Prague and usability

If your buttons click with a gentle swoosh, your edges are neatly rounded, your colours and fonts are the forefront of the latest fashion, with just the right amount white space, and neat right click features, you may get a whole lot of praise from some parts of the blogosphere, and rightly so. Looking good is important.

I too, wish that our applications were prettier, and the user experience was a tad more engaging. But I’m not going to write a long rant here about how the next version will be better etc. It will be, because These guys and many others are working on it.

I was reminded today of a demo that I was involved about 9 years ago or so. It was in Prague, on a day much like this one. (photo from Aptronym’s excellent flickrstream)

Prague Castle (Pražský hrad)

The demo was for the Eastern European operations of a US multinational. The competition, an American vendor demoed first, and their GUI was the sweetest thing on the market at the time, fields were dragged and dropped, and graphics appeared as if by magic. The fellow doing the demo had flown in from California, and his Brooks Brother’s suit with wide lapels& pin stripe, shiny Johnson & Murphy oxfords, a crisp white shirt with button down collar, rather loud tie, and side parting cut a dapper swathe through a rather grey Prague. Apparently he spoke of reaching out, and of getting past first base. He spoke of global. of strategy, and domino effect succession planning trees.

Next up was SAP. We couldn’t drag fields around the screen, nor conjure up graphics out of thin air. But we had a cunning plan, borne out of desperation more than inspiration. I logged on and ran through the standard core HR demo, showing one grey screen after another without saying much at all. At the end of the demo all the Czechs in the audience clapped much more loudly than they did for the remarkably polished slick show that had gone on before me.

The difference was I’d logged on in Czech. Most of the fields I knew anyway, but SAP is pretty easy to navigate around with using numbers. (7 for Address, 8 for basic pay, 14-15 for deductions etc…) I then quickly logged on and showed a couple of screens in other languages for the Poles, Russians and the stray Italian in the audience. Then my Czech colleague explained in gory detail exactly how the Czech HR solution worked to the Czech Payroll manager. He ran a complete payroll simulation with the result in Czech Crowns and taxation.

This taught me several valuable lessons

1. Baseball metaphors don’t travel well.

2. Usability and look & feel aren’t the same thing.

3. Local functionality matters. Řešení SAP ERP HCM je navrženo pro globální podnikání, podporuje funkce pro výplatu mezd, regulační požadavky a obsahuje nejlepší zkušenosti z praxe pro více než 47 zemí.

4. Translators,Translators, Translators.

The reason why I’ve regaled you with a story from my presales days is that I was sent this fabulous song today by a former translator. The lyrics are brilliant. It is about the trials and tribulations of a translator here in bureaudisney. Turn it up loud.

To all the translators out there, wherever you work, Thanks and Respect.

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