Enterprise Playability

Motivation and Ease of Use

motivation_iconThe key components of Enterprise Playability are gamification and video-game-like usability. When designing an app with EP, a couple of important  questions must be addressed early on: What should users be rewarded for? And which functionality should be playable? Two of the fundamentals of EP are:

  1. Make it easy for users to meet their own goals
  2. Reward users for meeting business goals

Understanding user goals is just as important as understanding business goals. In user-centered design, designers must capture and design for both. 

Great video games are easy to play because they make it easy for users to understand what to do and how to do it. They keep users engaged by rewarding for meeting specific goals. Think of an arcade shooter: You pick up a gun and shoot at stuff. Fun! Easy to get! Your simple user goals (“shoot stuff,” “blow stuff up”) are easy to achieve. Your score, however, is tied to shooting the right stuff, and also not shooting the old lady holding a bag of groceries. Those are the business goals, and you get points when you get them right. 

In an enterprise app, core functionality should support the primary goals of the users, and make them easy to achieve . Rewards should motivate users to meet business goals. Think of a point of sale app. The user wants to inform customers, make sales, and get a big fat commission check. Management wants to sell more of the high-margin items, capture customer phone numbers for follow-up contact, and keep customers coming back. 

So the easiest activities in the app should be:

  • Sell stuff
  • Get information about stuff
  • Sell more stuff

Rewards should be for:

  • Selling the right stuff
  • Capturing customer contact info
  • Repeat visits from happy customers 

The end result is happy users who are excited about doing their best to meet business goals. 

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Ron Johnson Doesn’t Know What Customers Want

Here’s a quick article about the problems Ron Johnson had at JCPenney: Ron Johnson Didn’t Understand Apple. The post is not about playability per se, but at this point in history, “playbility” won’t be what users are asking for. Jobs had it right (and this article parses it well): users know what their problems are, but they don’t know the solutions. That’s our job, and that’s where playability can help in the enterprise.

Enterprise Playability

Goal-driven Design + Gamification = Playability

Enterprise gamification is getting a lot of attention these days (more on that later). The value of gamification is clear enough: engage users and motivate them by providing the same feedback mechanisms that games do. Goal-driven design, the idea that software should be designed to help users achieve their goals, is extremely popular for consumer products, but still only rarely practiced in enterprise environments.

It’s the combination of the two that gets me excited. When enterprise software is designed with full adherence to both of these concepts, the results can be astounding. Imagine software that is built with an understanding of exactly what you need to get done — what you want to do, and what your management wants you to accomplish. And imagine then that the software is built in a way that keeps you engaged all the time, trying hard to get to that next achievement, the next milestone, the next level.

Software, even enterprise software, can be built in such a way that users don’t feel like users, but like players. Work may not actually be a game, but making a game of it could make it so much better.

Enterprise Playability

Cognitive Overhead

Here’s a good post with some great comments: Cognitive Overhead, Or Why Your Product Isn’t As Simple As You Think. The topic is cognitive overhead, which is the difficulty users have in understanding a product or a feature of a product. While it’s not directly related to enterprise playability, cognitive overhead and cognitive friction are both faces of usability, and improving both is often done well in games, and often done poorly in enterprise software.

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.