UX Magazine

Defining and Informing the Complex Field of User Experience (UX)
Article No. 507 March 24, 2010

The Impossible Bloomberg Makeover

Redesigning the Bloomberg Terminal would be any interface designer's dream. There's obviously much room for improvement since the interface hasn't changed for a long time, and the personas using it are quite easy to define.

But the complexity and richness of the displayed data, the necessity to fully understand how traders use the tool, and the immediate impact on the work efficiency of more than 156,000 users around the world make it tremendously challenging to make any changes.

Here is a picture of the Bloomberg Terminal as it stands today (2010). As most users say, "it's hideous."

The current Bloomberg UI

Here is the Bloomberg keyboard:

The Bloomberg keyboard

IDEO has submitted a redesign proposal back in 2007 after a 3-week study. Here's how it looks:

IDEO concept design

A widget allows you to zoom in on some detailed part of IDEO's design and have some explanation on the choices they've made. You can also read a short description of the project on their website.

But as a PortFolio.com article clearly puts it: "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.'"

The Bloomberg terminal is the perfect example of a lock-in effect reinforced by the powerful conservative tendencies 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.

The Bloomberg Terminal interface looks terrible, but it allows traders and other users to pretend you need to be experienced and knowledgeable to use it. Having been a user of the Bloomberg Terminal for five months, it took me a week and a few painful hours to handle it, and I am no genius. The only real impediments were the unbearable UI, remembering which key to push to make the "magic" work, and having to go through the 86-page manual.

Bloomberg's terminal interface will not evolve any time soon both because of the leadership Bloomberg has on the market and because users will not be satisfied with something simpler and more efficient.

Bloomberg is an extreme case of a common UI phenomenon where users take pride and find highly rewarding to handle a painful interface. Obtuse UIs are generally only accepted by early adopters of brand new or highly innovative services. Most of the time, the success of the service and the growth of its user base makes it both necessary and natural to redesign the UI. But despite the fact that Bloomberg is a market leader and has a large user base, this pattern of UI evolution hasn't come to pass.

The only valid reason explaining why the Bloomberg design will not change is the behavior of its users. Users who favor complexity and clutter over efficiency and clarity to sustain a fictive status symbol.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR(S)

User Profile

Dominique Leca (@domleca) is a 25-year old entrepreneur based in Paris, France. He co-founded a company specialized in iPhone application development in early 2008.

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Comments

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" 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."

Uhm, what? yellow on black is a great contrast and good for fast perception.
Ideal in this case.

LOL! As an frontend designer i can say that the whole article is bulls**t.
Designers, regardless of type, should be ready to hear the customer needs .

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It's not just that they don't wanna change the interface - it's because people are so used to looking at that exact spot for a particular piece of data that's crucial in making an investment decision in real-time - there's NO TIME to adjust to a new UI - traders CAN'T AFFORD to lose that one second before they realize they have to look somewhere else. The Bloomberg interface may not seem "modern" or "elegant" or "stylish, but for those who use it regularly, it's a boon. The fact that you have to type a 3-letter acronym or code to get pages of data, rather than using unwieldy interfaces options like a mouse, shows how useful Bloomberg is at getting data.
Plus, the primary users of Bloomberg are analysts, traders and such. Their needs are placed ahead of the legal professionals and journalists and economists for the simple fact that the latter group has a few seconds to look around, while the former simply does not, and IS the main intended customer to Bloomberg.
Plus, Bloomberg really isn't all that hard to use - try playing around with it for a bit and you'll see how simple it really is to get the hand of it.

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It's pretty obvious your UI design knowledge is purely academic. Bloomberg's interface is beautiful, has good data/area ratio and is consistent. If you want to browse web on your iPad that's fine, but you have no idea how traders work. There is no time for point-and-click, and you do learn because you repeat same commands hundred times a day.

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IMHO, this article just reinforces the stereotype that UI/UX designers are full of themselves, ignorant, and don't actually understand the needs of their users. Very disappointing. :(

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The BBG interface is way better than the garbage used in the US healthcare industry. If you ever want to be truly scared, just take a peek at the interface of the electronic medical record your doctor uses to track medications, order labs, review results, etc.

