Spinning Web Products Into Gold

New start-ups are focusing on the web’s second gold rush applications. Often they are the brainchild of a technologist and have great back-end capabilities but the personality of a potato when it comes to the user interface.

Applications online, better known as application service providers (ASPs), are the hottest products on the web today. No more solutions in a box, no more outdated software, no more install, upgrade or version now you simply rent the application online, and the provider takes care of the rest.

It’s like renting a house versus owning one all the headaches of ownership and maintenance go away. Because there is no software to own, there is a significant reduction in software management costs and responsibilities on the user’s side. The numbers are astounding. The Gartner Group projects almost $23 billion in sales by 2003 in this category.

There’s only one problem there aren’t many good web applications out there. There are great ideas, but few are designed for the web or with a “customer-centric” approach. Many companies are migrating their off-the-shelf, offline software solutions to the web, but the same principles don’t necessarily apply. Granted good user interface (UI) design is good design, but conventions and attention spans are very different on the web. Personalization is possible, which a solution-in-a-box can’t provide. This is where the significance of user modeling (or, as it is known in the trade, human factors) comes in.

Industrial product design firms explore, analyze, dissect, and diagnose user needs in relation to things they need, do, and want in their everyday life. A great amount of psychological analysis and testing goes into how human beings think and feel, how they break things, what level of satisfaction they have when using things, etc.

As UI design specialists, Busse Design USA has observed a lack of consideration for user needs when applications are brought to the web. The intricacies of all the principles described above and the very tricky yet methodical approach to the psychology of the customer-centric experience are often overlooked. It is important to look at years of product design and understand how those human-factor practices can be applied to how people behave, think, and work on the new platform.

Applications can be a long row to hoe. Think of it 600 megabytes of info on a CD ROM. How does this product get reshaped for a shorter, easier web product? When offering a superior web application, there are many things to consider all the way down to the “nuance” of a triggered behavior.

  • One of the most critical factors for creating a successful application is the focus on customer-centricity. Consider the “human” needs of the person using your product what does the customer want and need? This may sound easy, but we are talking about the psychology of how different personality types take different approaches to different types of products or services depending upon a variety of factors.

  • Web applications require an inherent learning curve. Applications are designed to fulfill the customer’s needs and also to fill the company’s business-plan requirements. Cutting down on areas like F2F training and/or sales time or customer service time on the phone comes into play. Until the online application approach is the norm, customers are going to need assistance transferring to the online application. Therefore, a distance learning tutorial is highly recommended for a robust application.
  • How does the psychology of a distance learning application differ from the primary application you are offering? Well, the answer is that it differs a lot. We find that with less-intensive applications, a full tutorial might not be necessary because the application itself is short and intuitive. Sometimes, a Flash demo does the job by utilizing an informational training “videotape” for those that are broadband-enabled. On the more-intensive applications, a full tutorial is needed to help users set up and make choices that best suit their company’s needs.
  • Don’t forget to prototype deeper applications; test flow and functionality.

As history has shown us, “good design takes time.” Web application providers will get better at their execution as they get smarter about the analysis of human factors. And, ultimately, users will have a greater level of satisfaction.

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