This week I was introduced to a website that is dedicated to the thought that if you make a product fun you will increase user adoption and utilization. The Fun Theory team recently took this philosophy and applied it to recycling bins in the UK.

Here’s the idea. Can you increase the number of people who recycle bottle by making the recycling bin fun? To test this They converted a standard bottle recycling bin (called a “bottle bank”) and turned it into a video game.  Prior to converting the bottle they tracked the number of people who deposited bottles into the bottle bank. The results 2 people deposited bottles the entire evening. After converting the bottle bank into a video bottle bank they increased the number of people to 100 in one evening. See

The results of this test are amazing. There are a variety of examples of this in the industry. One of the most recent examples is the Apple iPhone. Since the iPhones introduction it has carved out a strong 14% of the market share. And according to Forbes Magazine analysts are predicting that ithe iPhone will surpass the Blackberry in 2011. Why such a fast adoption? It’s the user experience. I myself bought an iPhone and switched to AT&T not because I wanted to change from Verizon but because I wanted the iPhone experience.

These same principles apply to software design. I recently reviewed an incredible hosted accounting software package with a partner. The software had amazing features and incredible reporting capabilities. As the developer has presented the software he commented that they strategically decided to develop more features and spend less time on making the user interface pretty.  He pointed out that his development team would rather have “brains than beauty” in their software.

I understand the need to have power in your software. But you need to couple power and features with good user design.  Good user design eases user adoption. The following are some principles we keep in mind when developing solutions for our customers

  1. Consistency – provide consistent processes throughout the application. I
  2. Iconic representation – Strong icons are memorable and if tied to a message they are further re-enforced. For example when you see the Nike Swoosh  you don’t think of “don’t” you think “Do It?”
  3. Explain the Rules – provide a good help system in your software applications
  4. Provide messages and labeling where appropriate
  5. Use Color and themeing to help the user know where they are your software.
  6. Keep it simple
  7. Provide a way home – Always provide a quick way to get back to where you started.
  8. Make it fun, intuitive and intriguing

Good User Design is not just about pretty graphics. It takes into consideration human factors – the factors that either drive or facilitate human behavior. The goal is to develop a software program that will benefit and facilitate the user not encumber the process.

The Bottle Bank and the iPhone are exceptional examples of how a well designed user experience drives human behavior.

Question is have you  learned these lessons? Or, are you still fighting old, clunky poorly designed systems? And if so why?