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In our practise we find this is often true, that the considerations of culture trump the ideals of design.

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It happens more.

But there's a difference in what people want and what they need.

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This article has a point in that it does have an ugly interface.

On the other hand, the "proposed" design is laughable. First of all, it took 3 WEEKS to build that? I would have guessed 3 hours. It looks like every financial news site on the internet, great work.

Aside from the color scheme it's the most comprehensive analytical tool available by miles. If it was so easy to redesign and made so much sense, I'm sure you'd be redesigning, marketing your superior Bloomberg machine and making millions rather than writing about doing it.

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@Danielle: Let's be realistic, Bloomberg pays its enormous support staff millions of dollars each year. Those dollars in turn come from terminal sales. In other words, there is a reason you pay nearly $2000 per month to own a terminal. 24/7 support is included in the price, if not explicitly.

My point in earlier posts is that a complete overhaul of the Bloomberg interface is unnecessary. In fact, I appreciate the comments from long-time users affirming this. However, everyone here should realize that all kinds of market players use Bloomberg, not just hardcore traders that must move as quickly as possible and don't mind the pain of learning the command line. Analysts, journalists, economists, and recently even legal professionals need data from the terminal. If you obscure that data with illogical, inconsistent command line codes and strange user interface conventions ("How the hell do I log off? Oh right, press Conn Default on my keyboard. What?!"), be prepared to field thousands and thousands of support calls each day. Those cost Bloomberg tons of money and ensure clients pay a premium, as we discussed earlier. Clearly the sheer volume of support issues Bloomberg handles confirms the need for a more consistent, transparent, forgiving user interface.

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Seems like Bloomberg is doing something right with over $6 BILLION in revenue. Maybe the interface is not "cutting-edge", but the analytics and powerhouse tools Wall Street needs are. No other market data provider comes close to what Bloomberg has to offer. Odds are 98% of the people commenting on here have never used a Bloomberg.

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If any of you have read any of my writings on OCGM or NUI, you would imagine that I would eventually gravitate towards this particular interface. I am currently at Microsoft and I thrive on extremely complex problems like this. I just love them. I have done a bit of work on Windows 7, Surface, etc.

I recently had the chance to go through a Bloomberg Terminal with some expert users and see some typical user scenarios. I took a shallow dive into the experience and I came out with some reaffirmations to what I already knew.

These problems need to be thought of differently than what most are used to.

The author states:
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.

I'm sorry, but this is naive.

Orange on Black: If this is so painful, then most vehicles in use today have painful UIs correct? If that is true, why don't we all have white dashboards with text on them. I'm not talking about the edge cases (some odd engine error), I mean for simple things like 'washer fluid' this is by far less important than a specific number flashing on an analyst's screen. UIs are different. Each serves a need and a purpose.

See, what the author and some of you are doing are trying to apply a cut and paste 'UI Test' to something in its own class. Just because you read the 'top 10 UI mistakes' from Smashing Magazine or useit.com, a UX Design Tester, it does not make you.

STOP trying to apply tired old web principles to software design.

This product isn't made to appeal to the masses, or to other designers, this is made to appeal to people that need to get X done in Y time, and do it consistently within Z time.

I would challenge any of you to think of this in this way. Its time to make it more efficient, more complex, and more multi-linear. Instead of going from A to B, go from A to B, B, C; and B goes to C, C , D. Think about what we can ascertain from the user at any given moment and try to help them along the way.

Instead of trying to backwards customize the interface around the user, allow the user to 'push' the interface along and have it change its direction. The user's are already experts! Use that knowledge to give them more, and more, and more!

This isn't about building a better mousetrap, its about building a trap that catches more mice with the same or less interaction. If you continue to think of these problems in the old way (oh, lets make it simple!), you will continue to coerce and push products down the same path (dumbed down beyond usefulness).

I highly recommend a nice refresher course by reading Norman's Emotional Design book.

