The great software debate: user experience vs. usability

user exp

In this article, Jordan Watson, FileMaker developer at We Know Data, highlights the importance of successfully balancing a mix of usability and user experience when commissioning a software developer.

At a recent prospective client visit, I was shown a membership database that must have been around 30 years old. The system was running on MS-DOS and was by no means the prettiest thing I’ve seen—it also looked ridiculously hard to use. To my amazement however, the system ran like lightning and the user could navigate and perform actions in double quick time. To top it off, the entire system was just 1.4Mb—so could be easily transferred or moved from computer to computer (providing those machines had the capability to run it, of course!).

This got me to thinking, even a database that is now 30 years old and running on antiquated hardware, still has certain benefits that can trump some brand new comparative databases. To achieve the nice user experience (UX) we’re all used to today—are we sacrificing the speed of use of the past?   

Many software developers today take UX and a nice GUI (Graphical User Interface) as a top priority, and yes it is important, especially as technology goes onto proliferate all aspects of people’s work and personal lives. However, surely the system working quickly to aid the user finding their data, certainly in a work environment, is as, if not more important.


Look before you leap

The important lesson for business owners therefore is to consider certain requirements before commissioning a software developer to create a custom app for an organisation.

For example, if a tech-savvy media agency staffed mostly by millennials wants a custom app that performs with lightning efficiency—then maybe the sacrifice of some of the bells and whistles of a very graphical and polished UX will not be an issue, as speed of access/use will be the more important requirement.

As a counter to this, if a tourist information service wants a customer-facing custom app running on iPad, which can be easily picked up and used by a huge variety of people, regardless of their age or technical ability—then user experience will be the paramount concern over superior efficiency.


The best of both worlds

There are of course software development platforms that can handle both speed and looks very well, at We Know Data for example—we use FileMaker to develop our custom applications and solutions for clients. The ease of use and flexibility of FileMaker performs excellently in many different situations.

Regardless of how good the developer’s tools are though, it remains important for the end user, the business owner, to think about what they want to commission and what they want to do with the finished solution. This will ensure that ultimately they get their own bespoke mix of speed and usability—one which suits their business and users perfectly.


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