I have recently experienced firsthand the pain and aggravation the redesign of a business-critical application can cause users. Intuit recently rolled out its update to Quickbooks Online, a Web application used by many small businesses.

It was a rough week.

The user interface for the new application was so radically different from the previous version of Quickbooks, it took many users (including myself) by surprise. Intuit made a large number of changes to move away from some of the klugey interface features that inevitably happen when an application has outlived its original design. It was, it seemed, time.

The users didn’t see it that way. The “FAQ” section of Quickbooks was filled with users commenting on the negative aspects of the interface. As the redesign entailed a major update to the information architecture (and accompanying names for many items) many users found themselves unable to easily find what they were looking for.

To its credit, however, Intuit handled the cutover properly, by doing the following:

  • Alerting users via email that the change was coming
  • Letting users know when exactly the change was coming, and allowing anyone who wanted to the opportunity to switch to the new UI ahead of time
  • Providing an adequate level of explanation of what had changed, and how to navigate the interface via a Quick Start guide, video tours, and online Help
  • Explaining the reason for the changes (including for re-naming and re-structuring information)
  • Responding to user complaints and inquiries with polite “how-to” instructions

The Quick Start Guide was most helpful to me, as the interface needed some amount of explanation – that’s how different it was from what I (and others) were used to. However, the Guide was  clear and concise, and helped point the way to common tasks, such as printing checks (which, a shown below, got moved under “Transactions” and then “expenses” – probably not the most intuitive switch Intuit made in this release).

Left-nav

In sum: it didn’t take long to switch over to the new “mental model”, provided you spent a few minutes thinking about where the new items were.

Web-based applications – especially mission critical ones (like accounting applications) are not just Websites – and users can become remarkably dependent on them. This can be especially true in B2B and enterprise applications, where some level of training is often required, and there is a latent “cutover” effect when new versions.

If you’re planning the redesign and introduction of a new Web application, you could do worse than to follow Intuit’s model for serving up marketing support for rolling out an application. The more ways you can communicate how to make the switch, the better, as users will inevitably balk (or at least a percentage of them will) at the new – even when it’s improved.

 

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