S. Somasegar is the corporate vice president of the Developer Division at Microsoft. Learn more about Somasegar.
Today User Experience matters more than ever before.
In the past, there was more of a focus on building the right functionality and the right business logic, and user experience was an after-thought. Things are changing and the world is now evolving to a place where User Experience is at the center of the universe. .
When we started planning for Orcas, the next major release of Visual Studio, we started thinking of the key experiences that we wanted to enable for our customers. The entire planning process had customer scenarios and user experiences at the center. When I say superior user experience, I am speaking not just about the pixels or graphics, but a much broader concept. Attractiveness isn’t a perfect measure of an application’s effectiveness. I am talking about creating an emotional connection between your application and the customer that makes people feel good about you, your company and want to continue interacting with you.
Why Does the User Experience Matter? It is simple -- With technology playing a larger role in our lives, the ways in which users interact with and the experience they have in the process is becoming increasingly important. By continuously seeking to improve user experience, software becomes easier to use and the entire technology experience becomes richer and more rewarding. This leads to users achieving increased success and productivity. With the exception of a few breakthrough consumer focused applications that take a lot of time and effort and skill to create, it’s uncommon for user experience to be considered a top level priority in the development of enterprise software overall, due to the constant trade-offs on time, scope and quality. You just have to look at the many line of business applications that exist today and are hard to use.
Why did this happen? The reason for poor UI was based in the technology – DOS and early versions of RAD tools didn’t have much in the way of UI smarts. But today, with the wealth of platform technologies, the challenge is no longer about the low-level platform and tooling. Today it’s about creating a cultural shift to make user experiences matter, and about bringing user experience experts into the application lifecycle.
The Web experience is getting better as developers can more easily take advantage of AJAX techniques. Smart clients are simultaneously getting both easier to build and richer than ever before. Windows Vista and the next version of Office will usher in a new user experience that developers can build upon and illustrate the capabilities of the underlying platform. Software will always be subject to trade-offs around time, scope and quality – however by reducing software development complexity associated with UX, we hope to ensure that the presentation layer of applications will not be compromised making UX a foremost consideration within both homegrown or packaged line of business (LOB) enterprise and end-user applications, at significant benefit to organizational and end-user productivity.
Take the scenario of booking a flight via a website that has taken advantage of these rich UX technologies. For the purpose of this discussion let’s call this website ‘Rich Travels’. Rich Travels will let users search for flights without having to refresh pages between search modifications. Users will be able to use sliders, word wheels and other intuitive user controls to specify fare limits, date ranges and seating preferences. Available flights will be updated dynamically while the user changes the search criteria. Users will be able to view the details of a flight simply by hovering over a flight summary and finally, users will be able to book the flight with a single click while dynamically updating their calendar, reminders and flight delay notifications on their cell phone. This dramatically enhanced user experience will translate into increased customer satisfaction which in turn will directly impact the company’s profitability.
By building richer web client apps with AJAX/DHTML/Atlas, or by building a smart client with WinFX, latency can be reduced, loss of context between states of the application can be eliminated, and the “user experience” can be dramatically improved.
The other trend that I see is for developers and designers to have to come together to work collaboratively and effectively to build the next generation user experiences that are a key differentiator for your success and ultimately your business success.
With WPF, WPF/E, Atlas, Visual Studio and Expression we are In the process of building and delivering a set of platform capabilities and a rich set of collaborative tools that enable you to build and deliver differentiated user experiences.