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“The EPR-system is boring, nothing really happens, and it’s all dull.” I get these kind of claims from my clients, and they expect me to make their software more fun and engaging.

The problem is, I really don’t know how. Sure we can implement social feeds outside of the system with several tools and frameworks. We can also implement gamification with reputation and badges exchangeable to real world goodies, such as gift cards, kitchenware, and food and movie tickets.

These are proven to have some effect on users and works really well to boost the use and encouragement of a software, especially a communication and collaboration tool as an intranet. But what about the ERP-system? We could extract statistics from the ERP and implement gamification within our intranet, but the ERP-system would still be “boring” to some users.

So how do we change the ERP interface and user experience to be more engaging?

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You must have a magical ERP if people are more concerned with it being boring than with it not working/being hard to use...Every ERP package I've used has desperately needed to get usability and efficiency issues ironed out before I would dare to attempt making things "fun" and risk ticking everyone off even more. –  Ben Brocka Oct 3 '12 at 18:25
    
@BenBrocka I wouldn't say magic, but it implements the new millennium style guides and user experience - yes. It's not something built in the 70's and ported its way through the decades poorley working - no. Am I fortunate? Guess so. –  Benny Skogberg Oct 3 '12 at 18:41
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10 Answers

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I would ask what does "dull" and "boring" mean? I think you're assuming too much about the end result. As in, that by adding points or stats on the backend that you'll be able to convince them that it was better than it was.

I would venture to say that it most likely needs to be more pleasing to the eye as those words they used mostly describe look and feel.

I would ask more questions of them. Pry them until they give you concrete examples of dull and boring.

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+1 Good points, thanx! –  Benny Skogberg Oct 3 '12 at 20:02
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I think this is a good point to start with the if "dull and boring" are the main complaints. in the end of this article: kalzumeus.com/2012/04/19/ab-testing-is-frustrating there are some interesting tidbits about the effects of redesign while keeping the same functionality. –  Alvin Oct 4 '12 at 7:17
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Perception is geared in favor of differences and change. For stable enterprises, an ERP system might not be a source of information about changes.

One suggestion would be analyzing the various channels of data and look for opportunities to highlight global and local changes that might be "news" for anyone using the system.

I strongly disagree that the solution should involve whimsy. While gamification type thinking might work, gratuitous characters and "dancing baloney" would only serve to distract from the entire point of the system.

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+1 Couldn't have said that better myself. You are on the right track. So what part of "gamification" would do the trick? –  Benny Skogberg Oct 3 '12 at 19:42
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Well I chose not to expand on that idea much in my answer because I would not start there as the source of the solution, but a few ideas: If the system has features that influence costs, give feedback about which users have saved the most using the system, sort of a "leaderboard". Identify metrics that can be tied to individual activity and you might find other competitive or non-competitive ways to show "score" of individuals' usage of the system. –  Steve Oct 3 '12 at 19:46
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ERPs are not intended to be fun. But also, they should not be boring.
We shouldn't consider that fun is the opposite of boring. For example, try interesting, or rewarding.
I used to have a small ERP system that is being used along a lot of years, and when asked why did they like it so much my users would answer that it was so because my application would make them feel empowered to do whatever they needed to.
And it was not because it fostered an orgy of uncontrolled whimsical actions, the system has all its controls in place.
What maks my users feel empowered was that the interactions were designed after their usage needs.
It has high usability.
If we analyze the most generally accepted definition for usability, a measure of the efficiency, efficacy and satisfaction of specific users under specific conditions, we can get hints.
This definition describes what my software did. I unknowingly injected high high usability that the users praised, years before having learned that the word usability existed.
The definition doesn't mention fun, but it does yes mention desired characteristics of a working tool.
You might want to get a copy of Alan Cooper's About Face and read the chapter about user goals.
Also, keep in mind that you should listen to your users, but not do what they say. Which doesn't mind you need not address their claims but that you are the UX pro and that you are the one who knows what is good for them, in terms of UI. Do what they want but not necessarily like they say.

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+1 for a great and insightful answer. But in practice - what can be done to make a boring system more engaging? It completes tasks - but it is still boring! –  Benny Skogberg Oct 3 '12 at 19:03
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Thanks Benny. My suggestion is about streamlining the operations. This has an excellent jolt effect. Like, not making the user choose the next step but guessing it and offering the appropriate click target. Like, letting the users go forward with their work while allowing them to undo if something went wrong. Like, reviewing the UI and identifying any enhancement opportunities. And by enhancement I don't mean richer as in RIA, I mean more helpful, leane, less obstructing. I don't have much space left ... ¿are you aware of the three models model? (mental/implementation/manifest) –  Juan Lanus Oct 3 '12 at 20:25
    
Very useful points about fun not being opposite of boring. Thanks! –  Anna Rouben Oct 16 '12 at 17:47
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You don't necessarily need to make the software more engaging to avoid boring.
To avoid boring, simply avoid boring...

