Why Enterprise Software Should Be More Like A Video Game
Have you ever invested in new enterprise software for your organization and then found that adoption rates across the company were abysmal? And when the adoption rate didn’t improve, you had to abort and either go back to old systems or start the evaluation process all over again? Not only have you lost money with that investment, the time lost across your organization spent deploying and training employees far outweighs the cost of the software.
Your employees have come to expect software that is easy and delightful to use because of the mass penetration of mobile apps. Smartphone penetration in the U.S. is 80% today and is forecast at 93% by 2020, in just 3 years. They have become accustomed to great software and will no longer adopt clunky, difficult-to-use products. That’s why you should understand what makes a great User Interface (UI) and User Experience (UX), and why software usability, functionality and visual appeal matter to your bottom line.
Briefly, UI is the series of visual elements like icons, buttons and menus you use to interact with a device like a tablet, phone or computer. UX is very broad, but basically can be defined as a person’s internal experience — their thoughts, feelings and impressions — about a company’s product and/or services. Closely related elements serving both UI and UX include: Functionality (Does it solve the problem?), usability (Is it easy to learn, efficient and satisfying?) and visual appeal (What’s the first impression? Is the design tasteful? Does it inspire trust?).
Good design addresses previous enterprise software challenges and changes how end users feel about it. HappyCo’s talent for building enterprise software that’s approachable and delightful for all levels of technical aptitude springs from CEO, Jindou Lee’s creative background in video game design. While leading teams at Midway Games, the company behind popular franchises like Mortal Kombat and Gauntlet, Jindou sharpened his craft for designing approachable UI and positive UX.
Video games must strike a challenging balance between usability, functionality and visual appeal if they are to survive. If the quality of a game’s user experience (UX) is subpar, players are unlikely to continue playing a game. They’ll quickly reject games with usability issues because they have no incentive to accommodate poor user experience design or adjust to it. To stay competitive, video and mobile games have just about perfected the art of well-thought-out and intuitive interfaces, culturing an ease of use and delightfulness that we associate with playing them. So why, in comparison, is enterprise software so blatantly different? How does the UI in so many business packages manage to be so confusing and crowded, yet also visually nondescript and, on top of that require a steep learning curve that yields an interminable roll-out?
One way to answer is that in contrast to video games, there are very different incentives for continuing to use frustrating business and enterprise software. So customers trudge on, somehow managing to get a few things done in spite of the lousy UI and the inefficient, energy-draining, productivity-killing UX quicksand of enterprise applications that invariably lead down the rabbit hole into customer support limbo.
From the beginning, Jindou set out to create software that’s easy and engaging to use at every organizational level — and the positive feedback hints at his success. Service Manager, Matt Buck from Equity Residential told us: “I had a new hire and in a matter of minutes had him trained on Happy Inspector. It doesn’t take long at all. In five or ten minutes you’ve pretty much got it!”
I sat down to chat with Jindou about how everyone from on-the-ground maintenance techs to middle managers and VPs of Operations can use HappyCo’s tools to reclaim thousands of working hours.
BEN: How can software design that’s influenced by video and mobile games serve business?
JINDOU: Design is a process-driven approach to solving problems. You start by seeking to understand both the problem and the people who are experiencing the problem. There’s rarely a “right” or “wrong” way in design, so you have to employ creative reasoning that isn’t immediately obvious through conventional logic. You’re experimenting with several ideas, while at the same time, removing design concepts that are irrelevant, visually unclear or counterproductive to arrive at a “best-possible-fit” working solution.
In video games you’re trying to convey a lot of information in real time to a player with limited attention and time, so you need to articulate that information very quickly with minimal prompts. If you imagine the user as a player who has limited resources — limited time, attention, energy and mental focus to expend on your product —, then you do your best to make your software as simple and efficient as possible. That’s the common thread between video game design and creating applications for business.
What’s really hard about designing for video games is that you’re designing for players at level 1 and players at level 50 simultaneously. So you set out to create an experience with the both the beginning and end in mind because as the game advances and the gamer picks up skills, the power and number of features multiply and you have to fit more things on the screen — meaning more complexity. Designing enterprise software is similar because you’re striking a balance between power and contextual simplicity, meaning people from all levels of the organization are using our product in the context of their different roles and varying levels of familiarity with the software. But they all need to get the full value out of our software that is most relevant and efficient for their day-to-day work.
I’ll talk more about contextual simplicity a bit later, but for now I’ll say the best user interface is invisible and only stands out when it needs to, so the user doesn’t have to think more than is necessary to complete a task. Our users are very busy people, so our tool must be an extension of their workflow. That’s the basis of taking a design-driven approach to software like we do at HappyCo.
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"You’re striking a balance between power and contextual simplicity, meaning people from all levels of the organization are using our product in the context of their different roles and varying levels of familiarity with the software. But they all need to get the full value out of our software that is most relevant and efficient for their day-to-day work."
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BEN: What’s the difference between “usable” and “useful” and why is that distinction important?
JINDOU: At its core, software must be useful. There’s a joke that a visual artist is a designer that has no purpose. Software must be designed with a very high degree of purpose. Software must effectively solve a problem, whether it’s in video games where you’re solving boredom, or what we do at HappyCo — solving business processes like operational efficiency and real-time monitoring at highly distributed enterprises.
