Updated: Oct 7, 2020
Recently, my bank changed the online login procedure. Now, instead of appreciating the extra security, I am annoyed every time I log in.
This was the old process:
Enter the user name and password.
Click the button to get the login code.
This is the new process:
Enter the user name and password.
Choose from a list of 5 options on how I want to receive the code: text, call, push notification, email, call the bank. I choose text - which is how the code was automatically sent to me before.
Choose the phone number where I want to receive the text.
Click a button to get the code.
Enter the code.
Two extra steps added, for no apparent reason, to do the same process. Why? Of course, as I thought about this, I immediately related it to how many times I have had to redesign a spreadsheet to make it a less annoying experience for the end-user.
Security and integrity of data is the highest priority, but it should not come at the expense of a poorly designed user interface or data entry process. Two simple facts are true:
If you make a process too hard to use, users will either not use the process or they will find another way to do the task.
If you have to make the user interface more complicated, then you are forcing the user to do extra work to compensate for a flaw in your process.
Spreadsheet programs contain built-in features that enable you to ensure the integrity of your data: data validation, cell and worksheet protection, conditional formatting. But a well-designed user interface is just as essential to ensuring data integrity. Why make data entry more of a chore for the user than it already is?
After all, isn't it ultimately all about the user - ensuring that he has the accurate information he needs on a timely basis, and which is easy to retrieve and analyze?
Here are some tips on good user interface spreadsheet design:
Be Clear - Don't use jargon, keep descriptions short, use comments to explain the cell contents, or use a data validation input message to give a simple explanation of the formula used to calculate the value in a cell.
Be Consistent - Use the same font, number format, and color scheme throughout the spreadsheet. You want to avoid confusing the user because two identical items have a different look in different places.
Limit the amount of viewable data on the screen - Whenever possible, avoid making the user have to scroll vertically or horizontally. If this is not possible, use the Freeze function to ensure key column and row headings are always visible.
Use the largest possible font size - Gone are the days when everyone used the same sized monitor to view data. People are viewing data on mobile phones, laptops that have a wide variety of screen sizes, and monitors that range in size from 19 to 45 inches. Remember that everyone's vision is different. So stay away from the small fonts - 11 points or less - when you can.
Avoid or minimize the use of color - Three points to consider. (1) Whatever color you use it will not look the same on every monitor of every user. (2) Color-blind users see red and green as very similar colors. (3) Black text is always easier to read than colored text. If you must highlight certain text, use bold or italic. For cell fill, consider using shades of gray. Both techniques give the emphasis you want and don't distract the user.
Let the spreadsheet be the spreadsheet - Most users are smart enough to use a spreadsheet program's built-in features. So don't restrict users' access to these features any more than you have to. In my experience as a developer and a user, the more a spreadsheet application tries to restrict the user, the harder and more annoying the application is to use.
Tell the user what to do - Add a tab in your spreadsheet to explain the purpose of the spreadsheet and how the user is supposed to enter data.
Enlist the users as your partner in ensuring the integrity of the spreadsheet data. Make the spreadsheet easy to use and easy to understand. You have worked very hard to create this spreadsheet and you don't want it to be a tedious chore for the users. In the end, everyone benefits because the spreadsheet will be used correctly and the users will be less likely to make errors.