Add a few subtle (almost hidden and unnoticeable) goodies here and there...

For example:


No need to say that the success of this is depending on the right balance. Too much will ruin it!

Be classy, be subtle and remember that this is not the main task for the user.

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+1 for the variety of thing one can do - thanx! –  Benny Skogberg Oct 4 '12 at 7:23
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I would say you need to understand why people use the ERP system in the first place. What are they there to accomplish? Can they do that easily?

In regards to gamification, I think this approach works well under the following scenarios:

  1. People don't fully understand what is expected of them in the system
  2. Goals, KPIs or other metrics in the system are important to the company
  3. The tasks are somewhat rote and the results are easy to quantify
  4. There are enough people using it for the same purpose that you can take advantage of an economy of scale

If some or all of these conditions exist, there may be value in exploring gamification as an option to increase the business metrics. I wouldn't look at gamification as a solution to make things less dull - that should be a side effect but not the main result to go after. If it gets treated as a novelty to make something interesting, the novelty will wear off over time and you're right back where you started.

It should really be about driving business goals by providing tools for people to better manage their own performance.

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Does your system have a dashboard that users could configure? That can allow users to see some interesting and live statistics about the system and create reports. User may also find it useful to create notifications (e.g. tell me when users media cards are almost full).

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Gamification is about increasing the amount of feedback within a system using the mechanics and dynamics of games.

A gamification mechanism doesn't have to be fun, it merely has to stimulate action. An example of a successful gamifying mechanism is the Profile Complete indicator on LinkedIn - it's not fun, but it resulted a 30% increase in profile completion.

Gamification stimulates action through the use of feedback loops - motivation, action, feedback, motivation, and so on - and progression loops, which build towards a greater goal by breaking the task into a number of steps which have to be completed.

The use of dashboards is an excellent example. Instead of thinking about how you would reward people, consider how you would highlight the most important next steps in any process to the people who need to take them.

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I thought that ERP-Systems are supposed to get work done. The paradigm is users want to get in, get it done, and get out (much like men in shopping malls).

It's surprising your users want to spend more time on your system, and enjoy it while they can. Have you considered ways to minimize the time it takes to accomplish their tasks?

If they find themselves working with the system all-day, regardless of work achieved, then I support the "empowering" approach mentioned by @Juan Lanus. If the users would feel the system enables them to do great and significant things, they will surely like it. If this is the case, then the trick would be making all the opportunities to make great thing apparent.

This could be achieved with teasers, or shortcuts to the most useful tasks. Try to answer the question users might be asking themselves "What should I do next?"

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The approach I take with enterprise systems is 99% usability with a dash of delight.

Make them easy to achieve their goals but provide an occasional hook or delighter that makes users feel like they aren't in the basement of a building. Make delighters tailored to the users.

For example, I designed an analytics department site that was rather bland. The Manager of the department was a dog lover. On one page, I had audio of a dog bark. It made people laugh when their speakers would suddenly come to life and the manager felt like the software was designed for her specifically. She loved the work and it added vitality to what was otherwise a very dry application.

Interesting graphics can also help. Don't be afraid to user color. I am a big proponent of Edward Tufte's approach to design but I have found over and over that your average users enjoys a little but of "chart junk" so long as it doesn't distract or distort. I have come to this conclusion through years of feedback.

Jorn provided an excellent list of specific ideas. All I can say is throw in one little bit of fun and the whole application will change.

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What about a mascot?

Something like the super annoying paperclip from the old MS Office, the MS search puppy or the android robot. Don't require interaction with it though (I think that's why the paperclip was annoying, several tasks had to be done through it). Something like giving tips or contextual help could be nice. Add some funny idle animations, and voila, not dull anymore.

Another idea is to add some transitional animations. I think this is one of the key elements that make iOS interface feel so responsive, sexy and engaging. If a modal dialog is animated into place instead of just appearing, it feels more fun. This could feel a bit out-of-place with the OS though (I'm not sure what you're using), so be careful not to push it. If you're using Windows, maybe those sexy glassy Aero see-though panels could be nice.

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The office assistant a.k.a Clippy wasn't what I had in mind. Five minutes of joy and a lifetime in agony won't do the trick on my clients - no. Clippy has a question of his own ux.stackexchange.com/questions/13444/improving-the-ux-of-clippy –  Benny Skogberg Oct 3 '12 at 18:46
    
Lifetime of agony only if executed badly. A good example: Wheatley from the game Portal 2 is one funny sidekick. Doesn't really do anything productive, but the experience would have been quite boring without him. youtube.com/watch?v=UBBUiuOBYXg –  talkol Oct 3 '12 at 18:55
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