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The Future of User Interface Design in Hospitality

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March 01, 2013
Operator Insights
Kayla Block

Do you ever wish it didn’t take as much time to train new hires? Are you ever frustrated trying to figure out software functionality to complete new tasks?

Hospitality is a complex business, but that doesn’t mean that the software you use needs to be complicated. Today’s hospitality systems enjoy the benefit of user interface design to create software that works with the user.

What is User Interface Design?
User interface design is the art of making software intuitive and easy to use. Many people believe the user interface is about how an application looks, but appearance represents only one factor in creating software that allows people to do their jobs easily and effectively. A user interface is how we interact with an application. In business, it’s how tasks are completed. It is how the application looks, but it’s also how the software works.

Graphical user interfaces were conceived in the late '70s, but weren’t really available to consumers or businesses until the mid '80s when the Apple® Macintosh® debuted. The hospitality industry began to move to graphical user interfaces in the '90s. Though technology has advanced, new technologies have often complicated, rather than simplified our lives.

Understanding how people perceive, learn, remember and think, and then using these insights in software design, creates usable and intuitive applications that support business goals and allow rapid and accurate task completion.

Some Principles of User Interface Design
People are pattern-making creatures. Software needs to help users accomplish similar tasks in similar ways. Pattern repetition helps people learn to use software more easily.

Design with consistency in mind. If a software application uses different terms in different places to describe the same things, users will get confused. Also, things which are near each other are perceived as being related, so information design ensures that things are grouped  together in ways that make sense to end users. Another important principle is software that speaks in the user’s language will be more easily learned than software that requires learning new terminology. Additionally, software should be created to prevent errors. A quality user interface helps users avoid making mistakes that could be costly in terms of time or money.

Lastly, provide system status information. Users need to know that the system took input and responded appropriately.

Creating the User Experience
Think of software as facilitating a two-way conversation between the user and the system; helpful applications meet expectations by being friendly, informative, forgiving and helpful. High-quality user interfaces support the organic, natural flow of work rather than designing for system needs.

For hospitality software, the conversation is between hotel staff, guests and the software systems that support the hotel. In addition to being friendly and informative, hotel software should enable an environment of hospitality, one in which hotel staff can focus on guest needs. For example, a property management system needs to support the natural flow of conversation that the hotel staff has with guests by allowing flexibility so that staff can follow the guest rather than imposing the system needs on the conversation. User-centered design does this by prioritizing people over system needs rather than forcing users to accommodate to the system.

Software frustration often occurs when the design prioritizes system needs over human needs. Software engineers consider what ifs in order to design robust software, however these things make it easy to lose sight of the actual end user. User-centered design methods make sure the end user is always kept in mind when making design decisions.

Keeping User Goals in Mind
Alan Cooper devised a method of user-centered design (UCD) called persona-based design to keep software teams on track with keeping the user front and center. Personas are archetypal representations of real software application users. They have names, ages, photographs, socioeconomic and education backgrounds. Hotel staff are real people with goals, desires, talents, shortcomings, and they work in real life environments. A deep understanding of these goals and work conditions will drive software that is friendly, inviting and intuitive under true hospitality conditions. In accounting, the user’s goals might be about keeping the books balanced, while a front desk agent’s goal is customer satisfaction. Creating software that serves and supports these goals helps people be more powerful and effective in their work.

If you are a hospitality manager, you should care about well-designed, effective and easy-to-use hospitality software because it reduces training time for new staff, helps you save money and time, keep software directed to user goals allows hotel staff to do their job more efficiently, reduces staff errors, lets your staff focus on the guest, and employees spend less time typing into the system and have more face time with the guest.

User interface design has come a long way. Software facilitates conversations between the data and the user. That conversation becomes more productive when the experience is friendly and helpful. By applying the principles of user interface design and persona-centered design to hospitality systems, both users and hotels can experience increased employee satisfaction, decreased operational costs and a boost in guest satisfaction.

©2013 Hospitality Upgrade
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