PS: If IDEO came to me with that redesign I would send them packing with that garbage. I have never found much use for 'forward thinking' design studios and we have hired hundreds of them over the years on my teams at Microsoft (Windows 7, Surface, Advanced Design Team, Zune, etc.)

Obviously, I do not speak for everyone at any of my employers...my opinions are based on my personal experiences as me myself and I.

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I've had a Bloomberg on my desk for four years now. One thing to understand about the Bloomberg terminal UI is that there is a command line at the top of the terminal screen (actually there are 4 terminal screens which you can switch between by pressing the tab key).

This command line is the primary method of controlling the interface. So if I wanted to plot a graph of IBM I could type "IBM US Equity GP" and press enter and it would bring up the chart with some real-time data. I could use the mouse to manipulate the graph, but the primary mechanism of control is the command line (i.e. keyboard). Now, you might as why "GP" means ... Well it stands for "Price Graph" but the letters are inverted for whatever reason. But once you know the commands, it's the most efficient method of quickly pulling up information in the middle of a fast moving trading market. The greatest improvement that Bloomberg probably ever made to its UI is that the command line now has auto-complete feature, so as soon as you start entering a command it shows a drop-down list of auto-completion matches.

People who become proficient with the Bloomberg command line interface can be extremely efficient with it (much more efficient than a point-and-click GUI would allow). Thomson Reuters already offers a competing product called Xtra 3000 which looks a lot like IDEO's proposal (i.e. point-and-click navigation, white background, etc). But the lack of a command line interface makes it next to useful for power users.

Traders know that the command line is a superior interface due to their experience with Bloomberg. Another example of this phenomenon is in software industry itself, where the more productive and knowledgeable users all use command line interfaces (UNIX shell on Unix / Linux / OS X, and PowerShell on Windows) ... some will even swear by command line text editors like emacs or vi. These people are not idiots, nor do they use the command line just to "look smart," it is a legitimate productivity issue. And judging from this article it looks like very few UI designers actually understand this.

I'm sure Bloomberg would be very interested in seeing new, cutting edge user interface proposals from companies like IDEO, but in order to be taken seriously they MUST keep the command line the centerpiece of the interface. Otherwise it's just a budget version of Bloomberg (like Reuters).

By the way the foreground and background colors on Bloomberg are fully customizable, you can turn it into a white background if you want (but nobody does because it ends up looking ugly and distracting). I'm not sure why UI designers all think a white background is better ... it seems to me that the text and numbers stand out better if the background is black. But a serious UI designer would just actual statistical data about users in order to decide what type of color scheme is best.

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If the UI they've got works well enough and isn't prohibitively hard for anyone to learn (as it obviously isn't, or we'd be running out of traders by now), then why spend money to change it at all?

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Build something that's fairly unique but complex and charge a fortune for consultancy & support. It's an out dated business model. Openness, ease of use, strength of content is the way forward.

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@ Tom Ablewhite
They actually don't charge for support/consultancy. It's totally free and you can have as much as you want with the subscription. I think they're help desk and consultants are pretty stellar actually.

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@Douglas

 

You could also use AppViz by IdeaSwarm to painlessly import and archive your iTunes financial reports

http://www.ideaswarm.com/products/appviz/

 

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Bloomberg Terminals are a joy to use

The learning curve is not steep at all, once you learn that, despite the cryptic commands ("PLST"?) if you just start typing what you want to do, a dropdown list will appear that will invariably contain the command you need.
P-o-r-t... there it is, PLST - Portfolio Listing

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I appreciate that a bad user interface can make an easy task hard to accomplish by increasing the learning curve. But I'd like to delve into why that learning curve might not be such a bad thing.

For example, I wrote a small iPhone app called Daylight Map. Each day, Apple lets you download a zip file which contains a txt file, which in turn contains a table of sales figures for that day. I want to take, say, a month's worth of these files, and put them in a spreadsheet so I can calculate totals and draw pretty graphs to make myself feel happy.

