A lot of people think that “interaction design” is just making things look pretty, but as the name implies, it’s more about how the user interacts with the design – can they get from step A to step B easily? Does the workflow follow their expectations? Can they figure out what to do next? How many times have you stared at a screen on your laptop or smartphone and said “How do I do X? I should be able to do X from here, shouldn’t I?” Often, in this case, the designer didn’t think through the workflow well enough.
After interviewing three Mifos customers and playing with the software myself, I’ve learned that the workflow is actually in pretty decent shape. To paraphrase one customer – go ahead and make it look pretty, but don’t mess with my workflow. It can be tempting, particularly as a designer new to a project, to want to redesign everything from the ground up. But it’s important to remember that, even if the design is lacking, the customers have invested time (and money) to learn how to use it as it is. There is a trade-off to be made – the time and trouble to learn something new vs. the convenience and savings of a better design. If the convenience and savings doesn’t outweigh the time and trouble, it may not be worth the change.
In the case of Mifos, the workflows of individual tasks work pretty well, once the user gets to the task they need to do. Getting to that task is one area for improvement. For example: if you are a manager and need to approve loans, it is not obvious how to find a list of loans that are awaiting your approval.
For individual tasks, much of the improvement can be gained from better page layout – aligning headers and columns, datagrid striping, and other things that will improve the speed at which the user can make better sense of the sometimes dense information on a page.
This image shows the current collection sheet data entry page on the left and a rough mockup on the right. This is just a quick example of using datagrid striping to make the data easier to read. Color can be added to differentiate between loan payments and savings deposits (money in) vs. loan disbursements and savings withdrawals (money out).
Just a little preview of some of my design thoughts, both workflow and layout oriented.