Good CRM design should not make users think

A well designed CRM system is where users use the system instinctively without needing to stop and think – Hosk

I have been reading Don’t Make Me Think!: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability, the book is great, easy to read and it gets straight to the point, which it needs to because the book is only 216 pages long and was written so it could be read by an executive on a 2 hour flight!

I wish films, books and TV programs would get to the point and stop extending things out, quality not quantity.  The book offers great insight into usability in websites, Steve Krug the author is a usability expert and some they key points I have taken from his excellent book.

1.  Don’t make them think

A website should be so easy and obvious to use the users shouldn’t have to think.  The users should not need to think where to click because it should be obvious.

2.  Users are like sharks

Users scan pages and will click on the first thing which seems might be the right thing to do.  Users keep moving or die, e.g. They will point and click.

3.  Users Love Back buttons

Users love back buttons because they use websites, with a point and click attitude.  Users haven’t got time to think about what to do, they would rather click what seems right.  This usage means they will make mistakes and need to go back often.  It’s a trial and error method of web site usage because the cost of a mistake is rectified by pressing the back button.

4.  Creatures of habit

Once users find a method which works they stick to it and do it again and again and again

5.  Searching Rocks

Users know how searches work and use it a lot as a short cut to get to where they want to go.

6.  Everyone loves to go home

The home button is vital to a website because it means no matter what rabbit hole the user goes down or how lost they get on a website, they can always get back to the start with one click without any thinking

7.  Get rid of happy talk

Happy talk is like small talk on websites.  Lots of words with not much being said, usually happy talk is information about the site, creating the site and other information the user isn’t interested in but the creators found interesting.  You can read more about happy talk here, Common happy talk is

  • welcoming messages
  • details of the process of creating the website such as how long it took
  • information about the design of the website such as rationale
  • superfluous instructional advice


Web Usability and CRM 2013/2015

When CRM 2013 (which doesn’t seem long ago) was released the user interface was completely rewritten and it looked fantastic but then users started to use the application and they found the navigation was more difficult in CRM 2013 than in CRM 2011, oops.

The question is, Why was navigation harder in CRM 2013?

After reading the points made in Steve Krug’s book, these points explain why the navigation was difficult

Too much thinking needed

There were times when using CRM 2013 when I wasn’t sure how to navigate to the record/area I wanted to go.  I had to stop instinctively navigating and start to think about how I might navigate there.  I would have these thoughts

  • How do I get too a certain record?
  • Which navigation tool (menu, hyperlink, back button) should I use?
  • Where is the advanced find button?
  • How do I get back?

Some of the reason was due to my CRM 2011 navigation habits, but other problems were because it wasn’t obvious how to navigate in CRM 2013 and I had to keep stopping to think.  Thinking isn’t how people are trained to use websites and slowed down the navigation process considerably, which contributed to the feeling it was harder than CRM 2011.

No Home button/Left hand menu

The removal of the left hand navigation pane was like Windows 8 removing the Start button.  People like knowing there is an easy, quick way to get back to the start.  The best solution to this problem I have seen was the free codeplex solution One Click Navigation which I have reviewed here.  This puts a menu on the top, all the time, ahhh safety.

Creatures of habit – CRM 2013/2015 is too different

Users are used to working with CRM 2011 and CRM 2013 seemed very different and less initiative.  CRM 2013/2015 is different from most web sites and applications which means users can’t use their natural instincts to point and click and muddle their way through.

There is likely to be a degree of uneasiness whenever any users use a new product

Dude, where is my advanced find?

This was one of the most puzzling changes Microsoft made in CRM 2013, suddenly I could rarely find the advanced find button, why would anyone hide this awesome button?  Advanced find in CRM is a great tool because you can skip the navigation and find the records you are interested in quickly and you can save your advanced find as a search for easy reuse.

The advanced find button has been restored in CRM 2015 and can be found on the global command bar and always accessible no matter where you are.

Global Advanced Find is Here in Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2015!

It’s good to see Microsoft to listening to the feedback of the Microsoft Dynamics Community.  I wrote an article on this subject Is Microsoft Listening to the Dynamics CRM Community?,

Slow to Navigate

One of the points I took from the book is users are in a hurry, swimming and swooping like sharks, clicking and not thinking, muddling through, clicking what seems right and pressing the back button if wrong.