Without much learning, anyone can sit down and unzip each of these files (double click), open them up in notepad (double click), copy the sales figures for each day (select, Edit->Copy), and then paste them into a spreadsheet (select a new row, Edit->Paste).

Each step is easy, but that "easyness" doesn't translate into making is faster or simpler to perform the task. The amount of work stays the same, even if it is easy work.

The alternative is to use magic, and I suspect that for the Bloomberg system's magic is described in depth in that 86 page manual.

Here's the magic I used, typed into my Mac's terminal: gunzip sales/*.gz ; cat sales/*.txt | grep Daylight > sales.tab

That magic takes a folder full of zip files and unzips them (gunzip sales/*.gz) then takes the content of each text file (cat sales/*.txt) and look for lines which mention my product (grep Daylight) and copy them into a new file which I can open in Excel ( > sales.tab).

Now, the knowledge about how to do that magic was hard won, built up over years, learning which tools there are on my computer and how to use them. More work than reading a 86 page manual.

But now I can put that magic in one file, and when I double click on it I get a spreadsheet with all my sales information in it. One double-click regardless of how many day's worth of data I need to unzip. That is easier than the copy-paste solution, even though copy-paste itself is easier to use than "cat" (which stands for "conCATenate", by the way.)

Brining it back to the Bloomberg interface: perhaps those magic keys take some time to learn, but what if, once you've learnt some of the magic, things become even easier than what seemed easy before? A simple possibility: those magic keys, probably to take you form one place to another, right? Without having to have visual bits of UI to click on, you've made it easier to see more information. Having to learn what pressing X does makes it easier to see more data data on the screen at once, since you don;t need a button in the UI to do X, making it easier to do your job. And the cost is a one-off increase in the learning curve.

But if you're going to use a tool for months on end, is a week's worth of learning curve all that much of a problem?

On the other hand, the Bloomberg UI might be a pain to use even once you have learnt it. In which case, sure, lets build a better one :-)

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Whoa, easy there "i.f. stoner." I'm not surprised that this article is controversial, and it's great to have so many passionate, intelligent comments, but please don't cross the line into vitriol. I'm tempted to delete your comment, but I'll respond instead:

The author cited his source for that quote: a Portfolio.com article by Zubin Jelveh. The article is from July of 2007, which is why Lex Fenwick was the one speaking for Bloomberg. I've run searches on several unique word series from the article and found only references to this original work, so this is not a "cut and paste job." Please don't accuse people of bad journalism if you yourself aren't going to take the J-school 101 step of checking your facts.

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THIS ARTICLE IS BULLSH*T. LEX FENWICK HASNT BEEN AT BLOOMEBRG FOR MORE THAN A YEAR...WHERE DID THESE QUOTES COME FROM? I SMELL A CUT AND PASTE JOB. JOURNALISM ANYBODY???

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@J.Cer: honestly I can't find much support of Bloomberg here in this thread. Personally I am not defending this UI as good one (I bet UI is creepy), but still. I'm sure this UI should be defended from designers who are easy with convention of labeling whole user base as "lads with little dicks who need a status symbol so badly".

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"A white background was chosen to prevent eye fatigue."

Black text on a white background is the pessimal combo for eye strain, especially when the white is active (computer, television) rather than passive. The fact that a well known UI design shop doesn't know that might explain why Bloomberg doesn't think they're worth listening to.

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I have used BBG terminals for 16 years and I find it ridiculously obsolete.

Start with one basic information device function: Search

Has any of all the BBG defenders in this blog ever tried to "Search" for
anything on BBG?

¿No?

Yeah. Right. There is no search functionality and trying to find anything
is a nightmare. Search emails? (excuse me, "BBG Messages") impossible.
Search news articles? well, they have never heard of Google at BBG (or
about Spotlight) . . . search functionality is stuck in 1995 or worse.

Render a PDF? Oh with a lot of wheels spinning and Windows OS support
you get a little window with a peek at your PDF, awful! circa 1998.

My only hope is that as the generation of the current computer-illiterate
BBG users retires and dies off, there will be future generations that will
refuse to use BBG garbage interface and either demand a better UI or
move to another financial workstation platform from a cheaper better
vendor.

