Software Does Not Have to Be Ugly

Clean design is harder than it looks
Not long ago I was able to visit the Biedermeier exhibit in Milwaukee Wisconsin, USA and later in Vienna, Austria.  As the curators of the joint exhibit in Milwaukee, Berlin, Paris and Vienna point out  the Biedermeier movement invented simplicity.  In essence it was  a move towards simplicity of design and clean lines.   Biedermeier refers to the work in the fields of music, art, literature and the visual arts that took place between 1815 and 1848. 

Software development needs a Biedermeier movement.  It needs to move from complex design to simplicity.  It is important not to confuse simplicity with simple.   The features and functions that are exposed to a person using a software application need to be clean and concise.  Nothing should be exposed that is not necessary until it is needed.  

Exposing Bad Design
The internet  and the proliferation of websites and especially customer self service websites did not create bad design because it only exposed it.  When software applications were deployed within the bowls of a a large organization few saw it.  The internet has allowed everyone to see an overwhelming lack of design skills. 

Internal Beauty
The inter-workings or the internal design of a software application needs simplicity too.  If what gets exposed is a design mess, then it is probably a safe bet what gets built under the hood, internally,  is a design mess too.  Poor internal design makes it hard to maintain and enhance a software application.  Poor design makes it difficult to understand “what is going on.”

Towards Great Design
“Great design gives no more than its purpose requires; its artistic resources are the very simplest; its arrangement and relationships are the most natural and comprehensible; it is far removed from all ambition, all splendor, and all overburdening.  It is not rich and does not deceive; but it is certain, virtuously true, and intimate.  It proceeds in a strong, straight line to its goal; and a certain childlike sincerity is evident throughout. “   — German Encyclopedia 1844.

Things to Read
When I travel and work with software developers I often glance at their bookshelf’s.  And  I ask myself, “What are they reading?”  When book shelfs are full of books about coding and nothing about design, then it is a safe bet the developers know little about design.  In the end you are what you read.  

The following are two great books about design.

Universal Principles of Design – William Lidwell

The Laws of Simplicity – John Maeda

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Published in: on February 20, 2009 at 21:37  Leave a Comment  
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