In the past few years Facebook has rapidly grown to attract 1.25 billion users worldwide, make annual profits of $1.5 billion and float on the NASDAQ for more than 100 billion dollars.
It's doing something right. The world's biggest social network recently passed its 10th birthday, and questions are being asked about the outlook for its next 10 years. Whatever the future holds, Facebook has set a great example of how to build an excellent user interface, and that example is one that businesses would do well to take note of.
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One of the key reasons behind Facebook's popularity with consumers is the high level of investment – and critical analysis – in its user interface, creating an engaging, positive journey for the user from start to finish and allowing navigation between activities to be simple, intuitive and enjoyable.
Unfortunately, "positive journey" does not describe the user experience of many internal company systems which tend to be designed for usability and functionality but often fall flat on both counts.
Simple tools like instant messenger, to supplement emails, or a central news feed that allows employees to flag relevant developments to their whole team at the click of a button, can go a long way towards improving functionality and user experience simultaneously.
Internal business systems should be designed to increase employee engagement and productivity, but the biggest challenge facing new systems tends to be adoption – the very problem Facebook has been so adept at solving.
The most common obstacle to adoption is marketing and awareness, however within a business the audience is, by default, captive, so surely it should be relatively easy to encourage internal adoption of new systems? However, the big struggle that businesses face is to build a system which is functional, engaging and enjoyable to use.
There are great rewards available to companies that follow the examples set by popular consumer websites – such as Facebook, Twitter and BuzzFeed - and use these to encourage adoption and integration of the systems that are central to their own business models.
Whilst part of the appeal of these sites is the non-commercial content, the user interface should not be underestimated. Plenty of social media competitors attempted to steal the crown of those we all know and use today, but it was those which created and continually evolved the most intuitive and effective user interface which now lead the market.
Facebook's interface is the result of ten years of R&D by some of the best and most well funded minds that Silicon Valley has to offer. Companies wishing to develop their own systems will struggle to find a better source of inspiration."
- Richard Acreman is CEO of technology services company WM360