User experience (UX) is fast becoming a unique selling point in the selection of software products. As well as the need to provide tangible benefits and rich functionality, a strong user focus and a fresh look and feel are increasingly recognised as important requirements of IT solutions in determining how effective or well adopted they will be. In fact, it’s suggested that by 2020, organisations will see UX overtaking price and functionality as the key differentiator when choosing new solutions.
Meeting this requirement is important in the social housing sector as providers strive to deliver a high-quality service to their tenants in a market where demand outstrips supply. As such, it’s up to housing providers to streamline their own back-office processes, and one way to achieve this is by looking at improving the efficiency and productivity of staff through user-friendly and intuitive systems.
There is now an expectation that software used during the working day should adhere to the same principles found within other walks of life. We expect the same kind of simplicity, powerful search tools, ease of access and approaches found in our day-to-day use of banking apps, online shopping and news sites, as well as the most popular smartphone and tablet user interfaces.
Housing management software providers have developed and evolved their products over many years and therefore, although functionally rich and very capable, they are often unintuitive and hard to navigate. The risk, therefore, is that key processes are well hidden and could be overlooked by the user or provided inconsistently. The result is that a poorly-designed or inconsistent user interface can potentially hinder, rather than help, a user’s day-to-day workload.
The business case for UX in social housing
When it comes to weighing up the benefits of improved UX in social housing software, there are significant efficiencies up for grabs. Let’s consider the return on investment potential of reducing staff training and empowering staff to diversify.
A well-designed, intuitive solution improves usability and reduces the need for training and support. Using system-wide, familiar design principles offers staff instant familiarity and confidence in using the solution, regardless of the system area they are in. This results in quicker cross-skilling and diversification of existing staff, as one process will be recognisably mirrored and as easy to use as another, helping staff easily move throughout the solution, undertaking a wider variety of tasks as needed.
This easy diversification is more important than ever, not only from operational efficiency and cost saving perspectives, but also in supporting social housing communities; housing officers who can multi-task when helping a tenant or when out in the field can offer more comprehensive, customer-focused support where it’s needed most.
UX best practice for housing providers
There are some key principles to consider when creating a modern UX:
- Avoid auto-generated screen development because it can reduce the overall quality of an otherwise well-designed user experience. If auto-generated screens are needed, ensure that sufficient effort is spent on the design process and testing to ensure a smooth transition.
- Poor use and placement of icons can cause confusion, so make optimal use of common, well-known icons.
- Avoid using different technologies to create the user interface in different areas of the product because the user could experience a jarring affect when moving from screen to screen.
- Don’t overwhelm the user with data overload; use progressive disclosure to display what is needed when it’s needed, rather than all at once.
- Always consider the task the user is trying to carry out; a user goal-focused system can streamline the process, providing a targeted approach and increasing productivity.
The more these principles are adhered to, the more effective and efficient the solution can be in delivering your objectives and supporting both staff and tenants.
Ewan MacLarty is a product manager at Capita.