Beautiful enterprise software? A paradox. Enterprise software is not supposed to be beautiful – bits and bytes are not beautiful, sexy or pleasing. Need it be? After all, technology, in order to do anything useful for us, should effect an action or change in our physical environment; if it achieves that objective why be beautiful? And, practically speaking, we need to build a bridge from the analog world to the digital world.
The bridge, or user interface (UI), is how we people interact with software. It’s a rather utilitarian process, we get the software to do what it was designed for based on the inputs we give it, and we make decisions based on its output. UIs are the least “valuable” part of the process, clearly what is important is the information we put in and what we do with the information that comes out. In computer science speak, we talk of garbage in; garbage out, this refers to the information, who cares how that information gets in or out of the software? Alas, heretofore, most UIs were designed to make that process as painless and as fast as possible, but not beautiful.
Appreciating our very analog and very human affinity for things beautiful, Infor, the world’s third largest enterprise application software company, has a different take on what software can be. It can be beautiful. Infor is serious about this; its design studio, Hook & Loop, was purposely plopped into the heart of NYC’s very fashionable Chelsea district so its software designers are surrounded by and recruited from the designers from art, fashion and theater. Hook & Loop determines nearly every design decision Infor makes, from company logos and marketing campaigns to the user interface and charts that are part of its software.
I have attended hundreds of management presentations and I can’t recall any CEO stressing efforts to make software “beautiful”. Infor defines beautiful software as being beyond “more useable” or “pretty”. Infor believes beautiful software is what drives an exceptional user experience. One question: If beautiful software drives a superior user experience, what is a superior user experience? We all readily recognize it when we feel it, but to design for it? It’s open to debate, but, for now, as far as Infor is concerned, that is for Hook & Loop to determine. I anxiously await its results.
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