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UI DESIGN for BEAN-COUNTERS

Introduction
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Most designers and engineers love a challenging problem. By solving problems through mastery of complex ideas and technology we impose control on our universe.
 
But over time the mastery of terms and engineering concepts takes us further and further from being able to communicate effectively with business people that have a more cursory grasp of design issues.
 
This essay started on a napkin as a discussion on how to calculate real costs of useablity problems for a large corporation, and has been repeated many times since then - it usually results in an interesting conversation about funding!
 
Design Rants: Introduction
 + Life with HTML
 + Basic Text Design
 + Visual Chaos
 + Common Web Page Problems
UI Design for Bean-Counters
Modern Software Design, Part 1
Modern Software Design, Part 2
a Brief History of GUI
GUI Design Checklists
GUI References and Bibliography
Office Ergonomics

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UI Design for Bean-Counters: Estimating Soft Costs with Large Number of Users.
 
Since many companies find it difficult to justify spending on internal development, here is a little scenario based on an internal reporting tool used at a large financial services company.
 
8000 users X 18 second event = 1 person-week*
 
This means that if there is a single problem, or confusing description, or missing configuration, or poorly designed form setting that requires 18 seconds to understand or perform a workaround, then the company will pay the equivalent of 1 person-week in salary.
 
Per event.
 
If the problem is encountered weekly by each user, then the cost is 1 person-year.
 
If an 18 second problem is affecting users once a day, then the cost is 5 person-years.
 
To help visualize the cost, let us put this into dollars. If a user has a salary of $50,000 per year, then the corporation actually pays around $85,000 annually for that employee including benefits, overhead, office space. The costs above work out to:
 
Per event = $ 1,634
If Once a Week = $ 85,000
If Once a Day = $425,000

 
This puts a different light on those little user interface bugs, doesn't it?
 
Here are a few common issues that can easily cause an 18 second delay for a user:
  • Login screens where instructions are poor and user has many passwords to remember
  • Searching for a form or page where naming patterns are poor or inconsistent
  • Filling out a form where field labels are incomplete or ambiguous
  • Fixing an error in a form where the error is in a separate page instead of in the original form
  • Multi-step forms
  • Forms that exit at an inconvenient page so that the user has to navigate back to a useful area
  • Filling out a form where known data is not pre-filled
  • Overly-constrained forms where unneccessary data is required
  • Missing copy functions; user must re-enter all data for a similar item
  • Timeouts where data is lost because the user got up from their desk or had to answer a phonecall
  • Search engine results that are poorly ordered, poorly indexed, or where the search fields are in a separate form
  • Long paged lists where there is no easy way to locate a specific element
  • Lack of deep-linking where a page or view can be bookmarked for later use, or sent to another user

 
*Note:
 
1 person-week = 60 seconds X 60minutes X 40 hours = 144,000 seconds
8000 users X 18 seconds = 144,000 seconds
 
These numbers are conservative - users don't work all 40 hours a week, salary costs can be much higher, problem events and workarounds can take much longer to resolve. In other words, the problem is actually worse than this example.
 
For ease of presentation, if you re-use this example recalculate the seconds to correspond with your known user population - if 10,000 users, then use 15 seconds in your examples...

 
 
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Copyright 2005, pRCarter.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.
Some rights reserved.
Last Update: 21jun2005
Design Rants: Introduction
 + Life with HTML
 + Basic Text Design
 + Visual Chaos
 + Common Web Page Problems
UI Design for Bean-Counters
Modern Software Design, Part 1
Modern Software Design, Part 2
a Brief History of GUI
GUI Design Checklists
GUI References and Bibliography
Office Ergonomics

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