UX insights - You can't change the world in one day

The insight

However bad you, as a UX person think the interface is, if you have current users of a system who are used to how things are and who are productive, you can't just pull the rug from under their feet and change everything in one go from one version to another.

It will just create a lot of unhappy users and customers and will most likely cost you many of those users as they might very well take the opportunity to look around and see what else is out there, they're anyway going to have to relearn a new system right...

So hurry slowly, think through all the aspects and listen to the people around you.

For the full experience and an explanation of how I learnt this the hard way, keep reading.

I was just listening to an episode of the Swedish podcast Kodsnack, where they among other things discussed, how developers who come straight from school often have a very fixed and sometimes idealistic mindset about how things should be done.

A budding "UXer"

It reminded me of some things that happened to me a few years ago, I wasn't straight out of school but I was transitioning from being just a developer to more of a UX person and still pretty new to the area of usability and UX. I'd done an intro course in cognitive science, I'd read the classics like, Don't make me think by Steve Krug and The design of everyday things by Don Norman and I was raring to make all the computer systems in the world better and more easy to understand.

I had recently gotten a job where UX was finally in my job description, I wasn't just the developer who nags on about the users anymore! The project we were working on was a total rewrite and port of of an existing complex desktop application, which was now being brought into the modern era and becoming web based.

How can anyone use this?

I remember it taking me weeks to just understand what the system was actually for and to start understanding the user interface of the desktop client. I thought, how can anyone use this?!
Luckily, it was part of the project to make the user interface of this new version more accessible and easy to use, hurray finally I would get to show off my UX skills!

One of the requirement analysts had already started doing mockups in Balsamiq before I started on the project so there was already a fair bit of work done. However, imagen my horror, when I discovered that it looked almost exactly the same as the old interface but in a web browser!

Time for some change

Time to make this user friendly! Almost all the current users of the system were specialist with deep knowledge in the field the system dealt with but part of the goal with the project was to open it up, so it could be use by non specialists as well. Hence after spending a a way disproportionate long time brushing up on my reading around task-based, versus object-based versus CRUD , I set out and created a truly user friendly and accessible interface for some of the screens! They where based on context, they led the users through the steps that were needed in a very pedagogical way. It was bliss.

The big reveal

I then took my work to my manager, who was one of the guys who'd been with the company from the start and who was in charge of the project to create the new version.
I explained the problems with the old way, why this way was soo much better and how it would make it soo much easier to use for the users. He looked at my work and listened patiently and the told me, "It's good work but we can't use this".
I was flabbergasted, what, why not, didn't I just explain how much better this was?!

Hurry slowly

He then went on to explain, that basically as the old proverb says, Rome wasn't built in one day, you can't change the world in one day.
What about all the existing users and customers? Yes this new interface might be great for new unexperienced users but the to the users who have spent hours upon hours in the old system, this will look totally alien and they would have to relearn everything. And yes the users who will only use the system every now and then, will get great guidance from the step by step interface but for the experienced specialist who used the system every day, this will be a extremely slow and unproductive way of doing things.
So how did it all end? Well, we basically agreed that for the "first" new version, we'd implement some of the changes I'd suggested and that for a future version, we'd look into the possibility of the users choosing themselves the level of guidance they wanted from the user interface.