Let the dinosaurs from the 1990 that have been using BBG for decades
move out of the way and let's hope future generations will kill BBG off.

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J. Cer:

There isn't a global search, and that's a shame.

MSGS will search messages.
NSE will search news.

For rendering PDFs globally, you can set up a PDF printer (via Adobe Acrobat) and let the [Print Screen] key make them for you.

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@J.Cer: You get it, my man. I think only a few of the people who posted here have actually used a terminal.

An open challenge to the Bloomberg supporters: find a company tearsheet.

Still searching? I thought so.

Most likely you entered the keyword tearsheet into the command line and saw no relevant matches. That's because the search function is extremely unforgiving and doesn't know that a tearsheet is similar to a factsheet and that both are similar to a company summary. Finally, all three of these are similar to a Company Description, which is what Bloomberg calls its tearsheet. Hence the command line code DES. So after a 15-minute conversation with Bloomberg support (chances are they don't know what a tearsheet is either), now you know to enter DES into the command line, hit Go on the Bloomberg keyboard, and see your tearsheet in awful 1980s DOS graphics.

And what happens if you forget the command line code DES? Back to Bloomberg support for another 15-minute discussion about a tearsheet, I mean Company Description.

Anyone still think the terminal is fast and efficient?

The problem is that the terminal is only fast and efficient when you know precisely what commands to enter. Otherwise, get ready to bang your head against the wall. This is not a system built around human beings (traders, etc.) and their perception of the world (tearsheets, etc.). It's a system built around Bloomberg and its perception of the world, which explains why emails become Bloomberg Messages, instant messages become Instant Bloombergs, and tearsheets become DES.

Again, we don't need Ideo's drastic overhaul, but I'm sure a consistent, logical, forgiving interface would be warmly embraced by old and new users.

Just ask the guy who searched for a tearsheet.

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@Trader...

Are you sure you are a Bloomberg Terminal user? Have you used the dreaded LauchPad? Those tiny-winny screens can be interlock to provide you with all the tearsheet info you want for a given company. Setup a LauchPad then open small windows with the following: MGMT, FA, ER, CN, GPO/RSI/MACD, DVD, ANR, RV, etc...

Need I say more? You change the company and all the rest of those small windows will change info relative to the given company.

Give me your name and I'll call you to help you set it up. It will take 1min. Not 15mins. Maybe your whinning takes 14mins.

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@WhatDoUKnow: You're right, Launchpad helps stitch together the disparate command line codes of the terminal into a single screen, but I'd like to make a few key points.

First, you must know the command line codes for company management, financial analysis, earnings, etc. in advance. As per my post above, the Autocomplete feature helps only when you enter keywords the terminal understands, i.e. company description. Tearsheet may be a valid keyword now (I don't have my terminal in front of me to test whether an update was made), but even so, there are countless examples of the command line failing due to a rigid keyword interpretation algorithm.

Second, Launchpad has its own navigation challenges. Sure, you could use the command line code LLP to change a particular terminal screen into a Launchpad window, but that only works in some cases (just try it on MSG). As for relative strength index, analyst recommendations, and the other codes you mentioned, you'd have to hunt through the Launchpad menus to find them, and please trust me on this point: many, many clients are not nearly as savvy as you. They call Bloomberg support and carry out conversations for an hour just to build the Launchpad screen you describe.

So again, you are totally right, a tearsheet can be custom built on the terminal, but that wasn't my original point. My point was to confirm J.Cer's observation about the command line interface, i.e. that search isn't so hot and that you must know in advance what to enter, otherwise get ready for a conversation with Bloomberg support. Launchpad helps, but you must know it exists (run the command line code BLP), know how to navigate its complicated (maybe not for you, but for other users) menus, know how to group its components via the Group Manager, etc. Not exactly obvious stuff...just ask Bloomberg support.

It's a decent system, but there's clearly room for improvement.

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I'm a software developer and love to spend my time creating what I hope are intuitive and attractive interfaces. You have to remember what the requirements of the Bloomberg interface are though.

