By Nico Licht, UX Lead, SAP Cloud for Planning
When designing SAP Cloud for Planning we embraced some basic design principles. In this blog I’d like to share the principles we challenged our global management team with:
It’s not just about function but also DESIGN. About ten years ago Apple published a set of user experience guidelines for their developers. For me, four basic design principles stood out: simplicity, availability, familiarity and forgiveness. Focus on the main use case and have additional features, like previews or preferences, just one click away. Meet the users’ expectations and mental models and allow them to make mistakes without losing data or breaking the system. The designer, Frank Chimero, summarized these basic UX rules quite nicely “People ignore design that ignores people.”
Focus on the users’ job to be done! When I would argue about what development wants, my first UX manager at SAP told me I should always ask “Why is this feature important for the user?” and he added “No use case, no design.” We need to know the job to be done behind a feature request in order to create meaningful mock-ups, screen designs, or code. Ease of use is also a flavour of simplicity. Think of keyboard navigation or a quicker way to maintain access rights. However, simplicity does not mean trivial. Some systems are complex but no system has to be complicated.
Have every additional feature just one click away, and make it easy for the user to determine the location of the next click. For example: the breadcrumb navigation on top, the preferences dialog in the tab bar, or the context sensitive help button we’ll add to the shell. Meaningful titles and labels provide additional orientation and should always appear in the same place. Don’t hide additional features and preferences in unexpected screen areas.
Many concepts in our application are universal. Discussions, spreadsheets, icons, dialogs, and so on are all common UI elements. Ensure that these pieces always look and behave the same and meet the mental model of our users. Everything that looks or feels strange contradicts with the concept of familiarity. I really like the term floor plan. When your house is on fire you need to get out quickly. A good floor plan reveals the quickest way to the next exit. A good application floor plan allows the user to always find the missing features in the expected place. Furthermore, customization features like changing user and background pictures, increase the personal touch. A system showing my data, my company logo, and colleagues’ pictures, already looks more familiar.
Allow the user to make mistakes and try things out without breaking the system or losing data. Let’s enable our users to perform a serious task but with a playful approach. Oscar Wilde said once “Life is too important to be taken seriously.” Sure, we can’t always take responsibility for the users actions. But if we can’t be smart enough to prevent user errors we should provide as much information as possible (e.g. meaningful warnings and system notifications). Our system should be tolerant not ignorant.
It’s not just about focus, it’s about DESIGN SYMPHONY. In his book, A Whole New Mind, Dan Pink refers to a globally spread workforce that “requires focus and specialization”. It’s the same thing in our development organization. We have specialized experts in each and every work stream; all of them doing a great job like the musicians in an orchestra. Everybody is an artist with their own instrument but they need a composed score so that they can play together nicely. However, looking at the ratio of developers and designers in our organization, this is something we only can achieve as a team. Everybody should be concerned about design. This is the guideline that is the score for our symphony, the glue that ties all work streams together. Let’s create beautiful user interfaces, with meaningful functionality that people cannot ignore.
After a relatively short but intensive development process we released SAP Cloud for Planning. And I can truly say I am very proud of the whole team and the design-driven culture that we’ve established. Not every detail is perfectly arranged just yet and we will continue the hard work to enhance the user experience. Nevertheless I believe we’ve delivered an extraordinary application. I’m looking forward to the many exciting conversations to come with users and customers.