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."
Here is the Bloomberg keyboard:
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)
Howard Mann is the founder of Brickyard Partners, a business strategy agency based in Portland, OR. Prior to founding Brickyard Partners in 2001, Mann owned a premier international logistics company with over 140 Million in revenue, six U.S. offices and a global network of over 40 agents worldwide.
As that business came under severe pressure from the previous economic downturn and industry consolidation, Howard lead the company out from those treacherous times by returning to the basics that make every business great and completing 6 acquisitions that re-imagined the business so it was highly attractive to buyers. Finding that “secret sauce” did not come easily but has fueled his purpose to help other business leaders to never have to go through what he endured. Through real world experience and those hard times in the “trenches” of business he has learned that it is not following the latest fad, copying competitors or adding complexity that makes a business truly great. His pragmatic approach and knowing what it feels like to sit in the CEO/Owner chair is what makes his work so different and effective.
In addition to his strategy, marketing and communications work, Mann coaches a select group of entrepreneurs, CEO's and business owners. His highly focused workshops and keynotes help executive teams take aggressive action to unlock the true potential of their organizations and build remarkable businesses that endure. In good times and bad. Online and off.
Howard is a sought after speaker both in the U.S. and around the world. He writes frequently on his blog about the importance of the basics and reconnecting to the passion that too often gets lost as businesses mature.