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Why a poor user interface can make users happy

Can a poor user interface actually be a selling point for a product? For financial information services company Bloomberg, it can.

Can a poor user interface actually be a selling point for a product?

For financial information services company Bloomberg, it can. The company's iconic terminals -- some 75,000 portals around the world that spew endlessly updating financial data -- offer streams of pricing, analytics and news in yellow and orange text on a black background, among other design no-nos.

But when global design firm IDEO attempted to revamp the terminal in 2007 after studying user habits for three weeks, they discovered that Bloomberg's users were very, very attached to its poor usability.

Zubin Jelveh describes the situation in the late Portfolio magazine:

Bloomberg isn’t looking to do a major overhaul of its terminals' graphic design anytime soon. In fact, company executives see the Bloomberg terminal’s unique presentation as a status symbol and a selling point.

“We have to be religiously consistent” to satisfy users who become attached to terminal’s look and feel, says Bloomberg chief executive Lex Fenwick. “You can see a Bloomberg from a mile away.”

Bloomberg insists the lack of focus on the design allows them to push out updates faster than the competition. But there's a psychological aspect to it, too.

Dominique Leqa explains in UX Magazine:

The Bloomberg terminal is the perfect example of a lock-in effect reinforced by the powerful conservative tendancies of the financial ecosystem and its permanent need to fake complexity.

Simplifying the interface of the terminal would not be accepted by most users because, as ethnographic studies show, they take pride on manipulating Bloomberg's current "complex" interface. The pain inflicted by blatant UI flaws such as black background color and yellow and orange text is strangely transformed into the rewarding experience of feeling and looking like a hard-core professional.

The more painful the UI is, the more satisfied these users are.

Despite an overly-complex interface that's hard on the eyes and difficult to parse, the terminal is visual reassurance that financial traders are indeed "Masters of the Universe," at least when it comes to wrangling complex systems. (The manual for the terminal is 86 pages long.)

In this unusual case, simplicity and efficiency does not please the end user. The minority user and early adopter perversely take pride in a difficult interface.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com