One thing cannot be contested - the look and feel of Dynamics CRM 2013 is genuinely different than its predecessors (2011 and 4.0). The Metro style and the new top ribbon navigation sets 2013 apart, and also...opens up some major UX (User Experience) questions for debate. Different? - yes. Better UX? - the jury is still out.

I posted this question on the Dynamics CRM LinkedIn group here, and got a flurry of responses, which included those who are happy with the new navigation, to those who find it harder to use, or certainly to get used to. Much was made about the number of clicks required to reach specific inner pages (e.g. Marketing Lists, even Leads and Contacts), with some saying that while the navigation is sleeker, nobody wants to have extra clicks to get where they are going.

In some ways, we can compare the shift in design to the major shift that was introduced going from Windows 7 to Windows 8 (an even greater leap than CRM 2011 to 2013). Coming a year after Windows 8, I think that the Dynamics CRM team has learned to take a more gradual, less radical approach to UX change. While many took days if not weeks to get used to Windows 8, nearly all of our CRM users adjusted to Dynamics CRM 2013 without a single call for help or support. I'm sure that it took a few minutes or even hours to adjust, but adjust they did, and we haven't had any serious complaints. I did take care to send a short step by step guide with screenshots to help them digest the new interface quickly, and that may have helped.

OK, so now that my users are used to it, or at least know how to use it, now that I know how to use it, what is the verdict? Different - certainly. Worse - I can't say that. Better....? Still not sure.

I think in order to define if the UX is better, we need to split the answer up into a few categories.

A. Look

You can't really look at CRM 2013 and say it doesn't look more modern. It just does. The look has improved. Undeniably. It looks like a modern, leading application.

B. Feel

Not bad. I feel that the overall feel has undergone an improvement. Things seem to move better, faster, more fluidly. Something has changed, and for the better. There are some new glitches, but more than twice as many old glitches have been solved, so I can't really complain.

C. Ease

Here I must be honest and say that the new GUI is just not quite as easy to use, especially the navigation. It simply takes me longer to get where I need to go than before, even now that I know how to get there. Does A. and B. compensate me sufficiently for C? I'm about 50-50 on that.

So there's the breakdown. Many have questioned the need to change for the sake of change itself. But it's a legitimate need. If your application is static, it will eventually become extinct. Life is change, and people expect change even when there is a questionable need for it. And as long as you're changing, you may as well improve. By the way, you're welcome to see some examples of how to improve UX from our post on designing web forms for better UX.

Ah, but we forgot D. - Does it work? Mainly, I breathed a sigh of relief to see that all our functionality and customizations remained intact after the upgrade to CRM 2013. And that's really what matters to us most - isn't it?

I wonder what change 2014 / 2015 will bring...?

Eli Stutz

Head of Knowledge and Collaboration, PNMsoft

www.pnmsoft.com