As a business person, you may consider your software to be an operational tool, part of the sales or operations of your organization. But to your customers, it is a pipeline to your corporate soul. The behavior of your software indicates what is really valuable, what is truly important to your company, and there is really no way to hide.
Websites let your customers access your products and services, but as a side effect, they also access your corporate values. If your website is clumsy or slick, easy or confusing, it tells them a story.
Most clients hire Cooper to solve superficial problems. When they first approach us, they ask us to help make their websites “be more friendly” or their software “easier to use.” Sometimes they just want us to “make it pretty.” In every case, we find that hard to use, unfriendly, or even just ugly software is a symptom of deeper problems within the organization.If a company has a difficult or confusing website, it can mean that they have a confusing organizational structure.
If a company has hard to use software, it can indicate that there are several politically charged constituencies within the company and each is advocating conflicting requirements.
If a client’s website is unfocused, full of unnecessary features, and it forces users to enter superfluous information, it can mean that they are unclear on who their users are and have a corporate structure incapable of serving those users well.
Software has become like body language in the way it reveals your inner personality to a patient observer. Your body language always tells the truth, even when you are trying to hide an ugly secret, and it will give you away every time. You simply can’t create likable software if you are a dysfunctional company.
If you want to improve the quality of your website, app, or software, you need to also improve the quality of your organization. You need to ferret out the people who play politics but don’t get things done. You need to squash bureaucracy that stops innovation with doubt and red tape. You need to eliminate the energy drains, systemic distortions, and toxic people that force others to act like corporate drones instead of like entrepreneurs with a vested interest in success.
You can always make minor surface improvements to software with some good interaction design, but to really improve it fundamentally, you need to improve your organization fundamentally, and that’s not really an interaction design problem.
In the majority of our engagements, Cooper ends up doing a lot more than just interaction design. We find ourselves helping clients understand their users, focus on a unifying strategy, and fashion an organization well-suited to the mission. Because our analytical methods for interaction design are so powerful, it turns out that they are also very powerful for understanding organizational structure, strategy, and project management.
It’s much harder to cleanse your corporate soul than it is to just spiff up your look and feel, but it works far better, your customers will sense the improvement, and your business will prosper.
Few of our clients come to us expecting help at that level, but all of them appreciate it once they get it. That’s why so many of them come back over and over.
Alan Cooper is the co-founder of Cooper and a pioneer of the modern computing era. He created the programming language Visual Basic and wrote industry-standard books on design practice like “About Face.”