If you think of computer applications as human assistants, interface design is easy to understand. You expect your assistants to see all your activities. In system designs, the ideal interface "assistant" is transparent, accessible, flexible, and task-oriented.

If you ask a human for a report, you expect to hear, "Yes," or "I am working on a current project now. I can have the report in 20 minutes. Is that OK?" But when you ask your computer interface to generate a report, you usually have to direct the system to the directory a needed file is in, access the directory, access the subdirectory, copy what you need, export it to a current working file, go to another directory and subdirectory to find more other bits of information, and so on.

Custodial banks can begin the process of getting better interfaces by asking their clients and customers to respond to the following four-step check list.

1. Forget about systems.

"People often assume computers can do only certain things in certain ways," Eli Kuslansky of Unified Field advises, "so they wind up inadvertently constraining designers because they are conditioned to think about only what their present systems can do."

2. List all of your reports.

"You can do this looking at your final outputs which contain all the reports you generated over a year or two," said Borys Harmaty of the Bank of New York. "Be sure to include even those reports that did not come from your data base."

3. List all of your tasks.

Your vendor will separate this list into standard and ad hoc queries. The latter are often generated by crises. Late last December, board members suddenly got very interested in their Mexican holdings.

4. List the sources of information you use for each task.

Designers can then create "look-aside" or pop-up windows, that leave your computer desktop focused on the specific task at hand.

Mr. Kuslansky said that in his experience, thoughtful responses define exactly what clients need, save hundreds of expensive interface design hours, and help produce an interface that can handle all the demands posed by superinformation.

Subscribe Now

Access to authoritative analysis and perspective and our data-driven report series.

14-Day Free Trial

No credit card required. Complete access to articles, breaking news and industry data.