arise from the fact that the feed does not work the way Twitter does.

Firstly and most importantly, the application’s purpose is to assist an employee in their interaction with a queue of customers and the pool of workers. In such a situation, when service time is critical, the older jobs are likely the hotter ones, meaning that if you have a job, which lies unassigned for 30 minutes already, you definitely want to process it before the one created a moment ago. Furthermore, since customers are served in FIFO order, in a situation when the list of unassigned jobs is already long and all workers are busy, arrival of a new customer should not interrupt the ongoing process. Under these circumstances, the manager handling the queue – our user – only has to put the new customer on the queue and forget about them. It is not necessary and possibly even harmful to draw too much attention to this new customer – instead of messing with a client, who has to wait for their turn, we should first process the jobs, which entered the queue earlier. (Of course, I don’t mean that the manager should literally forget about new customers, but he must be focused on the ones who have already spent some time in the queue.)

These considerations make me confident about the second approach, which pays close attention to the process that the application is supposed to help with – maybe in favor of complying with user’s initial expectations. At the same time, the discussion that we had made me thoroughly consider the problem. The least important and most obvious thought that I had in relation to it is that our views on how something should work and look might be affected too much by the things, which we interact with on the daily basis, despite the fact that the difference between the two can be vast. Here I don’t mean that my friends are totally addicted to Twitter. Instead, when they voiced their concerns over my design I have found myself in doubt and seriously contemplating adoption of the more popular approach. It looks like we are too used to feeds of tweets, photos, links and news growing from the ground up and sometimes oversee the fact that not everything should work this way.

More important takeaway is that doing the right thing is not always the same as taking a popular and well-established approach to UI. This flows naturally from the previous paragraph and merely suggests that before jumping on the bandwagon of any time-honored and user-approved UX pattern we must carefully study the goals of our products and how they can help users achieve their own objectives. This means that behind any application there is a process, which we try to enhance, improve and optimize and it is vital to take every detail of it into account when designing the application.

Last but not least, what we face here is the contradiction between user’s expectations and the goals of the software. When facing something like this, we should not forget that keeping users comfortable and amused is not the only purpose of a mobile (or any other) application. It should be easy to work with a product and the latter must not stay in the way of doing one’s job, but a business app occasionally has to make the user uncomfortable and draw their attention to something that they might be unhappy about. In the end, kittens, food and beautiful landscapes are for Instagram, while business apps are all about doing business.

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