The (almost) convergence of development and design
June 25, 2012 —
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Modern application development is all about user experience. While the need for creating great user experiences is obvious to developers building consumer apps, with more permissive Bring Your Own Device policies, even developers building line-of-business applications have to think beyond utility. Generally speaking, the shift to more experiential designs means that developers are becoming more aware of design.
“It’s no longer enough to be a great developer,” said Dave Mendlen, CMO at DevExpress. “Now you have to be able to build experiences.”
User experience distinguishes one application from another, even in business settings. “One of the things we always hear is ‘My social media, my online banking app, my video game,’ ” said Jason Beres, VP of product management at Infragistics. “When the stuff people are using on their off-hours delivers such a great experience, they start to wonder when the at-work experience is not great.”
Christian Schormann, director of product management in the Expression Group at Microsoft, thinks most developers realize that today’s software requires more than just pixels on a screen.
“Just because more people are aware of design doesn’t mean that everybody is good at it or is passionate about it, but there is a general awareness about the importance of design,” he said. “The number of developers who are passionate about user experience has grown a lot over the last five years.”
Going beyond the UI
Creating user experiences is more complicated than creating user interfaces (UIs). For one thing, user experiences must consider aesthetics, software behavior, and user interaction. For decades, UI efforts focused primarily on utility, but with the growing popularity of games and mobile devices, the goal is now to delight end users.
“Because software has become part of people’s everyday lives, you have to account for how people feel about your software as well as whether they’re technically capable of using it,” said Todd Anglin, VP of HTML5 Web and mobile at Telerik. “While your software needs to be functional and do what it’s supposed to do, usability takes it to that next level where users enjoy using the application, come back for more, and continue to invest in your success.”
User experience also impacts the economic success of applications. “The impression your application makes, how it wears, [and] how easy it is to use has a big bearing on the ratings you get, your application’s reputation, and economics,” said Eric Zocher, general manager of Expression Studio at Microsoft. “If an app has a functional but pedestrian user experience, it’s very easy for a polished competitor to climb up the charts. And, as an app goes higher in the charts, it sells more.”
Schormann agreed, adding that some applications are becoming more like media. “Software is basically moving away from utilitarian workflow and task-centric things into something that is more similar to media,” he said. “Touch device applications are much more like dynamic media: information visualization, information dissemination, entertainment, a stream of news. That does not mean utilitarian applications are not required anymore; they are just not as central in life and probably not the ones people are spending the most time with.”
In some organizations, designers, developers and user experience experts collectively build user experiences. David May, lead graphic designer at GrapeCity, said his perfect ratio would be one designer, one developer, and half of a user experience designer. Most organizations lack such luxuries, however.
“The applications and sites that seem to succeed have a tight tie between designers and developers,” he said. “We know most of our customers do not have access to designers. That’s why we allow developers to easily apply and customize styles without deep knowledge of XAML design or CSS.”