CRM 2013/2015 make it hard to navigate quickly, you have to wait for menu’s to animate and then they keep hiding again.

Users of CRM will use CRM everyday and will want to reach power user level, quickly navigating the site without thinking.

Designing Better CRM forms and Improving User Experience

Don’t make the user think

Make the flow of your CRM system obvious, don’t make the user think.  Using the new business process flows can help users along the journey without them getting lost or stopping the process to puzzle out where they should go next.
One of the key terms to think about is how to simply the process because a simple process/forms needs less thinking by the users.
Ways to reduce user thinking and simplify
  • Business Process flows guiding the user
  • Remove unused fields on views, forms
  • Reduce options
  • Change Sitemap and
  • Hide sections/fields until needed
  • Business rules/JavaScript to auto fill values
  • Use Dashboards to show aggregated data
  • Views filtered and sorted to reduce noise
  • group data on a form in logical areas
  • Different forms for different security roles/teams

Test your CRM Solution

A good way to test your form layout and business process logic is to get someone with no experience of using your CRM solution and see how they get on.   You cannot test the processes or forms yourself because you already know how to use it and can’t unlearn the process.  It’s possible to get existing users to test design improvements.
Coding horror blog had a really good blog post on Low-Fi usability testing, whilst reading this I realised CRM forms/solutions rarely ever consider the usability of their forms/system.

Reduce fields and clicks needed on a form

I remember working on a project and the feedback from the intial forms was
It takes 4 clicks more to complete this form than it did with the old system
That form was an epic failure but the message has always stuck with me.  All the forms should take the least amount of clicks and inputs possible to make it as easy as possible for the user.
Simplify your forms and remove anything the user doesn’t really need.  The top of the form should contain the important fields that must be filled in, these will be the first fields the user see’s and has to fill in.

Business Required fields at the top

Users want the Business required fields at the top of the form, this is the first area they look at on each form.  Make it easy for the user and put the fields they must fill in at the top, near each other.  Thought has to be given to logically arranging fields in groups versus putting business required fields at the top.

Correct Field types

Instead of field validation on the values entered in a field, going through the processs
1.  User enters value
2.  Field OnChange event, validates value and displays warning (back to point 1 until passes validation)
You can avoid this by using the correct field type and option Sets with a limited number of choices.  It’s easier for a user to choose from an option set with 3 options than typing a value in manually (again and again).  It’s frustrating for a user to not be able to save a record due to wrong data, finding the field and correcting is a slow process, so getting this right first time is great user experience.

Automate field entry

Workflows and plugins can automatically (where possible) fill in the values of fields in related entities
JavaScript and Business rules can automate field values based on values entered in related fields.
Microsoft Dynamics CRM has plenty of tools to help automate processes, calculate fields, automatically fill in related fields and create related records.
Using OnChange events on fields with Business Rules and JavaScript will not affect form loading times

Hide Section and Fields

It’s possible to simplify a form by hiding fields which are not used.  Field OnChange events allow you to show/hide fields based on interaction with the user and creating a tailored user experience.

Different Forms for Different Security Roles

Different users with different roles are often not interested in all of the fields on a form so there is no need to display them all.  You can create different forms for different users (security roles), hide/show certain fields and arrange fields in a different order (putting the fields they don’t need to fill in at the bottom).  This can greatly simplify a form for different users e.g. less options is less confusing.

Business Process Flows

Business process flows offer a guided/quick navigation through business process which can involve multiple entities. Business process flows work in conjunction with security roles, allowing you to create a different business process for different sets of users.

Extra stuff

An interesting article from CRM MVP Scott Durow on how the Command Bar really works, did you know it’s a ribbon in disguise!

4 things you need to know about the Command Bar

CRM MVP Jukka wrote a good blog

How Would You Change the Dynamics CRM Navigation?

I would recommend not only reading the blog post, but the comments have a great discussion about CRM Navigation

7 thoughts on “Good CRM design should not make users think

  1. Michael December 18, 2014 / 12:50 am

    Very good article. I totally agree with you.
    MS needs to do more to make CRM user friendly.
    We are currently using CRM 2011 and probably won’t upgrade until MS fixes UI.


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