Lots of people have lots of software they rarely use, so having an obvious, discoverable interface, and looking "pretty" so people try your software rather than binning it immediately, are important requirements for such software to be successful.

Those criteria simply aren't relevant in specialist software such as Bloomberg, or if they are they come a long way down the list of priorities.

Instead, the crucial requirements are that it's fast, accurate, consistent and as extensive as possible in its coverage. That means things like keyboard navigation, obscure colours and codes and indicators in specific areas of the screen so you can instantly find what you're looking for, for people who KNOW what they're looking for.

(A trivial and daft car example: which is the better user interface, a simple blue LED on your dashboard, or a beautifully rendered warning dialog that says "Warning: you have full beam headlights on, this may blind other road users!")

Whether someone goes "yuck!" when they first see a terminal really doesn't figure. Even ease of learning it for new users matters little when you can hit a function key on the keyboard and 3 seconds later your phone rings with a support representative on the line, who can see exactly what's on your screen and instantly answer any question you may have!

The rules for normal software development simply don't apply in that sort of environment.

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None of the redesigns for the Bloomberg system looks easy to use to me. (A) They seem to be mouse-centric instead of keyboard-centric, and (B) they have much lower information density.

It is much better to use the keyboard for navigation and operations than the mouse, because even though mousing is actually faster than pressing key combos or hot keys (contrary to popular belief about hotkeys faster than mousing), it require hand-eye coordination that breaks your chain of thought, which takes time to recover (something ignored in many HCI research). People should prefer keyboard not because it's faster, but because it is less distracting.

When it comes to keyboard sequences, how painful it is to learn the system is mostly irrelevant as long as everything is logical and bug-free. You soon develop muscle memory and the steps to get something done become transparent. This is exceedingly difficult to do on a nonlinear, dynamic interface that needs frequent mouse clicks.

However, I do feel that the colors can use some improvement. Legacy systems often inherit the color palette from the 16-color evga displays in the 80s. They should be tweaked to give less eye strain on a black background in a dark environment.

I don't think people want terrible interfaces. I think people want a linear system that lets them skim as much information as possible. Whether they are spending time on the right stuff is something else entirely, of course.

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"A white background was chosen to avoid eye fatigue"....what?

I'm a programmer, I stare at the screen for 12-16 hours a day.

White backgrounds give me eye fatigue, Bloomberg's design looks positively soothing compared to the IDEO concept.

You designers have your heads up your asses...

Function is everything. Bloomberg's design may offend your delicate sensibilities, but it is functional. Not all tasks can be reduced to something a grandma could do, not without losing power and efficiency. Sure, there may be some warts, but I bet you'll have a hard time getting any of the users to switch, in typical designer fashion you'll redo it and lose 90% of the functionality, along with missing the point of the software (to make the user productive).

I know everyone likes beating up on the finance industry after the crisis, but come on. Switching the design of the terminal would hardly have avoided the crisis :)

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They should name this "The Linux Phenomenon".

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Ryan, I think the article itself answers your (implied) question. While emacs and vi are full of generally understood UI flaws, they don't change for the same reasons that the Bloomberg Terminals don't change.

Thanks for coming up with another great example though!

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This is post is so condescending.

"...blatant UI flaws such as black background color and yellow and orange text..."

So clearly emacs and vi users are inefficient morons.

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“So clearly emacs and vi users are inefficient morons.”

I actually make a point of setting my vim/terminal/whatever editor colors to use a dark gray background, instead of black (or god forbid white). I find both pure black and pure white to be extremely irritating. Otherwise, I agree. I’m way more productive (efficient?) using dark colors in an editor like vi.

I’m not familiar with Bloomberg Terminals at all, but if I used one I’d probably want a way to make the colors slightly easier on the eyes. Instead of pure yellow on black, a slightly more gold shade on dark grey. This is probably just a personal preference, though.

