is a blog about design, technology and culture written by Khoi Vinh, and has been more or less continuously published since December 2000 in New York City. Khoi is currently Principal Designer at Adobe, Design Chair at Wildcard and co-founder of Kidpost. Previously, Khoi was co-founder and CEO of Mixel (acquired by Etsy, Inc.), Design Director of The New York Times Online, and co-founder of the design studio Behavior, LLC. He is the author of “Ordering Disorder: Grid Principles for Web Design,” and was named one of Fast Company’s “fifty most influential designers in America.” Khoi lives in Crown Heights, Brooklyn with his wife and three children. Refer to the advertising and sponsorship page for inquiries.+
Parts Is Parts
Mostly, when I use this stuff, I think to myself, “What were the designers of this software thinking?” Which is also exactly what I thought when I spotted this advertising campaign for Lotus Notes 8, the newest revision of the email and calendaring software from IBM. The ad that I came across is a kind of a fun interactive toy built with Flash that makes a bizarre pitch:
“Imagine if you could take the qualities of your favorite animals and combine them into one. That’s the principle behind the new Lotus Notes 8 from IBM.”
Play with the interactive doodads in the advertisement a bit and you can create a not unfunny amalgam of chicken, bull and duck, or donkey, dolphin and rhinoceros, etc. It’s a cute idea, but really, it betrays a probably unintentional appropriateness. It’s just perfect that Lotus Notes, an application whose awkward integration of multiple feature sets I’ve only ever heard spoken about with violent disgust, promotes itself as freakish software. As if frightening, cross-species aberrations of nature are what we’ve all been looking for in an email and calendaring solution. This is a campaign that can only make sense in the intensely inward-looking world of enterprise software.
Do They Get Design?
Okay, that’s a cheap shot, for sure. Setting aside the goofy irony of this campaign, I have to wonder: what is it about the world of enterprise software that routinely produces such inelegant user experiences? Presumably, IT managers are enthusiasts of technology and the Internet as much as designers, if not more so. It’s understandable that they may fail to explicitly grasp the design principles that inform good interfaces, but surely that same exposure should make them aware that the software they’re buying and rolling out is not as easy to use, right?
It occurred to me that the problem may lay at the schooling level; we talk a lot about teaching design to business school students, but what about management information systems students? Presumably, MIS candidates are getting very little if any training in design or user experience. That seems like a missed opportunity to instill design values at a critical stage within a critical group of design constituents.
But what do I know? Very little, admittedly. What it takes for one to get into a position of managing information technology is beyond my knowledge, and I’m only doing a disservice to myself if I dismiss it as trivial. Those of you readers who are IT managers or who are familiar with MIS training, I’d be obliged to learn more about how we’ve arrived at this state of affairs in which such a tremendous gap exists between consumer and enterprise software. If there’s anything we can do to make this stuff better, we ought to do it.+