I presented my design ideas to the user community during the Mifos User Meet-up call. These folks are from around the world – India, Kenya, Uganda, Philippines, and others. They reiterated a concern that had been voiced to me before (see Design and Workflow and Cross-pollination) – our loan officers and not well-educated or tech-savvy, please don’t make them relearn too much.
The original Mifos design has a left-side navigation bar that only contains a handful of tasks and a search bar. I thought it would be better to move the search bar to the more standard upper-right menubar location and integrate the commands into the user-centric dashboards. Most of these tasks are of the “create new” variety. Additionally, to do these tasks from the top level, it is necessary to drill down to select a branch office, center and group and sometimes a loan officer. While these are probably done with a fair amount of regularity, it seems like they are better done from a point of more context and don’t need to occupy so much general real estate.
Users liked the new dashboard design, but they were unhappy that the left nav bar had disappeared. While the left nav appeared to me to be an artifact of the original design, the users have learned it, and to remove it was tantamount to changing their workflow (something I saw as hindering the workflow.)
So I spent some time thinking about how we could integrate the left nav bar (or the contents thereof) into the new dashboard design. We could create a menu (maybe called “My Tasks”) for the menubar that contained these and any other user-defined tasks. This would take up a lot less screen real-estate, but also be more hidden. If the goal of the left nav bar is to feel familiar, this won’t cut it.
We could put a button next to the header region for “My Tasks” that would drop open so the user could select one of the tasks. But this one felt a bit intrusive.
Or what if we just kept the left nav bar, but made it collapsable? This way the screen feels familiar to the user, but when they discover it can be collapsed and reopened, they can take better advantage of the real-estate.
Also, when they learn the more direct way of accessing tasks, they may hide the left nav altogether (or turn it off with settings). This way we’ve eased their anxiety about new software (because it looks familiar) but gives them the tools to facilitate learning the new (and I think, better) workflow.
Particularly in Silicon Valley where new companies pop up continuously pushing the envelope of new technology and design, it is far too easy to forge ahead with radical new ideas, discarding the old ones like so much cheap plastic. But in much of the world, people have made heavy investments in their technology and throwing it all out to start over is not a possibility. That plastic is not so cheap. So, as designers, it is important to realize that not only are we tasked with creating great user experience, but with bridging that gap between the fabulous new experience and the familiar old experience. Learnability is just as important as usability.