Examining the ongoing challenges of delivering high-quality, value-added ERP services in Higher Education.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Hokey but Easy

Do you remember Windows for Workgroups? FoxPro? Or pretty much any application built using Visual Basic? What do you recall about the user experience? Personally, I think of huge, super-hokey clip-art buttons and blue screens of death...

Many of the applications that my team is currently replacing as part of our implementation project owe a debt of gratitude to those earlier systems; at least one actually has to be run in a Windows 98 emulator, but many of the applications ported to the web carried the design theme with them. Even applications engineered during the last ten years have a circa 1996 look-and-feel.

The knee-jerk reaction to seeing these dated interfaces is a chuckle followed by an insult, with the presumption that a slick, modern user interface will make everyone happy. But one must be cautious: hokey does not always equate to bad. 

As I recently blogged, I have taken on the role of academic advising for a handful of freshmen this semester; as a result, I attended training for the role and have become a user of the "advising network portal" system currently in place. This system has many deficiencies, especially related to timeliness of data, completeness of data, lack of key features such as automated degree audit, etc. I have zero doubt for the benefits that will accrue from the deployment of PeopleSoft's academic advisement module and a tailored self-service experience for advisors and students. It should be a slam dunk. 

But I observed some important things as I learned my new role. First of all, the full day of training for advisors must focus on everything other than the IT system. Grand total, they spent 5 minutes showing the software, because they needed every minute to talk about what mattered -- cases studies into realistic advising situations, interpretation of placement scores, how to counsel students on course selection, where to turn if students were in trouble, what resources were available for tutoring or counseling, etc. With several hundred advisors volunteering their time to the cause, there is simply no room for complexity. 

Wearing my new user hat, what quickly became apparent was how easily I could access the most important functions -- viewing placement scores, entering journal notes. The icons may be hokey and dated, but they are obvious. Given the business objectives, any design that diminishes the primacy and visibility of these actions will fail, even if it is pretty. The most important thing is that our system is fit for purpose, not that it wins accolades for visual design. 

This has also served as a great reminder for me of how important it is for implementers to be users, if possible, and to emphasize the early engagement with real users -- they may actually like to preserve some of those hokey icons!


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