A while back, I was tasked with redesigning a complex, outdated, and confusing interface. The company specialized in digitizing books of municipal code for towns and municipalities around the country. Known as eCode, the large documents became highly interactive once online. For example, users could search, compare, highlight, and share codes.
Unfortunately, I don’t have any images of the old interface, but trust me when I tell you it wasn’t good. In fact, it was so confusing that the company decided to create a “quick view” and an “advanced view” of the entire application. Quick view was a massive and unstyled HTML page. Advanced view had so many buttons and functions that it confused anyone trying to use it.
My job was to combine both interfaces into a single intuitive, user-friendly web application. So I started by asking myself an important strategy question:
Does anything else with a similar format and modern web presence exist?
A Biblical User Experience
From there, I took a more detailed inventory of what exactly the format was and observed that a code of law was organized like this:
Code > Chapter > Article > Part > Text
Once I identified the structure of the code, it became clear that the Bible had a nearly identical content structure:
Bible > Book > Chapter > Verse > Text
By observing the information architecture, I was able to draw a comparison with the Bible even though it involved a totally different target audience and competitive market. From there, I found https://www.bible.com/ and began taking a close look at what worked well and what needed improvement. There were a surprising number of similarities to the functionality including:
- Comparing multiple versions
- Highlighting text
- Annotating text
- Sharing text
- Adjusting the text format for legibility
- Easily navigating large amounts of text
The online version of the Bible helped me create the simple, intuitive user experience I needed without having to reinvent an entire interface.
This design is from early 2013, so it looks a little dated as of 2016, but the concept, layout, UI, and UX all remain extremely effective.
Applying this to your workflow
Solving a complex problem always starts out being really intimidating. To make things easier, start by observing and recording the details of the problem at hand. Then, do research to find out if the problem (or a similar problem) has been solved before. You’ll almost always find that it has.
You can patent and trademark many things, but a good user experience isn’t one of them. It’s ok to leverage existing solutions to help you create one of your own so long as you don’t blatantly copy every part of the design. There’s little sense in changing a good user experience just for the sake of being different.
If you thoroughly research the problem at the beginning of your next project, you might find a helpful solution in the most unlikely of places.