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SharePoint and User Experience, Part I: Why UX Matters

What BMW, New Balance, and a Successful SharePoint Project Have In Common

Today, I’m kicking off a series of posts around User Experience and SharePoint.  Over the course of the next few weeks, I want to cover this topic in some serious detail, because (as I’ve said before and I’ll surely say again), it’s one of the two keys to SharePoint user adoption in this decade.  It’s also a topic that I think has been underserved—certainly in the market I work in, but also in the community at large and even, to some extent, in the evolution of the SharePoint product itself.

In this post that you’re presently reading, I’m introducing the topic and laying the groundwork.  We’ll talk about what UX is, and why it’s important to successful SharePoint solutions.  In subsequent posts, we’ll cover:

  • UX and SharePoint (Part 1), or SharePoint and UX (Part 2)?  Establishing Perspectives
  • How the UX of SharePoint has Evolved Over Time
  • Definition of SharePoint-Specific UX Elements
  • Improving the SharePoint UX (and some educated guesses about where it might be going)

When I’m done, we’ll recap the above and hopefully have a chance to address any feedback or comments that might be submitted between now and then.   A good blog is a discussion, and I welcome comments, questions and even criticisms.  (Legitimate ones, anyway.  Jokes about my receding hairline or my weakness for salsa con queso will be ignored with a smirk.)

Let’s start the discussion with a quick primer on User Experience.

User Experience: A Quick Review

What is user experience?  In short, it’s how we (as humans) interact with the different devices and tools we’ve created for our use.  In technology as in anything else, the user experience (UX) will play a tremendous and pivotal role in defining your success—or failure.

Driving a car?  How you employ the steering wheel, hit the gas or the brake, read the dashboard gauges, check your mirrors, toggle the audio system and even how you adjust your seat are all elements of the user experience.

You’re far more likely to drive safely—and enjoy driving safely—in a car where the user experience is pleasant, not distracting.  There’s a reason people like driving German cars, and it’s not because they grew up eating bratwurst und sauerkraut (although that helps).

Going running?  You might not think of New Balance as having much to do with UX, but the reality is they’re all about a great user experience.  How the shoes fit your feet, how much cushion they give your soles, how springy they feel underfoot, and how well the laces stay tied all contribute to your experience of that pair of footwear.  If any of these criteria are less than perfect, you’ll feel it a few miles down the road, and you’ll probably remember it on your next visit to the shoe store.

I call out New Balance for a reason. (And not just because today is Patriots’ Day in Massachusetts, where they come from. If that were the case, I’d be calling out Sam Adams Boston Lager too.  And the Avenue Deli in Lexington, which is terrific.)  Other shoe companies might have flashier advertising and trendier shoes, but in my experience New Balance cares the most about the runner’s actual running experience, and their shoes are fantastic for that reason.

UX Counts in SharePoint, Too

Like a well-designed car or a good pair of running shoes, if a SharePoint solution is going to work for you, it needs to give you a sense that it’s easy to use.  Making the right choices should be intuitive.  Finding a colleague should be as simple as turning the headlights on as the skies turn to dusk all around you.  Unfortunately, that isn’t always how things turn out.

I’m here to make the case that you should never deploy a SharePoint solution without understanding that a good UX is a key to successful understanding and adoption of that solution.  I’ve seen projects where the delivery team and their methodology were not committed to a good UX, or worse, where they only half-understood what user experience is.  The results in these cases are never pretty.

In past lives I have fought this battle with peers, superiors, salespeople, even customers and clients.  They all have different reasons to resist, of course.  Some see it as overhead that can be trimmed from a project (“just do the infrastructure / coding”).  Some see the value of the discipline but think it’s unnecessary for their project.  Many simply don’t understand the benefits of a good UX at all.

I’m here to tell you that User Experience in SharePoint is about more than awesome code.  It’s more than taxonomy and information architecture.  It’s more than mapping  useful new features to business drivers and letting users go nuts (or not, depending on governance).

I’m thrilled to be part of a team that understands and is committed to developing good user experiences for all of our clients.  I’m excited to work on this series and share some of our enthusiasm with you, and perhaps I can learn something from the crowd as well.

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7 thoughts on “SharePoint and User Experience, Part I: Why UX Matters

  1. Rich Wood Post author

    This is great feedback, James. I like your approach and completely agree that it’s a better (and more fundamentally sound) way to go. Glad we have you reading!

  2. Pingback: SharePoint and User Experience, Part II | Microsoft NSI Partner

  3. James Curtis

    Rich – caught this from the Twitter feed and as a UX/SharePoint Dev, I’m interested in the series you are posting. For this topic, I agree it’s usually overlooked and deemed as “that would be nice if we had the time”. This is opposed to being a cornerstone of the project. I refer to including technologies of JavaScript/jQuery into cornerstone development where they are just as important as the .NET code as a “blended development” where the solution is from the UI to .NET and all things in between.

    I think traditionally, most SharePoint developers are .NET developers that have hacked together a JS script that they got from the Internet out of necessity opposed to it being planned that way (i.e. using SPServices to get/push data on a page rather than a .NET server control). I have found that developers that have started out with a Design background (myself included) then get into server-side programming tend to emphasize more on UX than the Developer trying to design.

    Thanks for the post!

    James

  4. Rich Wood Post author

    Hi Dan, thanks for reading! That’s a great idea for a follow-on post and I will make a point to address it down the line.

  5. Dan Kline

    Hi Rich. Great idea for a blog series. As you flesh out the series, I hope you address some of the cultural issues faced when attemting to standardize the user experience across the enterprise, especially because SharePoint is by design an end-user extensible solution. I’d look forward to hearing some of the strategies and success stories on the topic.

  6. Rich Wood Post author

    Jesse, it was great meeting you at SPSTC this past weekend! Thanks for commenting. Down the line in this series, I will definitely share some high-level tips that anyone can use to improve a SharePoint solution’s UX. No substitute for working with professionals, of course (blatant plug) but certainly actionable material that readers can extract some value from. :)

    p.s. The harmon.ie tool for SharePoint is fantastic.

  7. Jesse Rubin

    Rich –

    Totally agree! In my daily conversations it’s the issue I hear about the most from end users and admins of sites. I’m hoping you’ll touch on some of your best practices for a great SharePoint UX in one of parts of your series.

    Jesse

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