Why technologists come unstuck over decent design

Is it any wonder business software is so clunky?

Good design is not just about usability. Ultimately, it's what separates good products from bad, so expect it to play a bigger role in IT services, says Mark Kobayashi-Hillary.

I spent some time recently chatting to Harold Hambrose about how his own discipline, design, influences the world of the technologist. Hambrose is the founder and CEO of design firm Electronic Ink and author of a recent book called Wrench in the system.

I've read his book so I knew already he has a lot of opinions on the way the technology industry doesn't use good design in any meaningful way.

I started by asking why consumers are used to really nice systems, such as Facebook or Google, yet business software appears to be designed to make life harder. "What is really the issue here is the absence of design. Business systems lack what design brings to bear on other kinds of product. Look at any complex system and design is usually a critical part of finding a solution," he said.

Creating great tech design
As you might expect, the technologists are partly to blame. "Business technology only has the business and the technologists contributing to the design of a system, and neither of those groups of people are usually well suited for creating great design. The business team may know the processes and methods required, but they don't know how to design a solution that can help them," Hambrose said.

The development process behind business technology does not lend itself to good design

The development process behind business technology does not lend itself to good design
(Photo credit: Shutterstock)

The interesting thing I find about consumer tools is that many of them exist in the cloud. The cloud is often talked about as some new and fancy concept, yet most consumers have been actively engaging with cloud-based tools for at least five years now, so I asked Hambrose whether cloud computing will change the game for business technology.

He said the notion that cloud computing is going to drive us to behave one way or the other is wrong. "People change because they find value in doing things in a new way. The cloud itself is not valuable. People don't care. But the way something is presented can change what they do.

"The possibility is there that the cloud might change the engagement model, but it needs value. How we manage the quality of that touch-point, so that someone finds value when they engage with a service, will make or break them."

It's a valid point that is applicable to many areas of technology and not least applications. Most new services need to find a killer app that makes the underlying service essential.

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