Shave off a few years

Earlier today I had the pleasure of leading a user acceptance test of our facilities application. We work with users constantly, but this is the first time I put this work in front of a room full of people who had never used my application. The result? They loved it! Our long hours of research and iterative prototyping paid off big time as we observed smiles and nodding heads all around (in agreement, not yawns).

As I walked the room observing these people using our application, I began to see even more real-life situations where the app will improve their daily work. This is an app that will help manage the many properties and facilities of our Church, and thousands of people around the world will be affected by these little pixels I sweat over every day.

I realized again that as designers we have the unique ability to improve the lives of our users. Especially designing applications, the designer is in a position to help the user work better, faster, and more efficiently. Even the slightest design element can add or subtract seconds or minutes from the user’s tasks, resulting in more or less productivity – a fact brought home again today seeing how these real people were using my work.

One specific set of screens will be used hundreds of times by each user over a few weeks of the year. If I can save that user one minute with a better design, he will save 100 minutes that year. There are several dozen users in his position, so that one design can save several days of time.

Another more dramatic example is seen in another of our screens, designed to aid in the scanning of millions of paper documents. Each of the millions of documents has to be tagged and logged into the system prior to being scanned en masse. If my screen can shave off one second for every million documents tagged, I will have saved them 2778 hours of work.

That’s 347 work days, almost a year and a half of work.

Of course, the validity of that data can be questioned, as there are humans involved and those things can never be truly estimated.

But the point is valid. Imagine the amount of time saved or lost by design decisions made in mega-applications like Microsoft Word or Gmail. Balance that against the time saved by having word processors and email in the first place. Interesting thinking.

So take a few extra minutes the next time you’re designing an application that will be used every day. Try to shave off a second or two. The result of your few moments of thought could mean years to your users.

posted by Jason Lynes on Wednesday, Dec 20, 2006
tagged with productivity, software, application-design, web-applications