One of the changes we deployed this week to Mix was new icons on profile pages. We replaced the links that used to tell you “Edit your profile”, “Add to network”, “Remove from network” with snazzy, Web 2.0 style icons which showed a pen (for edit), a green plus sign (for add), a red x (for remove).
Since the deployment of the new icons, I’ve had several people send feedback asking how to edit their profiles. This tells me the pen icon, even with hover-over help, wasn’t doing a good enough job. So, we deployed some new buttons, icons and text to make it more easy to use.
This got me to thinking about UI and users.
New Web pushes the design paradigms for usability, and early adopters are very tech savvy. We call them “power users” in enterprise software. Early adopters are obviously not risk averse with regard to UI, meaning they want to tinker and are willing to investigate and probe to figure out a UI. Frequently, they will laud or criticize new usability patterns very openly. It’s all part of the early adopter mindset. Early adopters look at enterprise software and laugh at its moribund UI.
In enterprise software, we’re used to making features as obvious as possible, working within the constraints familiar to users, e.g. functions are buttons, not icons. Enterprise users are not early adopters. They represent the vast majority of computer users, and they want features and functions to be obvious and easy. These users are frustrated at the thin, undocumented UI they see in Web 2.0.
I’m generalizing in both cases to make a point.
The puzzle for New Enterprise Web (NEW, sure Enteprise 2.0 works too) is balancing cutting-edge UI design with established paradigms. On the one hand, sites like Mix seek to introduce new concepts, including UI, to enterprise users so they can reap the benefits. Without them, there is no Mix. On the other hand, Mix needs to show its New Web chops or be written off as another lipstick/pig effort by an enterprise software company that “doesn’t get it” (the ultimate insult in tech).
As the product manager, this is one of my top concerns. How do I balance the two?
This week’s user group activites at Collaborate 08 and recent promotion from Justin have driven a lot of new visitors and traffic to Mix. We’ve increased our userbase by 50% very quickly and will probably pass 12,000 users on Monday.
This problem will get worse, unless I can balance form and functionality in the right amounts for all our users. I know people out there have ideas. Want to help me? You know what to do.