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wow, you really don't have a clue what you're talking about. first off, lex fenwick is no longer the CEO. secondly, the number of users worldwide is roughly twice what you say. lastly, there's no way you "handled it" in a week. the thing has 20-some thousand functions on it. you maybe learned how to use, what, a dozen or so? the sheer number of functions is also what makes a redesign prohibitive. lastly, it's not a "fictive status symbol." fixed-income markets would more or less cease to operate without it.

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If you have used the system for 20 years, as I have, then you would find that long hours watching a low-contrast screen (black background, primarily amber font) is a lot easier on the eyes than Reuters white background, or indeed the Apple macbook I am writing this on.

Secondly, the command line interface is much quicker to use than a menu driven approach. Once you have set up the BLP screen and macros as you like, there is no more to be done.

Finally, it's a tool not a toy. If I want it to look more 'cool' I can export the data in Excel and have it shown in any combination of fonts & colours - but that's not why I use it.

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I think it's important to remember that Bloomberg has a veritable army, i.e. hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of people, dedicated solely to explaining the terminal and solving the mysteries of its inconsistent, almost maddening, user interface.

Clients call in just to learn how to log off the system (hint: you type the code OFF into the command line and hit Go on your Bloomberg keyboard, or you hit the Conn Default key on your Bloomberg keyboard. Obvious, right?). Sure, this is a one-time question, but if clients have questions about logging off, can you imagine how many questions they have about analyzing an index, for example? If Bloomberg doesn't make it obvious how to log off, do you think they make it obvious why moving average data is available for one index, but not another?

So really we're not just talking the aesthetics of the terminal, and we're not even just talking about the usability of the terminal. You have to also consider the long-term ability of Bloomberg to support its users, both old and new, with an army paid millions of dollars just to help them figure out what command line codes to enter and why the data doesn't make sense. Is this system sustainable? Even if Bloomberg can fund its support staff indefinitely, is that really better than funding some small, but potentially profitable usability improvements?

A drastic change a la Ideo probably isn't the answer (I agree, the finance guys would go crazy), but no change won't work either. We can't pretend the system works well now. Just ask any client who has contacted Bloomberg for help logging off.

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Bright colors on black are much easier on the eye. White background was introduced to computers to resemble the idol at the time: paper. A pity because we are now trained in something much less effective than what we had in the beginning.

I have some experience from the banking sector. They used to have 3270-terminals with cryptic short cut keys. They were blazing fast and extremely efficient tools in the hands of a trained professional. Now they have slow web based interfaces and mouse induced carpal tunnel inflammations.

Anyone who stops to think for a minute would prefer a tool that is more efficient throughout their career, even if it takes six months to learn. After all you will spend 30 years with the tool.

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I have yet to read a UX discussion of a horrifying interface that didn't devolve into a pile-on of justification. There is no UX or design that is so horrible that someone won't try to justify it. Worse, they will laud it as the essence of greatness.

I could purposefully create the worst piece of crap and put it up on a design or UX blog and within hours someone would try to justify it as more substantive, efficient or user-focused.

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OH SHURE! Tell BB to upgrade... Then the terminal price will go to $3000 / desk.

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@dom Have you considered that maybe IDEO's proposal was pretty terrible? You seem to be making the assumption that if one company's pitch isn't considered, that Bloomberg doesn't take UX/design seriously? Most everyone reading this article, and definitely the person writing it, has never even used the terminal. I'm surprised this was even published considering the proposal and your information isn't even current.

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@ay

Having used Bloomberg for several months, it is true I only had a glimpse of what it is, what it can do and certainly used only 1% of its features.

I am just saying that it could be better and that change is difficult in the financial world.

I am not saying that the Ideo design is the solution.

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I use Bloomberg (!)

I didn't find it to be a "painful experience" though, but I'm definitely not a power user. The black background seems easier to read than the glaring white in the redesign. Each function in Bloomberg has an associated code that's displayed next to the function, so it's easy to learn. You can just type in the codes to get to the information you need faster. You can pretty much right click anything to get more info about how it's calculated and you can export anything to excel easily as well.

