How is good software designed?

Estimated reading time: 4 minutes

one-man bandThis could be another controversial article but let it be known that I write it with all the love of someone who started his career as a programmer.

The software industry looks more and more each day like that of architecture. Allow me to explain.

Nowadays success in the development of any kind of software is attributed neither to the actual programming of it, nor the number of functions but moreover to much more important factors like the ease of use and its design.

The most well known that intervene with the ease of use is that of usability. This determines if the product is easy to use, intuitive and whether or not it allows you to get to any function with the least amount of clicks.  The other and lesser known (usually forgotten) is the editorial or copy.  We can call it “legibility“.  The texts of many products are edited by the programmers themselves and the results are a disastrous: screens that cannot be understood, error messages with undecipherable code and help as complicated to follow the Da Vinci Code.

One of the most obvious examples of brutal failure due the fact that the engineers design the product is Nokia.  The up until recently, leader of mobile manufacturing did not know how to rapidly adapt itself to the smartphones market.  In my opinion, the hidden reason was the engineering team’s arrogance that thought they could do things faster and better.  Their competitors on the contrary to Nokia, prioritised the ease of use and the design alongside the number of functions.  Bear in mind that the iphone, “star” of the moment, is still an inferior telephone to that of Nokia on a technical level.

At the other extreme, we have Windows MobileMicrosoft served up the mobile version of the same unstable, non-robust software we are all used to, and that on mobile is unforgiveable.  How many of you abandoned Windows Mobile because it kept crashing?  And let us not forget, the marvellous Blackberry keypad.  Didac is a big fan…

There are many more examples of software.  The Open Source world has hundreds of them and they are the most popular amongst specialised technical profiles.  Open Source on the other hand, is still out of reach from the mainstream segment as it is too complicated to install and use.

A year within brackets on the subject.  Open Source as a business software model (for the creation of itself) does not exist. At soon as things begin to work economically, Open Source will cease.  In the majority of cases it has turned into what we call a Fremium/Premium model in which the Open Source version, correctly named (free) has limitations and the robust and functional one is to be purchased.

As I was saying, Open Source in general is very difficult to use for non technical users.  It is usually software full of configurable options that the majority of human beings do not understand.   And this said by a fan of various Open Source applications.

So, from my point of view, the new successful software industry is based on the following premise:

  • Ease of use
  • Attractive design
  • Easy to understand copy content
  • Killer Features ( = super attractive functionality for users that can only be found in some specific software, the keypad and management of Blackberry’s  e-mail push was the key to success a years back) vs. thousands of functions.

Now I go back to my original statement, how does the software industry compare to that of architecture?

Good architects’ projects do not only contain a strong technical component but they are also characterised by a differentiated creativity from a visual and conceptual point of view.   This is more applicable to software all the time.  We do not want “ugly” software anymore, we want it to be visually attractive.  Maybe we owe this to the great Jobs.

Usability is the key.  The same is applicable in the field of architecture.  Now in this field, designers, interiorists and even in some cases ergonomists intervene.

So then, for software we need: good designers, usability specialists and above all “writers”. Why don’t we incorporate philologists and journalists into software companies?

And last but not least, we have the programmers.  At the MWC, an important director of a well known American software company said to me, “programmers are the blue collar workers of the 21st century” (programmers are the equivalent of manufacturing line operators of the 21st century) .  If I was a programmer nowadays, I would interest myself in usability, the design and information security, faced with the risk of going down in the production line and being confined to a country where the price of my work is much less.

In summary, the new software industry is based on parameters of success that go far beyond programming and the number of functions.  The key is:

  • Visual attractiveness. Human beings make many decisions visually.
  • Intuitive usability.  Watch how a child learns to use an iphone.
  • Good functions and some absolutely killer ones.
  • Easy to integrate with other software that I like to use.

Most definitely, the term multidisciplinary collaboration within the software industry makes more sense each day and unless the programmer is capable of becoming a one man band, it will be better that he surrounds himself with a diverse team.  Is it because I work at Zyncro that I am always thinking about collaboration?

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