By Sushima Dutt
We are face-to-face with User Interface at almost every sphere of interactive living today. From household appliances to web screens, from touch screen monitors at public terminals to corporate lobby security checks, user interface is pivotal to user's interaction with a system and it contributes in creating a "gold mine" of customer data that impacts heavily on shaping/re-shaping businesses.
User interface is user-centric. It has to deal with people and people issues are complex. A faulty user interface can be expensive. Here is a case where expected results were dampened by faulty user interface: Case: Retailer experiencing low E-com response:
A retailer experienced low response from its e-commerce web interface and, hence, conducted a survey to know the reason. Investigators found that users typed-in credit card numbers in clusters of 4 with spaces between each cluster as it appears on the credit card. The system was not designed to accept credit card numbers in clusters with spaces, therefore, prompted error message to customers resulting in loss of business. (See Computer weekly, 5/23/02 - "E-Biz can be ruined by poor user interfaces.")
In contrast, a small, goal-oriented, user interface can help enormously in impacting business growth. For example, "send to a friend" interface has helped Hotmail build 12 million subscribers. Similarly, appropriate use of interface design has helped Estee Lauder add 350,000 subscribers to their e-mail list. The Clinique web site features an "online help" interface - "Ask a Clinique Consultant" which links to a "customer care library" initiating dialogue with the customers.
Another such imaginative use of goal-oriented, customer-centric web interface is the popular use of online coupons (see www.coolsavings.com) which meaningfully contributes toward customer data capture such as brand preference, demographics, and the whole gamut of buying patterns.
User interface should be intuitively right to initiate and guide customer's interaction with a program and then help invite a business dialog. Bob Buckman of Buckman Laboratories International, Inc. says "If I can respond to a customer in six hours anywhere in the world at any time, that's competitive advantage..." FedEx believes their interface system is more valuable than their transportation system which enables them to interact with the customers. Well, how do we derive at interface designs that are intuitively responsive, user-friendly, ensures user acceptance, productivity and adhere to the aesthetic principles (look and feel) of a business environment ? Here are some proven recommendations:
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