Feel IT: Microsoft wants to earn your love for Dynamics

Can users really love a business application? Jakob Nielsen, principal user experience manager, Microsoft Dynamics, asserts unequivocally you can. “There's usability, and then there's desirability,” Nielsen explains. “Designing the user experience isn't just about making business applications usable, but making people love them.
By Frank O Smith (fosmith@thewritinggroup.com) June 1, 2008

Can users really love a business application? Jakob Nielsen, principal user experience manager, Microsoft Dynamics, asserts unequivocally you can.

“There’s usability, and then there’s desirability ,” Nielsen explains. “Designing the user experience isn’t just about making business applications usable, but making people love them.”

Nielsen’s group has developed a usability testing methodology it calls Feel IT to create finely crafted, “role tailored” user interfaces that deliver a desktop experience designed specifically to individual job functions.

Dynamics GP has some 60+ role-tailored personas that the team tagged with names—for example, April, the accounts payable clerk; and Vince, the operations manager. When users access their desktop, what they need to perform their jobs is right in front of them.

Feel IT taps into a complex pallet of images and icons—e.g., a picture of a stool with a bent leg, or a mountaintop—to draw out deeper associative responses, and reveal emotional reactions to various features. Nielsen says it’s a simple method that generates richer data about people’s emotions toward business applications.

The concept of desirability isn’t especially new to Microsoft, “but I give them credit for pretty much leading the parade now in application and user interface design,” says Alan Webber, senior analyst with Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester Research . Microsoft achieved prowess in this area via its purchase of Great Plains Software—the GP in Dynamics GP.

Webber says users of other Dynamics products will see the fruits of Feel IT and role-tailored interfaces later this year. “I think it will become a significant differentiator,” he says.

Denni Conner, senior database engineer for Nashville-based Video Gaming Technologies (VGT) and a project leader in implementing Dynamics GP within VGT, rates the role-tailored user interface as a boon to winning early user buy-in.

“ERP is so complex that the key to successful deployment is getting users onboard early. If they have a bunch of windows to navigate, they can get confused [and may] create other means for doing their jobs,” says Conner. “But if you can get them to say, ‘Wow, this makes my job a lot easier,’ then implementation is much smoother.”

VGT learned something about creating compelling, “sticky” user interfaces as a developer of electronic gaming systems such as Red Ruby and Mr. Moneybags, which VGT leases to casinos.

“Engineering the emotional aspect of software is hugely important,” says Conner. “I do a lot of training, and it was a surprise to see how quickly users can come to love their desktops.”

Forrester’s Webber asserts desirability is destined to become only more important over time.

“User expectations are rapidly changing, and there’s growing awareness that the user experience can be a significant factor in how well companies meet their business goals,” Webber concludes.