Duncan: On The Impossible Bloomberg Makeover

Check out this great article from Dominique Leca over at UX Magazine: The Impossible Bloomberg Makeover

It includes some concepts from IDEO who submitted a redesign proposal back in 2007…

The comments are also interesting and focus on the fact that to an outsider Bloomberg might ‘look’ ugly, but to the actual ‘Bloomberg Users’ who are focussed on the ‘data and information patterns on screen’ they almost don’t even see the GUI.

“I have heard from traders that they don’t focus on the screens, but look for patterns within the movement and colours which then draws them to drill into specific stock. Having to relearn a system to discover the new patterns may be prohibitive for some.”
Alex Lee

This is interesting from a number of angles, as I think good UI design becomes transparent to users when it doesn’t interrupt their ‘flow state’ (this is also how I feel about really good typography… you shouldn’t really be aware of it, as you are focused on the reading).

Comments around it being an expert/elite system are also valid… I have spoken to a lot of people who can’t get to grips with Adobe Photoshop and find it too ‘expert’. This makes the effort involved in learning the software worthwhile as expert knowledge of it becomes part of your skillset – this is true for any complex system. Most 3D software falls in this ‘expert/elite’ system group as it takes months if not years to learn the UI to a level where you can usefully implement the tool and focus on the ‘flow of creating’ rather than ‘how to use the UI’.

“It is a goal-oriented design. Clearly it is not a human centered one.
Just like a violin. You have to spend some time (ed:before) playing a tune.
So actually, it’s not bad at all.”
“But I expect to see a disruptive financial information service which can defeat Bloomberg terminal soon. As you can see, there are many thing(s) you can do much better.”

I like the comparison of learning an expert UI to learning an instrument – true we should always endeavour for a user-friendly design but exposing the complexities of an expert system (for use by experts) based around ‘Goal-Orientated’ and ‘Usage-Centred Design’, beauty may well be in the eye or the beholder:

Would you be able to pick up the violin and start playing the music in the picture?

Could you fly this plane without years of training?

An expert system is no excuse for a bad user experience – but designed around the needs of experts:

  • speed of execution
  • value focussed on data
  • minimal interruption of flow
  • tools to hand when needed …etc.

….may make these expert systems more opaque to the novice or someone outside the domain.

The criticisms of the Bloomberg screens coming from some of the UX people’s comments on this article are naive. The target users of Bloomberg are not UX designers. Before dismissing anything you have to immerse yourself in the domain and understand the needs of the experts and usage patterns within the domain – otherwise it’s just a cosmetic debate.

In terms of cosmetics the Bloomberg screens are iconic.  They are immediately identifiable as ‘Bloomberg’ – you can spot a Bloomberg screen across a trading floor because it just ‘looks like Bloomberg’.

Aesthetics? Typography?

Well yes. There may well be areas for improvement but the IDEO concepts – for me – lose the ‘Bloombergness’ of the existing screens and you’re not meeting the usage needs of your users. Like Bloomberg, we have also had to take these considerations on board when designing the Caplin Trader UX.
So… I agree totally: Let’s shake things up a bit and “Bring on the disruptive financial information service!”

But…therein lies the challenge.  Any UX for a financial trading application has to innovate whilst also meeting the usage needs (and learned experience) of the (expert users) – traders.

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