Importance of UI Design to Business Software

Anyone can look at consumer electronics and end user software and see that design is incredibly important to the success of products in that space. Apple's iPod and iPhone are great examples. Stellar visual, interaction, and industrial design has transformed the mp3 player market and is in the process of doing so for the cell phone market as well. End user software is also going through a transformation with visual and interaction design at the top of the features list. Both Apple and Microsoft are trying to outdo each other in the visual rendering of their latest operating system offerings (see my previous blog entry on this). In my view, delight results from a product that has been designed to address cognitive, behavioral, and affective characteristics. Traditional user experience design tried to eliminate user error (behavior) and tried to address the user's mental model by predicting what they would expect should happen. However, traditional user experience design didn't focus on the visual design of a system which directly effects a user's emotional reaction or affect. Getting all three of these attributes right, in my view, is when delight happens and when you see successes like I summarized above.

All of this is equally applicable to enterprise software, in my view, but the demand for great design hasn't been as strong in that market. Dennis Howlett has blogged on this topic and summarized some really insightful perspectives on this. He makes the point that users aren't the decision-makers in this market and, as a result, their preference for great design doesn't have as much impact. However, users in that market still demand great design. The incorporation of Web 2.0 user feedback mechanisms (rating and commenting) into enterprise software may well serve to make enterprise users' views on design more visible.