Usability is an important aspect when it comes to software development. The user, however, is hardly ever aware of good usability and only pays attention to it if something is missing. He doesn’t know how the workflow can proceed if a button isn’t there where he expected it to be or software simply doesn’t do what he wants. Good usability enables a workflow. Work becomes easier and everything functions as it should. Yet, designing software – in particular individual software – so that it actually does flow, is not as simple as it looks. Here we want to tell you about our usability approach and present our latest OPTANO feature.

Thinking, fast and slow

It is precisely this workflow that was a topic of a week-long workshop which we held for training purposes. And since usability is so important to us, we felt that it wasn’t enough to have just one or two experts in this field which is why all our employees were invited to take part.

Above all, Daniel Kahnemann’s [1] theory of thinking, fast and slow allowed us to view our work in the field of usability from a new perspective:

To sum it up in brief, Kahnemann’s theory is based on the idea that we have two different systems within us which are responsible for our decisions. System 1 (fast thinking)  is applied for situations which we are familiar with or at least, familiar situations from which we can draw conclusions. This helps us to act routinely and unaware as we already know what is expected of us and what we have to do. This way of thinking is particularly fast and efficient since it only requires a few resources. For example, system 1 can work out a simple sum (2+2) or it can help us drive a car (once it has learned how to do it).

On the other hand, applying System 2 (slow thinking) is, as the name implies, slower and uses up more energy. This way of thinking always becomes necessary when we find ourselves confronted with situations which are new to us and where we have to spend time familiarizing ourselves with everything.  System 2 assumes the more difficult calculations (17 x 26). Furthermore, it is also responsible for checking up on the decisions made by system 1. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always take this task very seriously which is why there are often some minor errors in system 1 (in these cases, though, we have our data validation).

 Only the client knows the answer

The objective of our software development is, of course, to keep the user of our software in system 1 for as long as possible. In this way, work can be performed routinely and doesn’t use up superfluous energy just because a button isn’t where it was supposed to be or a strange word is used. A software interface has to be recognizable and should enable intuitive use. So the function the user needs should be in the right place. All the relevant information should be displayed. Changing the mask in order to make a decision should be avoided.

Of course there are no general rules that govern this procedure. It greatly depends on the user group as to which habits prevail. It’s also necessary to consider the various perspectives from which users view the software. The wording is also an essential component of this process: All software users must instantly know what every word means. And every branch has its own jargon, of course. This is why it is so important  that we involve later users with all their different perspectives into the development and make sure that they find it consistent and intuitive.

Fortunately, we have been working with users in this way for a long time. In our projects, the later users are the experts for the specific business requirements and this works really well. However, those users involved in the development process sometimes become so absorbed in the software that, despite complex processes, they can still use it applying system 1. On the other hand, this isn’t as easy for other users who weren’t involved in the development process and who thus have to apply system 2. Then it’s up to us to make a stand for usability and consequently for simplicity. Because that is precisely where the benefit lies – in the simplicity.Using software then becomes fun and flows without a hitch.

New Feature

However, involving our clients is not the only way to achieve our goal. We still continue to work on making OPTANO easier for our clients to use. At the moment we are developing a scenario dashboard. To do this, we have put together requests from various client projects and have already evaluated the new dashboard in these projects. That’s why it will be available as a new feature for all upcoming projects.

This dashboard provides a scenario guideline with a recommended workflow so, based on the dashboard, the user is guided through a scenario and can process all the necessary data in the right order. Furthermore, the dashboard displays the steps that have been taken beforehand and where the user should continue. In this way, the user can see at a glance the status of the selected scenario. He also doesn’t have to remember how far he has come in which scenario and how to proceed further. It is a lot easier when more than one person is working on a scenario as the dashboard handles the transfer from one to another.

Needless to say, the scenario dashboard has been adapted to meet each client’s requirements so that the workflow is suited to the planning process. The mock-up shown in the diagram is just one of many possibilities.

We have set sail on our vast expanse of feedback and we are looking forward to discovering where our journey will take us. Watch this space for more!

Author: Sabrina Geismann

[1] Daniel Kahnemann, author of the book Thinking, Fast and Slow

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