Sunday, March 11, 2007

Industrial Design and Notes UI Design

I am writing this for the second time. Just as I was about to finish editing this, Windows XP crashed on me and I lost everything!!! After pounding on the bed for a few times, I am rewriting this again but clicking on the save button about every minute.

Yesterday, my son turned 18. It seems like it was only yesterday that I graduated from college and now my son is attending college this fall. Oh do I feel old. He got accepted to three of the top industrial design schools and my wife and I have spent the past few months visiting and evaluating with him the different schools. Finally, last week he made a decision on which school he is attending this fall. The field of industrial design combines art, visual form, understanding of the manufacturing process, user interaction, and human psychology to create a product. His skills of drawing and painting combined with his good skills in math and science with give him a good chance to success in this very tough field.

As I worked with my son on learning more about industrial design, I realized that being an industrial designer is very similar to being Notes UI designer. An industrial designer needs to bring together the visual beauty of art and form to create a product while understanding the limitations of the manufacturing process and the needs of users. If the industrial designer just focuses on creating a product based on art and form and not take into account whether it can be built or if users want it, then the product is just fantasy.

As a Notes UI designer if we had all the UI design tools that Web developers have we can design and build great and beautiful interfaces. However, like industrial designers that need to consider the manufacturing process and materials, we are too limited in what we can do in Lotus Notes given all the restrictions of Notes and UI functionalities that are limited or broken.

But like a good industrial designer, a good Notes UI designer needs to think out of the box in order to create an interface that no one thought could be done. If you missed Chris Blatnick and Nathan T. Freeman's talk at Lotusphere on UI design and user interaction, I encourage you to go to their blog, Interface Matters and Escape Velocity to learn more about user interface design techniques for Lotus Notes.

Our Domino-based application products that we develop "Integrated Business Framework" are marketed primarily to the small business market. In this market, the biggest competitor is Microsoft whom makes significant investments in the development of their UI. Therefore, we could not provide the standard Notes interface to be competitive. We needed to develop a user interface that was much more functional and simpler for the user. As the market shifts for IBM more towards the SMB, the standard Notes interfaces that were useable in the enterprise market will not make the cut in the SMB market where competition is much more fierce and visual appearance and functionality is very important.

Since my son finally made his college decision, I can now spend more time blogging. I will start presenting a number of techniques that we have developed for our products that other can use in their applications. Nathan had presented one of many techniques that we have developed, link. One point I would like to make is that when designing Notes UI interfaces it is not just about the look and feel of the front end, the way you store data in your application at the back end is just as critical. Until next time.

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