There are different fundamental perspectives on how to do certain things, building both apps and cars included. Colin Chapman, of Lotus, did a great job of explaining the Lotus take: “Simplify, then add lightness.” Lotus, known for building cars with relatively humble specifications that worked exceptionally well on the racetrack, seems to have been on to something. “Adding power makes you faster on the straights, subtracting weight makes you faster everywhere.”
Traditionally, enterprise apps were built in a way more akin to a bulldozer than a Lotus. Massive, heavy and not particularly elegant. Not only was little thought given to simplifying or adding lightness, in some cases it looked like even less thought was given to the user experience or the UI. With a great sports car, you get just what you need and nothing more. What you get is, however, useful and more often than not responsive and feels good.
I recently had the pleasure of listening to Stan Swete, CTO from Workday, on CXO-Talk. Stan said some fascinating things that reminded me of Colin Chapman. When they set out to reengineer the enterprise application, the folks at Workday took a Lotus-esque approach, “simplifying and adding lightness.” Instead of thousands or tens of thousands of tables, they use a fixed schema of fewer than twenty (!) tables. Now, when they want to update their SaaS offering, the simplicity pays off in reduced time and effort for them to roll out new changes and enhancements for their customers.
Another thing that great sports cars share with great apps is an exceptional UI. A steering wheel in the perfect place that feels great in the hands pedals perfectly positioned for heel and toe, information in logical places and buttons and input where you would expect, everything falling right to hand. The need to cater to mobile users has helped here. While a traditional enterprise app might throw a lot more at the user, when you build for mobile screens are smaller and you really need to carefully consider what is really necessary and get rid of everything else.
Indeed, Stan says that some of his best user experience designers overall are the mobile designers and wiith mobile setting the bar higher than the traditional desktop browser they are starting to do mobile first designs. A benefit to this sort of approach is that once built for mobile, a design will work elsewhere just fine, but will come with the added benefit of more simplicity and less weight. With this greater simplicity of design also comes greater ease of use and less need for training and support, good things all around.
While mobile and mobile first designs are relatively new, there are timeless aspects to lean, elegant designs that result in products that are inherently easy and rewarding to use. Often these designs result in products that are not only easy to maintain and support but that “disappear” into the background, leaving the user thinking not about how to use the tool but rather how to do the task, regardless of whether that task is to tear around a race track or manage an enterprise.
Simplify, then add lightness.
The CXO-Talk interview with Stan Swete is available here. Every week, Friday at 3pm Eastern/12 noon Pacific noted industry analyst Michael Krigsman (@mkrigsman) and Extreme Networks CMO Vala Afshar (@valaafshar) have lively talks with CMOs, CIOs and other C-Suite executives on enterprise business and technology. Check back with the CXO-Talk.com site for the lastest schedule as well as archived talks with previous guest speakers.