Photo: Shot from Office Space

AF CyberWorx is focusing on Human-Centered Design for the month of October. It’s the secret ingredient of all that we undertake and can be an extremely valuable addition to most processes. Please follow us on social media to gain more insight into the value of Human-Centered Design and enjoy this week’s blog post by our lead UX/UI designer, Mr. Larry Marine!


Anyone familiar with the cult classic Office Space will immediately recognize the TPS report. In the movie, the TPS report represented a comedic nod to the ubiquitous report generator common to pretty much every office software system. But while they are common, report generators are one of the most poorly designed tools in the UX domain.

The next evolution of the report generator has been the equally common dashboard. That multifaceted screen festooned with neon progress bars; red, yellow, and green speedometers; and blinking lights; all shiny objects that attract your attention, but don’t really do anything for you. Though both of these tools have become common solutions in software and web design, they fail to solve the users’ real problems.

Ask yourself this simple question: What will the user do with the report or the dashboard? Will they read it? Look for something? What kind of something?

Users tend to look for two things in a report or dashboard: trends and exceptions. Why? Because these are the two things that demand attention and action. But what action?

A key design tenet that I promote at the Air Force CyberWorx is every design should focus on leading to a contextually appropriate action. Avoid relying on the user to understand the problem or figure out what action to take. Lead them to the right action.

Since every trend or exception may require a unique action, a good UX design would provide the right action(s) appropriate for each item. For instance, rather than merely reporting that a sales rep is not meeting his numbers, a sales management system could incorporate a codified sales formula and compare the rep’s actions to that formula, noting any deviations and alerting the rep to perform any missing steps that are known to improve sales activities.

Example: it may be known that 80% of all sales come from a rep’s top 10 customers, but only if the rep meets with those customers at least 3 times per year. The system may know that the rep has only met with 4 of those customers and then suggest that he meet with the other customers soon.

The point is that dashboards and report generators themselves don’t incite action. The users are left to figure out what to do on their own. That adds a lot of cognitive burden onto the users, and there’s little reason to believe that every user will have the same response to every anomaly. The real design challenge is to incorporate the knowledge to define the problem for the user and then perform the correct action to address the specific trend or exception and to promote the right action for each trend or exception.

Think how differently your job would be if your dashboard synthesized the data, presented actionable insights, and then provided buttons to effect the correct actions.

This action-oriented design approach is a key focus at AF CyberWorx. Good UX design is more than just putting a pretty face on a dashboard, it’s about inciting the right actions to solve a specific problem.

*The postings on this blog reflect individual team member opinions and do not necessarily reflect official Air Force positions, strategies, or opinions.

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