Visually appealing Vs Usability

2 different (but related) experiences over the weekend got me thinking about Visual appeal and the usability of a product.

1) At the bank: I happened to notice that the bank was using Finacle (an Infosys solution for Core-banking). The software looked like a typical VC++ application. There were lot of fields of information to input, many drop down boxes to select. The way the person was entering information was interesting. He used the mouse to go to a input text box, looked down on the keyboard while typing, used the mouse to select a value from a dropdown box etc. and he was able to type in all the information in about 2 -3 minutes.
2)At the LIC office: The software used by the folks at LIC had a DOS interface! Not much fields to input, no concept of drop down box and no Mouse support either! But hey, was the guy fast or what? He needed only my name and the last 5 digits of my policy number. He entered the 5 digit number onto a search box. The screen gave him a list of names. He typed a number to jump to the particular search result. A few more keystrokes later. Done and done. Onto the next customer in 30 secs!

Maybe sometimes, it better to limit the options available to the user. I figured that most of the people in banks aren’t going to learn typing in their lifetimes. Adding a mouse, lot of drop downs and menus isn’t going to speed up their process. The software at the LIC office might not be visually appealing, but its highly effective. A few keystrokes, quick tabbing and you are done. No coloury stuff, no buttons to click, no drop downs to scroll, no listboxes to check. By eliminating the mouse, they restricted the design of the software, but ended up greatly enhancing productivity.

In my previous company, we used to have a feature testing round without using a mouse. This forced us to think on usability a lot as we understood how many keys a person has to type to get the results expected.

Right now, we are working on a web application with an attractive flex based UI. No doubt that sales is going to have an orgy while impressing the customers, but will it really be fast enough for the users?

Er… Not sure.

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