Looks Matter: Why The IT Department Need Expert Help with Visual Design

It happens every time an organization launches a new project. The whisperings. The rumors. The water-cooler gripe sessions.
“Did you hear…?”
“Will we have to…?”
“Have they considered…?”

Software projects are no different. In fact, even when leadership has a strong vision for how new software will improve workplace efficiency, employee opinions can sabotage the process before it ever has a chance to deliver the promised results.

But what many managers don’t realize is that acceptance of a new software platform isn’t just about how the technology works. It’s also about how it looks.

First impressions about your software depend overwhelmingly on the design. In fact, one study found that those crucial first impressions were based on design 94% of the time. And credibility judgments about a website depend on aesthetics 75% of the time.

Obviously, looks matter. We all recognize that that’s a big deal when we’re talking about customer interfaces. Poor design might cause us to lose sales.

But what about internal software? Does the look of the software your employees interact with everyday really matter?

Oh, yes. It does.

8 Internal Factors Affected By Poor User Interfaces

It’s difficult to draw a hard line between what customers expect from technology and what employees expect. After all, your employees are customers a large percentage of the time. They buy things from Amazon, browse Facebook, search for quirky restaurants, and shop for Christmas presents online. They rely on their smartphones to communicate, browse, search, read, and play.

So why wouldn’t they want the software they use at work to function with the same level of flexibility and ease?

The problem is that business software hasn’t kept up with consumer software in terms of user design. For too long, businesses haven’t bothered with it. As long as it can do what you need it to do, who cares what it looks like?

Your bottom line cares—that’s who.

When employees have a hard time learning and using your internal software, productivity—and therefore, profit—suffers. Poorly designed user interface creates a domino effect that cascades throughout your entire workflow process. Here are 8 areas that will be affected:

Learning Curve

A poor user interface makes software more difficult to learn by adding unnecessary steps to the process, making data and functions difficult to find, and obstructing access to needed elements. The more complicated, clunky, or outdated your user interface is, the harder it will be to learn. That’s a real cost in terms of time spent both by the trainer and the employees learning the system. Good UX design can help you avoid a measurable lull in productivity when software is released.

Adoption Rates

When software is hard to learn, you’ll have problems getting employees to use it like they should. Why walk through eight steps to run a report when you can just quickly enter the data into a spreadsheet or type up the information in Google Docs? That’s especially true if you’re introducing a new software platform that seems to make routine tasks more labor intensive. While these things may save time in the short run, before long the proliferation of CSV files will lead to hidden and/or inaccurate data.

Enforcement of Standards

The next domino in the chain is inability to enforce universal standards and processes. If your employees haven’t universally adopted the software, then they will each have a different way of tracking information, running reports, and performing tasks. Your data will be inconsistent, which means that it won’t be as useful when it comes to producing actionable business intelligence.


Low adoption rates and non-uniform procedures also undermine efficiency. Instead of clicking through a carefully constructed, streamlined process, users will be slogging through the 8 different steps it takes to collect the information they need or skimming by on questionable workarounds. And if someone is out sick, whether for a day or a long period, it will be almost impossible for a fill-in to catch up with any measure of speed.


The less efficient your processes are, the less productive your employees will be. Inefficiency keeps workers from turning their attention to more important tasks or completing the volume of work that they otherwise could. This lack of productivity comes with a real cost, whether it’s from the added head count you need to get through the work that needs to be done, or the missed revenue opportunities left on the table each and every day.

Job Satisfaction

All of the above ramifications create stress and frustration in the workplace. Outdated or inadequate software makes it harder for your employees to do their jobs, and that in turn will undermine job satisfaction and engagement. This provides another metric to assess the true value of your internal software.

Employer Branding

The last domino to fall is your employees’ perception of you as a positive place to work. Your current employees can be your best brand ambassadors as they refer other talent to you or share their good experiences with friends and social contacts. But when they don’t enjoy their work, they have the power to negatively affect your brand. So when you saddle your call center with awful, antiquated software, don’t be surprised when employees snap on customers on the phone. That’s not good for your customers or your bottom line.

The ultimate fallout from this chain reaction is that your bottom line suffers. When employees aren’t productive or engaged, they won’t do their work effectively, and that will trickle down to customers. It also means you won’t realize the ROI from the software project that you hoped for. Even if the software has deep capabilities with the potential to transform your workflow, it can’t achieve those results if your employees don’t use it.

So what’s the solution?

Bringing Employees Onboard With Change

Any kind of change that has the power to amplify progress also has the power to completely disrupt your employees’ status quo. How often have you heard a friend or colleague say something like: “I HATE the new software! It makes everything more complicated!” Many times, it’s not the functionality of the software that’s at fault. It’s the design. 

A poorly designed user interface gums up the works with inconsistencies, confusing placement, redundant (or missing) information, or non-standard controls.

One of the keys to success, then, is a user interface that does, in fact, make processes easier and more intuitive. Let’s look at some ways to do that.

Design Thinking and Your End Users

The goal of design thinking is to make employee software interactions intuitive, simple, and pleasant. It seeks to build software applications that humanize your business processes so they feel natural for employees. In other words, the design revolves around user experience rather than system function.

Here are five elements of an efficient user interface based on the principles of design thinking:

1. Intuitive: Incorporate logical processes and navigation so employees can find what they need quickly and take the next step intuitively.

2. Simple: Complex processes can still be designed simply. Look for readable text, distinguishable icons, clickable elements, and predictable interactions. Avoid information overload by keeping the screen uncluttered and grouping elements together logically.

3. Accessible: Avoid ambiguous labels and terminology. Use design to clearly communicate what every element on the page does and what the user can expect. Format text and font so that users can read or scan it easily. Consider the software accessibility checklist so that employees who might be color blind or unable to easily use their hands can use the software.

4. Consistent: Use the same terminology, colors, branding, and structure throughout the application to make the learning process easier. Make sure all buttons and forms operate the same way and that there is a logical flow to processes.

5. Appealing: Eye-tracking studies reveal that people scan pages in predictable patterns. The design and placement of elements on the page will affect the usability of that page. You can take advantage of those patterns by using design to direct the reader’s gaze where you want it. Avoid distractions and visual clutter with a clean, engaging look, and use white space to emphasize key information.

When software looks good, it invites positive interactions. But you’ll still need to develop an efficient training strategy to get the best possible results from your employees. Because software carries significant potential to shape the morale of your workforce, it pays to invest time and resources into training on the front end.

Encouraging Employee Buy-In With Appealing Design

No matter how carefully you choose your software or how great its potential ROI, there will always be employees who resist change. Still, you can win over these technology change holdouts by choosing or building a software platform that emphasizes user experience with intuitive, approachable design. Once you’ve implemented the new technology take time to solicit feedback from users, demonstrate improvements during training, and give employees the opportunity to get help or express concerns when needed.

That’s the best way to avoid frustration and water cooler gripe sessions down the road.

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