I think that any redesign of Bloomberg terminals has to really consider these things:

1. Speed: Currently Bloomberg loads quickly, updates quickly, and exports data quickly. If a redesign slows it down even just a fraction, impatient financial people (read: all of them) everywhere will complain. Also, the redesign says you use a touchpad to navigate. This is a bad idea. Anything that makes me take my hands off the keyboard to use is going to slow me down.

2. Transparency: There's no point in displaying a pretty chart unless you can see the data tables it's generated off of. And where the numbers came from. This info needs to be readily available.

3. Cost of change: You need to weigh efficiency gains from a new system against the cost of retraining people who are familiar with the old system.

Sure the UI is ugly but these three things are far more important than the looks of the display.

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@domleca:

"Bloomberg is now losing clients due to the financial crisis and competition (Thomson-Reuters) is gaining market share"

The problem with this view is that not all products are multiplicative. For example, IPhone is cool product indeed but not many people actually buying 2 or more just because its soooooo cool. There is real maximum of units per consumer. Some products are different - for example, if some cookie vendor will invent better cookie, his sales will pop not just because more people will buy his product but also because current users will be constantly buying more or more often.

The problem for Bloomberg here is that their product is of type A, i.e. no one will ever buy more licenses just because the item gets better ("cheaper" is totally another option). Instead, sales are linked to economy: lots of traders was fired thanks to crisis so less demand for terminals right now.

"4. When a product is redesigned, I don't believe former users feel they have been robbed especially if the new UI allows them to be more efficient. On the contrary, they experience it as a free reward. They pay exactly the same price and the product keeps improving."

Well I have zero data for Bloomberg users but i was involved in slow redesign of one small exchange's terminal. Users were surprisingly angry on most changes ( Not to mention that trader's speed is related to speed of the market changes AND to the number of steps in his work activity -- both of these factors are not related to UI. Usually it means that in order to improve efficiency by any noticeable gain, one have to change activity, not just UI.

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@Dominique L. unfortunately, your opinions seem baseless. "Bloomberg Terminal" comprises a few thousand very different functions spanning trade execution, security analytics, product structuring, legal search, pricing, quoting over the counter products, news mining etc.
The screens you describe as "cluttered" are monitoring hundreds of securities in real time and that look you have there is configurable by the customers. The customer *built* this for a very specific purpose.
The IDEO proposal has a pretty interface for like .01% of what the system can do.
Please do your homework before making such "analysis"

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The success of Bloomberg is based on its longstanding leadership role in this particular niche market.

People are hesitant to change, it’s called the “kitchen-cabinet problem” where routine drives the emotional engagement, i.e. your wife would kill you if you ‘optimized’ her kitchen ;)

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After the financial meltdown sponsored by all those Bloomburg using terminal morons, I have two minds of this:

1). Maybe a better interface would have prevented these guys from making so many mistakes. I good interface might have warned them of the impending disaster.

2). A better interface would have caused even more damage. These goofballs had plenty of warnings that the world was financially unstable, but that didn't make them use any sort of caution.

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As others have pointed out here, simplicity isn't everything.

I'm sure like every UI, there's room for improvement. But I would like to see an Edward Tufte-style analysis of data density, layering, and non-data clutter in the current UI (and Ideo's redesign), because to a financial trader, that's going to be pretty key. The more data points you can represent on the screen in a scannable, meaningful manner, the better.

And what's up with the last sentence? It's not even a complete sentence. Try a colon or an em dash to join it with the previous sentence.

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Let me just offer something I learned from Alias Software back when it existed: Some programs can be designed to be easy to use, not easy to learn. As Bloomberg-terminal nonusers, all of us are looking at the problem through the lens of ease of learning. There seems to be implied evidence that actual users find it easy to actually use.

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Or it might be that the users themselves would gain a competitive edge over other users if the system were to evolve.

If the company were to consistently evolve the software, the hiring value of those not currently working with the system would go down, making the current work force a more powerful force in the equation and allowing for demand of higher pay since they are the experts on the current system. An expertise maintained the longer the unbroken stretch of time they work with (and keep up with) with the system.

No?

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