PLM Usability Notes or Don’t Make Me Think

One of my favorite books about usability in designing of User Interfaces and Web Sites is “Don’t Make Me Think: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability” by Steve Krug. In my view, enterprises software is sick by complexity and you need to think every single moment you work with systems in the engineering and manufacturing domain. Despite the high demand from users, not much has been done to make systems simpler. There are few reasons for that – natural complexity of product development, bloody competition on features and creation of long history of training and services businesses.

I understand that enterprise software in general and specifically PLM software is different from web site design. Nevertheless, I’m getting back to this book on a regular basis.  Today I wanted to figure out few ideas, that in my view, can simplify PLM systems. This is not a recipe with step-by-step instructions how to do that, rather than a list of patterns that helps to create a simpler engineering and product data management with simplify DNA.

1. Contextual Identification
This is a very fundamental, in my view. Context is a very interesting aspect of work. Specifically, it is important when you think about what you can do. If you can clearly identify where are you, in terms of application module, data structure and step in the process, you can reduce time you spent in understanding what to do.

2. Simple Navigation
After applying contextual identification, you need to think how to move around. Navigation is set of rules that can help you to move between elements of your application. Think about navigation as about change of context. All possible ways to change your contextual states can be clearly presented. You need to understand how to move to another module and browse through data. Create helping elements in your software to help user to find where and how to move.

3. Action Driven Environment
In most of the cases, you start application to accomplish some tasks. Orientation on action needs to help you to identify what are possible actions you can accomplish in every contextually defined step. You need to limit actions and create a set of step with actions to guide users. User needs to find them in a very quick way. If you expect an “action” from users, make it clear and always allow one single step in a time.

4. Less Clicks
By a combination of context, navigation and actions you can create an easy to follow application flow. It will help to follow one more  principle – how to make fewer clicks to accomplish a task. Gather list of tasks and calculate the number of clicks you need to make them. Then try to reduce it at least by 50%. It will make your system much less complicated.

5. Less Options
You need to see only what you need to see. Think about how to eliminate everything – information you don’t need, commands that you’ll use rarely, visualization that can make user’s operation cumbersome. Many things in our UI can be easy eliminated.

What is my conclusion? Making things simple is hard. It is so easy to overwhelm users with the huge amount of features, options, complexity of forms, windows, rich content and information. However, if you will be able to clean up this mess, you can gain some respect from your users, in my view. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg



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