Form & Function: A Developer’s Perspective

How important is appearance? Is it a vital part of any application design? Or just a nice thing to add if you have time for it?

There have been a couple of great posts about this subject today. One of them is at Just Another Mobile Monday and another at Treonauts. Both of these address the subject from the point of view of a user. I thought I’d take a second to discuss it from the developer end.

Creating a great looking app is actually something every developer (well, every developer I know anyhow) wants to do. Actually doing that, though, is something else altogether. There are plenty of roadblocks to making this happen.

This is an obvious one and it affects a lot of small software houses. Designing a really good looking interface takes time and money. If you don’t have the skill in-house, you need to out source and that requires a serious investment. …

Screen Real Estate
This is something both of the articles I mentioned talked about. Mobile software needs to take full advantage of the limited screen space mobile devices offer. The challenge here is that a good looking interface takes up space. While it can make the use of space more effective in some cases, more often it uses up screen space that cannot then be used to display data/content/etc..

Making it Work
Pretty is one thing. Pretty and functional is another. It is a serious challenge to come up with an interface that not only looks good, but also does its job! (Anyone remember the old IBM commercial where the guys were showing off the animated flaming logo on the website but the site couldn’t handle customer orders?)

“Microsoft Says…”
Or “Palm says…” or “HP says…” There have been many times when we’ve wanted to do something a certain way, but in order to achieve that all important approval from the powers above us we had to do it in what we thought was a less effective way. (Ever wonder why so many Windows Mobile apps don’t have an Exit/Quit function?)

Planning for the Future
And last of all, when you put a beautiful interface like that onto a product, you’ve just set in virtual-stone how that product will work. Need to add a button for a new feature? Time to redesign the entire interface! Discover that the field isn’t big enough? Gotta order a whole new skin!

OK, so it’s hard to do and there is lots standing in the way. You probably get that by now. The question of course is how much should developers care?

In my opinion, a lot. A plain text data feed has its place but for those programs we use while we’re on the move, over and over throughout the course of our day, it has to be a product that treats us like human beings….not data processors.

For Ilium Software, this is something we are always looking at and as we move toward the future, it’s something that is becoming increasingly important in the evolving mobile software marketplace. It costs money. It costs time. But hopefully in the long run it will pay off.

2 thoughts on “Form & Function: A Developer’s Perspective

  1. PatrickJ

    Hey Marc – really good to hear the developers’ perspective on this – thanks for the thoughtful post. I definitely agree that this seems like a VERY challenging issue for software developers, faced by a number of severe constraints. Also, I think Ilium does a great job in this area. One of my very favorite things about NewsBreak for example, is that it is just so easy to use because its superbly well laid-out, and the UI blends so nicely with fast, effective use of the product.

    Exit / Quit function – nobody wants that. That’s why nobody goes out and gets one of a number of really good 3rd party add-ons just to handle that task …

  2. Pingback: Just Another Mobile Monday » Blog Archive » Looks DO Matter

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