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5 Tips For Designing Human-centric Power Apps Solutions For “On The Road” Users

I am a fan of Power Apps, especially Canvas Apps! (Well, who isn’t?) With all the technological marvel it allows us to achieve with substantially lower effort and time, it is now very easy to literally digitally transform a business and automate so many paper based and manual processes!

We get fascinated and excited by all the newer technical features Microsoft adds on a regular basis. Practically every week, we learn new features that either allow us to build something that wasn’t possible before or improve/enhance a previously released feature. All components of Power Platform help us build amazing solutions, and make things possible that were only a dream once. How exciting!

However, every rose has its thorn, and Power Apps is no exception to that idiom. Because of these “low code/no code” building blocks, it is very easy to get excited and build something rapidly without giving much thought to not only the user experience but also the end goal. It is very important to remember that ultimately, we are building solutions for humans, and humans are peculiar creatures. We have short attention spans, quirks, expectations and presumptions. We operate in very specific ways, and if we find out something isn’t working right or it’s rather becoming a roadblock to our already busy  lives, we are very quick to ditch it without thinking twice.

We should never forget that we should strive towards providing a seamless yet wonderful experience to the end users. We are not just building an app for them – we are making their jobs easier. Our solutions augment information, insights and actions to users in ways that make them successful in a quick and efficient manner. If they are spending too much time in our solution, we probably didn’t do a good job.

So, as we start getting more comfortable with Power Platform, and especially Power Apps, we should keep in mind that we are not just building “apps” or “dashboards” or “bots” – we are ultimately building human-centric solutions.

Here are some items that can help you make the design a bit more humanly, If I may.

(Note: These tips are very specific to a mobile solution for traveling users)

Easy Access To All Areas Of The Power Apps Solution

Our solution will most likely have a menu. How easy is it to access that menu from any screen of the solution? For example, if you start with a menu of options on the home screen, are you making them go back to the home screen to navigate to a different area? Or is there another way to reach somewhere else without clicking the back button five times?

For example, let’s say you have a home screen with options that help a user go down a specific path.

On subsequent screens within the app, have a footer or header that will help users navigate to a completely different area with just one click.

Bonus points if you change the color of the icon to indicate easily the area where the user currently us. Below, you can tell that the user is in the “Accounts” area by looking at the highlighted “Accounts” icon.

Easy Access to Related Areas

If you drill into the main/parent record, and from here you want to access any of the related areas, create a navigation menu that, yet again, makes it easy to get to the user’s desired sub area with one click. In the screen below, we are at an account screen (primary record) but from here, it is very easy to navigate to related contacts, opportunities, notes and activities with a single click.

Easy stretch goal: Typically, when we build Power Apps solutions, we only include minimal/most relevant information in the app. What if a user, in some rare scenarios, wants to access the rest of the details of a record? Give them a hyperlink (the Dynamics 365 logo on the top right corner as shown above) that opens that record’s details in the Dynamics 365 mobile app.

Make Communication Easy

Your users most likely have a need for calling, texting, emailing their contacts. These actions are performed on a regular basis, so make this aspect especially easy for the users!

The “Launch” formula in Power Apps is very powerful. Just this one formula can help you dial a number, send SMS to a number, send email or launch a web link – all with one single click. In your gallery, include icons for phone calls, emails, SMS, etc. In this screen below, you will see phone call, email, and appointment.

Set OnSelect of each button to Launch with the right parameters. For example, to dial a number by clicking the phone icon, you can just say:

Launch(“tel:” & ThisItem.’Business Phone’)

Congratulations! You have now created “one-click actions” for your users that will save them a lot of time and frustration.

Note for Dynamics 365 CE users

If you are building a solution based on Dynamics 365 CE (CRM), you probably know that they are supposed to “track” their activities. In Dynamics, Tracking is a harrowing and manual process. With Canvas Apps, you can alleviate frustrations by automating the entire process. For example, when a user clicks the phone icon, dial the number using the launch function but also navigate to a screen where the “Regarding” is already set. When the user ends the call, they will be looking at a “Phone Call Activity” screen where the “Regarding” as well as other details are pre-populated. All the user has to do now is enter their notes (voice to text makes it easier) and hit Create.

Route Optimization & Planning

There are several APIs out there that can be easily consumed in our solutions using Power Automate. For example, if you are building a solution for traveling salespeople or technicians, provide them an interface in the app that will allow them to choose the locations they want to visit, and use Google or Bing Maps API via a Flow (Power Automate) that will provide them the most optimized route so they don’t end up spending a lot more time on the road than they need to. Remember, the users would ideally like to spend most of their time with their customers and not driving around, stuck in traffic.

This can be done for all types of activities in CDS/ CE. So, as you build a solution for your users, keep in mind the pain points and frustrations they have shared. It is quite possible that those frustrations can be easily overcome with Canvas Apps.

Select locations to be visited in the app interface and click “Get Route”.

The next screen shows a map of the route you should take as well as some other driving related details like distance, duration etc.

The information provided on this screen can really help the end user prepare for their day. Out of their 8 hour work day, they will be on the road for almost two hours? They’ll make sure to keep a water bottle and snacks in their car so their stomach doesn’t start growling when they go to their fourth customer meeting!

Easy Control Over Overall Interface Look & Feel

In majority of cases, the look and feel of the app will stay the same because of customer’s legal/marketing/branding needs. However, if there is room for flexibility from a branding or accessibility perspective, make provisions for the user to choose their own colors.

  1. Allowing users to set their own colors is a huge help for people with color blindness.
  2. It makes it easy for administrators to make overall changes very easily whenever branding guidelines are updated.

Other Considerations in Power Apps

These are simple yet effective wins.

  1. Include weather information for the day by using the MSNWeather connector.
  2. Use the Microsoft Translator connector to build translation into your solution. Extremely helpful for crew members who don’t speak your region’s primary/native language.
  3. Consider the Bing Search connector for providing latest news to users based on a customer, prospect, specific topic, etc.

Bringing It All Together

It is very easy to get excited while building solutions using Power Apps. However, our objective should be to not focus too much on the amazing technical aspects of our solution, and strongly consider what the end users want not just to “get things done” but also to make the entire experience extremely easy and pleasant for them.

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