Interfaces in Enterprise Software

This post is a continuation of my human solution to IT and IT policy issues series. This post discusses a couple of ideas about "enterprise" software, and its importance the kind of overall analysis of technology that this posts (and others on this site) engage in. In many ways this is a different angle on some of the same questions addressed in my "Caring about Java" post: boring technologies are important, if not outright interesting.

There are two likely truths about software that make sense upon reflection, but are a bit weird when you think about it:

  1. The majority of software is used by a small minority of users. This includes software that's written for and used by other software developers, infrastructure, and the applications which are written for "internal use." This includes various database, CRM, administrative tools, and other portals and tools that enterprise uses.
  2. Beautiful and intuitive interfaces are only worth constructing if your software has a large prospective userbase or if you're writing software where a couple of competing products share a set of common features. Otherwise there's no real point to designing a really swanky user interface.

I'm pretty sure that these theories hold up pretty well, and are reasonably logical. The following conclusions are, I think, particularly interesting:

  • People, even non-technical users, adjust to really horrible user interfaces that are non-intuitive all the time.

  • We think that graphical user interfaces are required for technological intelligibility, while the people who design software use GUIs as minimally as possible, and for the vast majority of software the user interface is the weakest point.

    The obvious questions then, is: why don't we trust non-technical users with command lines? Thoughts?

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