What UI is really about?

TomographNowadays (and even many years before) we often hear that this or that technology which promises to allow building fantastic user experiences came out, that new version of this or that application with dramatically improved UI came out and nearly everybody promises more features under "intuitive" user interface.

Recently I happened to witness how users interact with two uncommon types of systems: medical device to test and measure how electric impulses go through tissues and air tickets selling terminal in local tourism agency. I was literally amazed how similar these two systems were from UI standpoint.

Was their interface intuitive? No, not nearly! Medical system had so many different items on the screen with labels I could not even parse let alone understand what they mean. It even did not have a keyboard in usual sense - only about 20 or so buttons. Air tickets terminal stared at the clerk with black screen waiting for him to type in some commands. Definitely not the kind of intuitiveness you would expect from XXI century software, more smells like 1980s. But we've got much beyond that with toolbars, tooltips and context help, aren't we?

AirportWas their interface fancy? No, not really! 80x25 text screen of tickets system and mostly B&W interface of medical system are far from modern standards for UIs with bells and whistles. I guess, younger generation of computer geeks would not even say that tickets terminal has UI - user has to type in mysterious sequences of symbols to make something happen.

Was their interface effective? Oh, yes! With both of the systems users were able to complete required operations with just a few key strokes not wasting the time on moving a mouse, going through menus and so on. If you are able to serve 20 people who want to buy tickets per hour instead of 18 that makes difference. If you are able to diagnose 7 patients per hour instead of 6 it is even more important.

Do you know what I want to say here? Think of how many minutes your software will save for its users multiply that by frequency of use and feel satisfied only when you save your users 3-digit number of minutes per month.