User Experience Enhancements for Customer Engagement in Microsoft Dynamics 365

By Nuno Lima, Consultant, Pythagoras

The Microsoft Dynamics 365 pre-release notes entice us with a screenshot sample and a list of refinements that improve the user experience.

There is a delicate balance between evolving and improving the user interface elements, while preserving a major strength of the Dynamics brand: its familiarity with what countless users already know.

Let us have a look at the screenshot and notes from the announcement and see the improvements:

Figure 1 – UX enhancements, Source

Here is the equivalent ‘New Lead’ screen in Dynamics 365 without the update:

Even at first glance, the use of shadows and borders offers significant improvement as we scan for differences between the two screens.

In the earlier version, the pristine Lead Record with no history or activities offers a very large blank area right in the middle of the screen; this could be mistaken as a failure to load or render correctly. The use of an icon and an explanation that there will be data presented in the Posts feed is a good idea, resembling the notice in some technical manuals, “this page was intentionally left blank”.

Looking at the Contact and Company sections on the present day form, we can also see where there may be confusion as to what areas are titles and what the interactive areas to type in data are. The use of solid borders in the new UI helps significantly in finding where each control begins and ends; t. Nevertheless, it should not cause disadvantage to those who use touch screens along with mouse and keyboard, as the UI elements are adequately sized for that sort of interaction.

The shadows applied to the titles and subtitles help in organising the form elements better than before. In earlier versions, we can only use blank space, a title in bold lettering, and a horizontal line to highlight where a new group of controls or fields resides. Capitalisation became the workaround to increase the contrast between titles and the rest of the text:

Figure 2 – Before update

Figure 3 – mock-up of post update UI

The differences between these labels may appear subtle but they lead to useful improvements. Notice how the asterisk denoting that the field is mandatory has moved to the left hand side. Then, how all text labels align to the far left, again reducing white space.

The result is additional screen real estate we can use to our advantage. In the past, new fields added to a form had important space constraints. In this example using the previous version UI, the label is cut at 21 characters:

Figure 4 – Before update, no line wrap

The workaround is to reconfigure that entire section, or the entire form for the sake of consistency. The labels then show above the text box:

Figure 5 – Using the previous version of Dynamics 365, all label text moves to a new line

The enhancement announced is to add word wrap to the text labels. While we cannot see it in action in the sample provided, the space between lines is sufficient to have two lines of label text on the side of a single text box. Moreover, Microsoft stated that word wrap is configurable. Perhaps we will have the option of wrapping the text over the two lines, or alternatively to have the text scroll in place when the mouse pointer hovers on the label?

When it comes to adding contrast to separate areas in the user interface, the use of colour will go a long way to guiding users. The “Colour theme” visible on the Microsoft announcement is promising:

Figure 6 – What other elements could be themed?

Picking your company colours for the main toolbar topped the list of requests for previous versions of Dynamics 365, and now we see the main label on the tab is included in the theme-able UI elements. There are two other blue elements in this sample, one above the “POSTS” on the newsfeed, and the blue button on the right hand side. We await the new release to see if these and other elements can be themed for consistency with the rest of the UI.

In conclusion, these upcoming enhancements offer evidence of Microsoft listening to customers and Partners regarding usability. It also raises the bar for implementation partners like Pythagoras. Normally Dynamics 365 has some degree of customisation upon implementation, and we would be remiss to create customisations that have worse usability than the out-of-the-box experience.

With smartphone users being familiar with easy to use, professionally designed, inexpensive apps, it is no surprise that the enterprise customer demands elegantly made enterprise applications. In order to meet such expectations, the regular enhancements offered by Microsoft need to be accompanied by good implementation practices. At Pythagoras, we recommend trialling and validating UI choices ahead of completing an implementation. This sort of adaptation to customer requirements makes a significant difference in implementing enterprise systems that are used with pleasure rather than endured.

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