The Importance of Design and User Interfaces

By Samuel Greengard

You might think that Apple’s recent announcement to radically overhaul iOS has little to do with enterprise computing—other than the fact that a heck of a lot of people use iPhones and iPads in the workplace. In reality, the news that emanated from the WWDC conference has everything to do with enterprise computing.

Today’s topic is, yes, user interfaces. Despite more than three decades of personal computers and more recently a proliferation of smartphones and tablets, most organizations fail miserably in the user interface department. Internal systems are often clunky, overly complex and serve up a labyrinth of features built by geeks for geeks. The hitch is that most people don’t speak geek and they never will.

The problems are most apparent in homegrown systems used for content management, accounts payable and travel and expense tasks. But even general Websites and internal portals too often wind up unnavigable. Buttons and drop-down lists appear in strange places, features are hidden within layers of menus, and colors are all wrong.

The result, of course, is lost productivity and an IT department that winds up with a less-than-stellar reputation. As computing environments become more complex and intertwined, the need for streamlined and efficient interfaces is critical. In addition, the consumerization of IT has heaped new demands on CIOs and other IT executives as expectations about systems, interfaces and usability have changed radically.

Of course, Apple lives and dies by its interface and the company is ensnared in a wildly competitive business environment. But executives can learn a few lessons by approaching user interfaces and design in an Apple-centric sort of way. While the company is far from perfect—flaws and inconsistencies exist in every OS and software interface (and design is a constantly moving target, after all)—its emphasis on simplicity and usability is the sun around which all planets orbit.

iPods with no buttons? iPhones that morph a spate of devices into one seamlessly? iPads that toddlers can operate? Seriously.

Dismiss all of this at your own risk. But don’t be shocked when, over the course of the next decade, IT becomes as much about design and interfaces as about functionality. The writing is on the wall and the pixels are on the screen. User interfaces are everything in the digital age.

About the Author

Samuel Greengard is a contributing writer for CIO Insight.

Samuel Greengard
Samuel Greengard
Samuel Greengard writes about business, technology and other topics. His book, The Internet of Things (MIT Press) was released in the spring of 2015.

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