The user experience, often referred to by the acronym UX is the overall experience of a person using a software/technology product. We are all very familiar with both ends of the spectrum of user experiences; a product you can use immediately because its intuitive (e.g. iPhone), vs. a product that burdens the user with a lot of complexity (e.g. modern TV remote).

When user experiences are great, they almost disappear (meaning they don’t get in your way and you actually stop noticing them). For example, when you’re listening to music on your iPhone and a call comes in, the music elegantly fades out automatically and then comes back on after the call. Nothing like this happens by chance, people who prioritized user experience built that into the product after many hours of strategy, discussion, and trying many other potential solutions. Brilliant user experiences are challenging to create and they slow software projects down.

Yet the user experience (UX) IS THE PRODUCT to the target audience, time and time again, print software vendors fail to prioritize the user interface. Most software priorities are stuck in what a customer of mine calls “selling software by the pound.” During the sales process, buyers typically create some sort of list of desired features and then believe that picking the vendor with the “most” features is the best decision. This strategy couldn’t be further from the truth. More features are not necessarily better; if the features are implemented in a way that creates a complex, frustrating, and burdensome learning curve on your target audience they won’t get used anyway.

Virtually every web-to-print system has a way to preview the personalized image after you add your variable data to it. So in a feature list, they would all check the box. Yet, the other day I was reviewing a web-to-print solution and the preview image was so small, that the user had to download the PDF to actually review their work. This is a poor user experience. Print products come in all sizes, so the software vendor should have built in code to make sure no matter what the size of the product, the preview image scaled to show the user a readable preview without burdening them with downloading a file and zooming on a PDF. Don’t be satisfied with a check box in a feature list, dig in and find out “how” the feature is being solved and what the user experience is.

As long as buyers keep buying “software by the pound” – making all their decisions based on the number of features, the print software vendors will keep prioritizing around more features. How could we change this paradigm into one that actually delivers better software, that is adopted more widely, creates more return on investment (ROI), and produces referenceable customers?

Start buying print software based on the user experience (UX).

Web-to-print is a print software technology that enables your customers to shop, engage, and transact with you online in a self-service manner. The user experience of web-to-print is ALL ABOUT YOUR CUSTOMER’S USER EXPERIENCE. If your customer has to be trained on how to transact with you online, you have missed the mark. If you are producing documentation that you expect customers to read in order to transact with you online, you have missed the mark.

Up until recently Print MIS/ERP solutions were left out of the user experience discussion entirely because they are not customer facing solutions. For decades we believed it was OK to deliver a sub-standard user experience to backend employees. Is it any wonder why MIS/ERP systems have the worst reputation of user adoption? Print MIS/ERP is no longer exempt from the user experience discussion and I think printers should start evaluating their Print MIS purchases based on user experience. Print MIS/ERP implementations are hard enough because they force change at every level, when the system you’re implementing has a terrible user experience you make it that much harder to drive adoption.

On customer facing systems, I am often the obnoxious counter of screens, clicks, and user’s time it takes to complete a task. When you bring this kind of user experience audit to a Print MIS/ERP it can be sobering. I once counted clicks, screens/tabs, and time on a legacy Print MIS for performing a task that was done hundreds of times a day, click counts were over 50! Can you imagine the attitude of the user performing this task day in and day out? Mind-numbing!

The user experience matters.

Building good user experiences takes time, effort, and the willingness to dive into a workflow and really understand how the business process works. Next time you go to buy software, make a list of the “jobs” you want the software to do for you. For example, a Print MIS job list might look something like this; 1) Create estimates 2) Track job costs 3) Produce invoices, etc. Then ask to be shown the user experience for each of these jobs. Evaluate your purchase based on the user experience of doing those jobs. Is it intuitive? Does it “flow”? Would you have to do a lot of training or reading of documentation to figure it out?

A great user experience is the best sales representative for a product because it creates referenceable customers who are actually extracting real ROI out of the product.

Wouldn’t it be great if print software vendors thought of their investment in the UX as a sales investment (that might actually produce the funding necessarily to create excellent user experiences)!