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Looking at New Legal Apps? The Latest Software Upgrade? Think Twice about UI and UX

Jeffrey BrandtEarlier this month, I joined several thousand legal professionals congregating in New York for LegalTech as well as the 11th annual Law Firm CIO & CTO Forum where I ended up. Thanks to an invite from the Tikit folks, I was asked to moderate a panel presentation entitled, "Engaging Human-Computer Interaction & Ergonomics Experts to Boost User Experience and Profitability". More or less, it's a fancy way of saying what are the best ways to design an app and to develop the user interface (UI) for the ultimate user experience (UX) and productivity? Mark Garnish (MG), Tikit’s Development Director, Peter Zver (PZ), Tikit North America’s President, and Justin Hectus (JH), CIO at Keesal, Young & Logan made up the panel.

From our initial planning chats, I knew it would be a good one! Several of the topics and themes discussed during the 45 minute session warrant repeating so we decided to share via a panel Q&A format to give you a near-session experience.

The panel

Gentlemen, why all the buzz about UX/UI? in Legal? Now?  

PZ: UX has been around since the 1940’s under the banner of ‘ergonomics’ and ‘human factor’. Formally branded by cognitive scientist Donald Norman in his book “The Design of Everyday Things” in the early 1990’s it really gained  momentum  in 2010 in its connection to  computer interactions (not simply man and machine) after Apple (re)set the bar in UI/UX with its next generation mobile devices and the millions of applications designed and developed for them. This level of user experience, which encompasses not only the interface but access, installation as well as ongoing updates, really created a gap between consumer grade application experiences and the rest, mainly business/commercial ones. 

Professionals who use technology are consumers first, and the gap between a good experience and a terrible one became evident hence the need for the UX/UI discipline, specifically for business applications that can extend to multiple platforms. The software industry (beyond consumer and gaming) is essentially in catch-up mode with regard to UX/UI as the platforms or so called end points (tablets, smartphones, etc.) have increased at a blistering pace and are readily available, thereby introducing many environments to engage. However, the UI/UX that is being delivered out to these platforms is often still ‘legacy’ resulting in negative user experiences. 

MG: it is all about looking at development through the eyes of the user rather than the developer. To be fair, most products set out to do this but developers usually can’t help themselves, so without a strong UI /UX input into the design it can go badly wrong. In our most recent project, every element of the user experience was designed and documented before a single line of code was written.

JH: As Peter suggested, enterprise software UI/UX is in catch- up mode in general and that is especially true in Legal. It wasn’t until established players like Tikit showed some genuine interest in UI/UX that we have seen something beyond just buzz here.  There is a follow-the-leader mentality and if this user-focused design from the ground up approach pays off as I suspect it will, I think we will see more software companies following suit.

The next step is collecting data about user behavior, modifying features to direct that behavior, and repeating that process to bring precision social engineering to businesses.  We’re in an unprecedented age in that respect and software companies that work closely with clients to develop real time "labs" are going to blow away the competition.

What is the difference between “User Experience” and “User Interface”? 

MG: I would simply say “UI is what an app looks like and UX is what an app is like.” Having said that, my alternative definition received more social media coverage … “UI gets you the first date and UX gets you the second.”

More specifically, it is about looking at how we interact with computers. Not so long ago, good design was all about reducing the number of clicks. That is still important but not at the cost of a good experience. If five clicks seems like a logical progression to the end user that is much better and worthwhile than doing it in three.

PZ: User experience is the holistic experience of engaging with the application and the platform starting from pre-installation to installation to use and ongoing engagement via updates both with the application and the company delivering the application. UI is constrained to the application interface. UX is not. A good example is the key role Apple’s App Store plays in the overall experience associated with iOS applications.  


What about “user personas” and the concept of delivering alternative UI/UX for different work styles within the same application?

JH: We have had some success delivering a preferred configuration based on the best estimates of what constitutes the most effective/enjoyable UI/UX but also offering alternatives that allow motivated users and user groups to customize the app to their individual workflow.  From that point, we cross reference user behavior and achieved vs. desired results from an objective basis to see which configurations and which “personas” are most effective.  Being able to tie into an application from multiple points and in different styles creates a mini lab environment and provides an opportunity to evaluate and publicize the alternatives which are most effective to drive desired behavior. 

PZ: When designing a good user experience, it is only logical that emphasis should be placed on knowing the end user, more specifically users … each with potentially different roles and personalities. Using metrics to objectively define behavior, using surveys and simply watching users in their natural work environments is important and avoids persona ‘stereotyping’. An example of stereotyping in Legal aka getting the UI/UX wrong from the get-go is making an assumption like “document production (i.e typing) is performed primarily by assistants”; a critical workflow that has shifted to other firm employees including associates. In fact, Justin’s firm used metrics gained from its DMS to actually prove this shift and then followed-up with appropriate training programs tailored specifically to the use personas. 

Design simplicity vs. design intuitiveness … one and the same? 

PZ: Focusing solely on “simplicity” is narrow thinking when it comes to UX/UI design. Factors such as cognitive behavior, user reflex, opportunity cost and the user personas as well as a user's propensity to invest for high value are all considerations. For example, leveraging existing user reflexes and cognitive behavior may often override “less clicks “. The idea of clicking three times in a known behavioral pattern is often more effective than confusing the user with two clicks that puzzles them by deviating from pre-established standard behavior.  Also at times introducing a level of complexity (i.e., additional fields or prompts) may be warranted as it mitigates the immediate or long term ‘consequences’ of not doing it . A good example is the redundant password field in a standard change password form. Imagine the ‘cost’ of not having the additional password prompt which would surely result in half the users calling the helpdesk. 

JH: The security (password) example is perfect because we find that as we educate our user population as to why systems are in place in addition to how they work, there is not only better acceptance but a more constructive dialogue.  

In 2001, we received recognition for our simplistic model for delivering actionable information to our lawyers in real time and our minimalist approach set us up for success in mobile.  The challenge today is to layer in more sophisticated and responsive data, workflows, and controls without adding too many steps.  If you don’t do that in a format that strikes the right chord with users, you will miss the mark.        

What impact does the Apple iOS ‘walled garden’, web apps/services & consumerization have on traditional software design? 

JH: There is a measurable difference in user engagement when they feel “ownership” of an application. Back in 2010, we provisioned time entry on all Blackberry devices, did training, and otherwise supported the rollout. Today, “it’s in the app store.”  As a result, timekeepers feel like it is their app instead of our app and consequently we have seen a 44% increase in mobile time entries and a 40% increase in granularity (i.e. entries were 40% smaller time increments on average than before).

MG: Generation Y expects to download apps and use them and they expect their commercial / business software to work the same way. We have to make sure it does. You don’t need a manual to operate your banking app and you shouldn't need one to time record. If you do, we have failed.

PZ: We have to recognize the modern tech world that as consumers we are engaged with, at an addicted level, and leverage that moving forward for business benefit. The evidence is there that if grandma has bought in to it, then there should be no more debate about how to engage users. Formal application training is over (really never worked for busy lawyers anyway!); to “simply download and get productive” is where we need to be … now.    

In summary … users are no longer content with antiquated, hard to use enterprise applications.  People want tools as easy and intuitive as the apps they use on their smartphones and tablets.  Business can no longer afford to have unproductive users, especially those crafting their own shadow IT.  The answer isn’t magical; it starts with an understanding of the users’ needs, a well-crafted user interface and a pleasant and productive user experience. 

We hope this session snapshot was beneficial and provided an appropriate entrée into the world of UI/UX. Please feel free to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or the other panelists via their respective LinkedIn profiles.


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