Lessons on the looks of UI

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My mother’s sister is past 80 and still running her own company. Naturally, I do her IT-support since -95 when she realised that it was important to utilise a computer for her business.
The other day I was installing an invoice program for her. She has been using an Excel template, designed by my wife. But new regulations on VAT made her go for specialised software. She choose a well established product. It turned into a lesson for me.
I installed it and customised it a bit. I had tried it at home first and found it decent. You have invoices, customers and products. All managed in different dialogue boxes. It keeps track of status of the invoices and you can design your own layout. You get the picture.
It turned out to be a complete fail. She just hated the looks of it and wouldn’t even get it a try. All those grey dialogue boxes with myriads of fields was confusing. It was not visually related to what she wanted to do: an invoice.
When I demonstrated the program and created an invoice, she looked at the printed invoice and ruled it out as too ugly. That could of course be changed but with all the previous problems I wasn’t on for the forms designer as its UI was a nightmare.
So it turned out that Excel won the fight and survived. I just had to fix the template to handle differentiated VAT. She had to change slightly how she writes her invoices.
It was interesting, the lessons this gave me.

  1. You gotta “have the look” (courtesy Roxette) or you are down in points on first impression. How much conversion do your web site loose on being fully functional but ugly? Do you know successful websites that are ugly and at the same time has competition in what they sell? Less Facebook, I mean.
  2. If you think about user design and there is a physical representation such as a printed invoice, the design should incorporate that, as this gives an immediate understanding.
  3. If you are an engineer, you suck at 1 and 2. ūüôā

By 4 now.

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