Easy interfaces remain a strong competitive edge

There are a lot of loud voices out there—Jason Fried and the team at 37 Signals, Jeff Atwood, and Joel Spolsky all come to mind—proclaiming that one of the biggest problems with software today is complex user interfaces. I think its evident that the message is finally getting through to the design teams and programmers. The overhaul to Microsoft Office’s toolbar layouts, physical products like Dyson vacuums and the Flip Video Camcorder, anything Apple, and the entire suite of Google products all reflect a genuine focus on making UI’s more intuitive and easy to grasp for the most uninitiated. However the UI revolution is far from over. Today I left a message for a friend on his cellphone, and after listening to his personal message, I heard this statement for probably the zillionth time:

At the tone please record your message.

When you have finished recording, you may hang up,

or press 1 for more options.

To leave a callback number, press 5.

I would love to see the stats from wireless providers on the number of people who actually do anything other than hang up after leaving a message. I can recall using the paging feature once, in an emergency and way back in the day, to make the persons phone beep immediately. Ah memories. Contrast this with the experience when you leave a message for any iPhone user. After the person’s custom message plays, you get the trademark beep. Leave message, hang up, done. I’m willing to bet money that Apple strong armed AT&T into eliminating the worthless instructions, because it still happens on non-iPhone numbers. As an employee (or employer), you always have some highly-tuned insight into the interfaces of your product or service. Whether the interface is a website, physical object, or a customer service desk, there is almost always room for improvement and, in most cases, a lot of improvement. Raise the alarm, because the “easy-to-use” facet of business is a super-fast, super-easy way for the competition to blow past you. If your current company waffles on your suggestion, look for supporting evidence from competition that’s already leveraging your weakness. The more adventurous among may want to consider taking that weakness and becoming the competition.