If you know me at all from my online presence, you’ll know I have a thing about good interface design.
I don’t mean the sort of fancy theoretical considerations they teach you in HCI courses. I mean just the basics:
- Make the interface reflect its real world domain.
- Keep navigation simple and consistent.
Late last year, I was lucky enough to work on documentation for a system that’s a good example of how to “do it right”.
FastMaint essentially turns your PC into the equivalent of a fully-staffed maintenance office. Not only does it handle work orders and the resulting workflow, among other things, it also tracks inventory, rostering, locations and equipment. It even warns you if you’re trying to do something impossible or unwise…
With so many different entities to manage, this could have been a horribly complex piece of software. However, the SMGlobal team managed to make the product so intuitive that even a deskbound techwriter such as myself quickly made sense of it.
They achieved this by putting in the hard work required to keep the interface consistent and convenient. Here’s an example:
- If you’re a maintenance professional, then all this should make sense to you, even if this is the first time you’ve seen FastMaint!
- If you’re looking at an entity or list of entities – here, equipment located in a building – then there’s a button to create or add a new one.
In short, you – the user – can concentrate on the task in hand, without wasting brain space on the software.
All this may not be rocket science, but it requires the sort of thoroughness you associate with building an actual rocket:
- Somebody must have gone to the trouble of learning the terminology used in maintenance departments, then made sure that the screens reflected it. (This probably meant acting as a sharp-eyed gatekeeper whenever developers became “creative”.)
- Somebody else had to slog through the UI, putting in all those buttons, creating all those editors…
When they graduate from college, most young coders dream of wrestling with algorithms and architectures, not putting in the kind of meticulous effort on display here. However, if this were a launch vehicle, then I’d cheerfully ride it to the stars.
If you don’t believe me, download the application and take a look for yourself.
If you do that, you’ll also see my streamlined documentation that builds on the application’s ease-of-use.
It’s usually harder to cut, rather than expand, text, and there’s always the fear of leaving out Something Important.
However, my contact at SMGlobal, Sanjay Murthi, pronounced himself
…happy that you have been able to reorganize and simplify the help documentation.
So, I like to think I’ve turned out an online help worthy of the product.