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Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Rising Importance Of Design In Technology World

9:19 PM Posted by Deepak Nayal No comments
Over the past few years a very interesting trend has taken hold in the world of technology - increasing importance of design. Not that design and user experience were not thought about in the tech world earlier, but (a) it wasn't this ubiquitous and (b) it was more of an after-thought, for beautifying the products. This is changing now. Technology products, both hardware and software, are getting increasingly beautiful and easy to use. The ugly and heavy desktops, laptops, tablets, MP3 players are giving way to beautiful, sleeker and more elegant devices. The clunky, busy and heavy websites and software apps are giving way to lighter, agile and more intuitive applications. While there are many people and companies to credit for this change, if there is one person who can be credited for bringing importance of design from classes to the masses, it is Steve Jobs. Thanks to Steve and Apple, we now understand that design is not just about how something looks, but also how it works. 


On the hardware side, Apple is certainly showing light to the world when it comes to the importance of design. There have been some other examples of simple and elegant design as well. Nest, the learning thermostat, from Tony Fedell (ex-Apple), was also successful in grabbing everyone's attention recently with its clever design. Square, the mobile credit card reader from Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey, has also received positive reviews for its simple design. However, unfortunately, there aren't many new players trying things out in the hardware area - mainly because of high entry barriers

Software, however, is a different story. Thanks to low entry barriers, the number of new players coming in with fresh applications is very high. These entrants have to identify ways of distinguishing themselves from the incumbents and competitors, and a good design (in many cases) is one of the key differentiators they try to leverage. The increasing importance and influence of design is particularly most evident in the web and mobile world. I think it has a lot to do with the fact that any (mobile/web) software changes get pushed right away and without a lot of effort, and so do not have to wait for long release cycles (as in the case of enterprise software). The ability to change quickly allows players to iterate faster, thereby incorporating user feedback much faster and improving the overall user experience. 

The design improvements in tech world are happening on two separate levels: visible and invisible. The visible level is where things such as layout, typography, graphics and transitions come into play - the "how it looks" part. I believe these are easier to pin down and implement, especially with many UI frameworks, such as Twitter Bootstrap, jQuery UI, and services, such as TypeKit and WebFont, available nowadays. But it is the invisible aspect of design that is harder to pin down - usability, user journey, which elements to show, when and where - the whole "how it works" part. I have not been able to find any frameworks for it, but from what I have understand the keywords here are empathy and details. Empathizing with the user allows you to see your application from their perspective. How would a user without much context of the application work with it? How would they move around? What are the assumptions they might have while using your application? Similarly, getting into details allows you to break a simple process into its smaller constituents and find out ways of simplifying it further. For example, breaking the process of getting from main screen to product information screen into a series of clicks and mouse/keyboard movements, and then reducing the number of steps a user has to take to move around. 

As I see it, the importance of design in the tech world will only rise further from here. And it should, 'cause good design has the power to make technology more human

With the increasing information overload, our increasingly busy schedules, and plethora of apps and websites coming up everyday, good design can be an important differentiator. Apple has shown it, as have Nest, Angry Birds, Flipboard, Tumblr et al. Given the importance of design in the success of products and companies, probably corporates and startups should make the ten design principles (below) of Dieter Rams, the legendary designer for Braun, part of their corporate manifesto. This might sound like stretching it a bit too much, but the point here is that design is important. It took the world some time to get it, but I think we have got it now and are not going to lose it anytime sooner.

Dieter Rams: Ten Principles For Good Design

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