Usefulness is the easy part. Anyone can say, “I have a problem doing x. I want to build software to solve x so I’ll build the solution, y.” The usable part is trickier because unlike asking, ‘Is this useful?’ which has a Yes or No answer, you’re asking, “Is this usable?” which can spawn answers on a spectrum from 0 to 100 percent. It’s also relative. It’s about solving the right problem for the right user. The best software gets very close to 100 percent usability and the worst is down near 0 percent. But 100 percent usability, meaning the software is intuitive and obvious, takes a lot of effort to build. The difficulty of achieving both ease of use and brawn is reflected in much of the enterprise software out there that frustrates users and ranks pretty low on the usability scale. People hate using that kind of software.
What we’ve done at HappyCo is deviate from the typical enterprise software to build a solution that is both powerful in its usefulness and delightful in its usability. That’s a winning combination for our customers.
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"What we’ve done at HappyCo is deviate from the typical enterprise software to build a solution that is both powerful in its usefulness and delightful in its usability. That’s a winning combination for our customers."
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BEN: Why do you think there’s this divide between consumer software that tends to share the “video gaming” design approach versus traditional business software?
JINDOU: With consumer software you’re designing for the end user, which is you! So you’re very close to the whole process. To illustrate, do you remember the scene in The Social Network where Mark Zuckerberg, played by Jesse Eisenberg, adds the relationship status feature to Facebook? He designed it for himself and his friends. There was absolutely no distance between the end-user and the engineer. They were both Mark Zuckerberg. The further away product teams are from their end-users, the less empathy for their customers they can draw from. It’s all about the distance between the person who creates the software and the person who uses the software.
Executives often need to make the software buying decision for thousands or even tens of thousands of employees. What do executives need to best perform their jobs? Insights. They need the top two or three pieces of information the software delivers, so they can make the most informed business decisions. However what differentiates HappyCo is that not only do we design for executives, we also design for those in the organization performing the daily operations tasks required, from facilities maintenance to customer relations. That translates to better data collection on the ground which means better decision-making at the top.
It’s becoming the expectation that the UI of users’ professional lives measures up to the UI in apps they’re familiar with in their personal lives. Baby boomers and Gen Xers are asking Millennials what they should expect from business tools and the Millennial feedback comes from an appetite for balancing simplicity with power. It’s reshaping business.
BEN: How has talking to users shaped HappyCo’s approach to design?
JINDOU: One of our core company values is Look Outward First. And that’s core to what we do because to “look outward first” means to live in the shoes of our users, so it’s imperative that we spend a lot of time with our end-users to understand where they’re coming from and what pain they’re feeling. It doesn’t matter if that person is a maintenance tech or a housekeeper or anyone along that spectrum — we need to be working with them. Empathy and understanding is integral to good product design, especially for a data company like ours where poorly collected data leads to bad business decisions — “Crap in equals crap out.”
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"It’s critical both for us and for our customers that end users understand our software and don’t miss key required inputs. Otherwise, on-the-ground data becomes suspect, impacting decision-making at the top."
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We’re the system of record for on-the-ground information. If we don’t understand the user psychology of employees like quality assurance inspectors and maintenance techs who use our app to collect property-level data, it’s likely the data collected onsite won’t be as comprehensive or accurate as it could be. So it’s critical both for us and for our customers that end users understand our software and don’t miss key required inputs. Otherwise, on-the-ground data becomes suspect, impacting decision-making at the top. Our goal is to make the data collection flow simple, engaging, accurate and just as detailed as it needs to be to inform great business decisions.
Because onsite staff, management and executives need different results from our software, we employ context-switching, tailoring our product for the role. That means, in practice, hiding some of our software’s power depending on the user. For example, in our Multifamily edition software, our customers’ onsite staff typically perform 10 or 20 different property inspection walks in a single day. The interface needs to be simple, so they can just do the task, and get in and get out very quickly. That kind of empathy organization-wide is what has helped us develop tools that don’t obfuscate people’s busy workflows with features and information they don’t need.
BEN: What other parallels to HappyCo’s core values can be drawn from our design philosophy?
JINDOU: The keys for designing a worthwhile experience for our users are of course usability, utility, ease of use and efficiency, but the traditionally less-attended-to aspects of people’s lives — their feelings, motivations and values — are hugely important to us and reflected in our core values as a company.
Great design parallels the vision and mission of our company. For example, Make Happiness drives us to change people’s relationship to work from one of simply obligatory labor to one of ease, pleasure, and dare I say, fun. Then there’s Kaizen, which comes from a Japanese business philosophy of continuous improvement. We’re continuously improving our customers’ workflows by building a better and better product which leads into Do It Right: we’re in the business of building great software that is best-in-class in terms of its usefulness and usability. And that’s truly the foundation of HappyCo’s principles; all of our core values go back to building great software.
Bringing it back to video games, sometimes I think of the user as someone who has a health meter, like in a game. They start with 100 percent and any time they have to wrestle with software or become dissatisfied, their health meter reading goes down. We strive to keep our users’ health meters up through multiple-hit combos of delight.
Video games and enterprise software are actually pretty similar from that standpoint. The job of both is to delight people and make them feel happy.
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