Game UI in Business

Posted June 24, 2012

This guy is on the money.

The central argument in the above clip is that business software is stagnant. They aren’t taking advantage of design principles that we’ve known for years. Clunky and cluttered software that dumps hundreds of options in a users lap, with no guidance, is far too common. It definitely makes these companies less attractive as career prospects for the new graduate.

Games were in this camp as well for a time and sometimes still are. When I was a kid the interface on most PC games was so difficult to use it kept me from even trying them. Who knows, maybe that fed the elitism of PC gamers who played during that time. All I know is I loved Caesar 3 and abhorred Civilization 2, strictly because of usability. Console games ultimately pulled PC games into better usability so lets see what the difference was.

Lesson 1: Limited Inputs

On a PC you have too many inputs. For business this means endless amounts of keyboard shortcuts allowing you to bury things deep in menus. An experienced user will eventually become productive entirely using the shortcuts, but that requires a large time investment up front. Console games don’t have this luxury. The main reason it helps is because you begin to think of it as an optimization problem. Less options to navigate means less headache for you to test functionality.

Benefits:

  • Grouping of related options together into their own screens
  • Fast and simplified ways of navigating between screens
  • Limited number of options reduces navigation time and clutter
  • Removal of unused options to reduce navigation time and clutter

Exercise:

Limit yourself to mouse navigation only, using the keyboard only to fill in text fields. If you want to push yourself even further, try no mouse and use only arrow keys with two other keys for confirming and cancelling.

Lesson 2: Limited Resolution

One thing I want to disagree with in the video is the statement that screen real estate doesn’t matter. I would argue that if you can’t fit it all on screen it’s likely you’re doing too much. A user should know what options are available to them. Having to pinch and zoom your way around a space really only works in certain scenarios. Games using an interface that can be moved around in, are often times flawed and it’s the weakest part of the experience. That being said, in a few cases it works extremely well to lay out something that would otherwise be too menu heavy.

Benefits:

  • Inventive ways to navigate sub content that is relevant but not large
  • Further incentive to group things into their own screens
  • Limited number of options reduces navigation time and clutter
  • Incentive to remove unused options and functionality
  • Large typeface and clear simple graphics
  • Understandable icons instead of textual options

Exercise:

Make your window only 800 by 600 with no ability to scroll the window or move the screen around to reveal more like in a map application. Either your screen will become too busy and horrific or you’ll learn to group and space things properly. Who knows!

Conclusion/TLDR:

Constraints are the key to imagination and quality design. Constraints are what drove console developers to create user interfaces that were simpler and easier to use than PC games of the time. Now PC games have caught up and in some cases surpassed console games in usability. Business could stand to impose some of these limitations on themselves to improve their products and join game and app developers in providing better experiences to their users.