Enterprise Playability, User Experience

Visual Environment

Video games often present players with a very specific, stylized visualization of an environment. That environment gives players a context in which to relate to the game and all of the objects in it. Visual representation and interaction with in-game items keeps players engaged with the game, and draws their focus into the activities they are participating in within the game.

Enterprise software, on the other hand, tends toward the abstract and metaphorical. Enterprise software designers prefer that anything that needs to be presented on screen fit within one of the widgets that are standard in the industry: drop-down lists, text boxes, buttons, data grids, radio buttons, and check boxes. These components make software design easier and faster. Enterprise software is often presented within a loosely defined metaphorical context: the desktop, the document, the worksheet, or the window. The connections between the real-world object and the software are few and generally not helpful. Knowing how to use the real-world object doesn’t help with learning to use the in-software object at all.

To resolveĀ this disconnect between the real world and the user experience, an enterprise software designer can use the same strategy that video games do: Create a world within the software for users to enter. Give users a set of surroundings that are both familiar and helpful. Show them a world like the world they are working in. Users will be far more engaged, and will quickly learn their way around the software. Users’ experience in the real world will help them understand the software.

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Enterprise Playability

The Widget

Enterprise software’s standard widgets are quite usable. The fact that they are so common has given users the chance to learn how to use them quickly and efficiently. Their familiarity is a huge boon to usability. It’s a pity, though, that enterprise software designers don’t seem to be able to design any widgets outside of the standard set. They prefer instead to make sure everything anyone wants to do, no matter how counter-intuitive the connection may be, fits into a standard widget.

Familiar components may be usable, but they do not contribute to the overall usability of software unless they fit into context of the software. A data grid full of train schedules may look familiar, but it does not help users think about or understand trains, their schedules, or the complexities of managing a train station. A map of the train station could show where the trains are, where they are headed, and when they will arrive and depart. The visual context would offer an intuitive understanding of the situation, and ultimately a much more usable interface.

Rich context makes for an engaging interaction. It reduces the cognitive friction that occurs when a user tries to translate data presented in a standard widget into information that’s usable in the real world. It brings clarity to a situation, and in turn enhances shared situational awareness. If team members can all clearly visualize the environment they are working in, they can easily coordinate their actions and work out solutions together.