Why user interface matters and why you should care

Having spent the last nine months building our Recruiting CRM application to interface with many different systems I've been given the unique opportunity to look inside many different HR and recruiting software applications commercially available on the market. I've also had the chance to respond to many RFP's, RFI's, and product bake-offs with competitors. I'm continually blown away at how poorly designed many of these applications are from a users perspective (but not entirely surprised given that those vendors have to support legacy software code). I'm also, in the case of RFP responses, surprised that more attention isn't placed on the user experience in the buying process than simply a laundry list of features. Certainly feature sets are important but only if the end user can actually use them so I'd think the UI would be the most important on the list - if you can't pass that test then what's the point of looking any further? The implementation is doomed to fail from the start if you can't get adoption from users. All those features on your check list collect dust like your Mom's childhood toys still sitting in Grandma's basement.

User Interface design is hard to quantify but you know it when you see it. Think of Apple and the Mac, iPhone, and iPod. As Mac Landau, the founder of MacFixIt said, "It is this recognition of superior user interface design that, more than anything else, accounts for the stunning success of Apple's iPod and iPhone. The arrival of these products sent a clear message: There is a better way!"

And of course there are the user interfaces of such popular Web 2.0 public domain sites as Facebook, Ning, Twitter, del.icio.us, and many others that have vastly improved the user experience using such development environments and tools as JavaFX, Ajax, JSON, Ruby on Rails, Silverlight, and others. The screen comes alive, you can fit more data on it, you experience inline editing, the application speed is lightening fast, it supports multimedia, you organize data using tags instead of folders, you customize your home screen with widgets, etc....referred to collectively as a rich user experience, one that feels like a desktop application but is browser based. The dinosaur pop-ups and full-page reloads go away. Now you recognize when you're on older websites - you know it when you see those too.

But then you head into the office and are forced back into the dark ages of software prepared to call your software vendor about making mundane application changes like adding a country to the drop-down list or adding a custom field to the applicant record or changing the design of a workflow (and probably getting charged for it!). OK, so maybe you're used to that model but the more you interface with the advances and innovation in the Web 2.0 public domain your corporate software starts to make Monday mornings look darker than they already were. And what about the new generation joining the workforce that has yet to experience the Web 1.0 blues?

As famed CIO JP Rangaswami said, "The generation entering the workforce is different. They are used to RSS, to feed readers, to Google, to iGoogle, to Netvibes, to Pipes, to relevance and ranking, to wild cards. And they won’t put up with our trashy way of doing things. Not even for money. So next time you look at a humongous monolithic system using arcane meaningless codes and chundering pages of tripe, start planning to replace it. That’s if you want to attract employees from the coming generations.”

At Avature our goal is to make recruiting software that users want to use and gets them in the "zone". The "zone" is the place of high productivity, where you can start and repeat a productive process with ease and without interruption (many interruptions are very subtle by the way). The features to make that happen need to be there, but that's ALL about the user experience.

There is a better way.

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