usability

Mind the gap – the key to an effective #digitalworkplace

mind the gapIf I was in the happy position of designing a new digital workplace completely from scratch, I would develop a beautiful suite of applications which seamlessly ooze into one another and which dance daintily onto the variously sized screens used by employees in offices, on trains and while sitting comfortably on heated toilet seats … I think you get the idea!

However, in the real world, a digital workplace is a cobbled together bunch of bits and pieces, from e-mail to expenses systems, developed and purchased by a company over many years. In most cases, making wholesale changes to your bits and bobs to bring them closer together in terms of usability and user experience is out of the question.

This only really leaves one option. Being clever with the spaces between your digital workplace components. How you design a fluid user experience into these spaces will make or break your digital workplace. In fact, if you’re not clever with the way you squeeze your users through these narrow spaces, they probably won’t even know they’re in a digital workplace at all.

I think taking this approach is pragmatic, simpler, quicker and cheaper than focussing on the experience inside each application. It also feels much less daunting and more do-able.

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The fall of the house of intranet – a cautionary fairy tale for intranet managers

[Allergy advice: written in an office containing nuts; may contain sentiment offensive to intranet managers]

MonsterOnce upon a time, workers lived among reams of paper – newsletters; memos; phone books; and much more besides … as soon as these bits of paper were spewed out of printers, they were out of date … the cunning and ruthless Sir Lever Arch infiltrated himself into every aspect of corporate life.

Like rising damp, armies of managers emerged from under rocks and from within cracks to manage each other and all sorts of other stuff which oiled the wheels of the corporation, but which were ultimately pointless.

This was a pretty poor state of affairs so, one day, a very clever wizard – no one knows exactly who he was but his magic wand and pointy hat were very magic and pointy – decided that all this paper could be replaced by the interweb.

Not the big-wild-west-interweb-dominated-by-porn-and-gambling-since-discredited-by-Tory-MPs-who-wouldn’t-know-the-interweb-even-if-it-donated-squillions-of-pounds-to-their-evil-cause … but secret interwebs owned and managed inside companies only accessible to those in the pay of the big bosses who were the direct reports of King Arthur himself – for it is he …

And so the intranet was born.

Soon after, it became clear that these secret interwebs needed a firm hand and a stout heart to keep them in order and make sure they delivered shareholder value, met the needs of users and supported business objectives … and lo-and-behold White Knights, or intranet managers, strode confidently from the magic forest to pick up the gauntlet.

These White Knights rode on stallions named Governance, vanquishing unofficial servers … ruthlessly slaughtering poor user experience. For a while, the White Knights ruled supreme – proclaiming the word of the intranet … ‘governance; cost savings; user testing; cost savings; usability; cost savings; business requirements; cost savings; and many more black-magic-type-cost-savings which were lapped up by the men-in-suits who pandered to King Arthur himself’.

All-the-while, in a dark cave high in the mountains of IT-shire, a strange and unknown creature was emerging called the Digital Workplace. At first, the intranet managers hailed the Digital Workplace as their saviour … they saw it as a way to ingratiate and elevate themselves to the Great Round Table at which King Arthur himself sat. Fortified by PowerPoint and buoyed up by free trips to exotic lands in which they supped at the famous and unlimited Fountains of Conference, they enjoyed the good times and grew complacent – talking up the great Digital Workplace and their perceived control over it.

However, the unwitting intranet managers, in feeding the Digital Workplace, were unleashing a power beyond their wildest dreams … a power so strong it would one day turn on them and swallow them up … coughing up their semi-digested remains in a tangled furball of BYOD, tablets, real-estate, smart phones, work-styles, collaboration, network access and slimy social media …

However hard the White Knights fought to untangle themselves from within this furball of complexity, they could never free themselves … and their power and influence was lost forever.

[The End]

Usability warning …

I just had the following conversation with my son:

Felix: I found this really cool racing game on the computer.

Me: What do you have to do?

Felix: You use the forward and sideways arrows to control the car – but I’m not sure yet whether you’re supposed to ram the other cars or race past them.

Me: Why don’t you read the instructions?

Felix: I never read instructions, I just figure it out for myself.

(Felix is 8 yrs old!)

TAKE NOTE intranet system designers!