Why your back-end tools should be sexy, too

If your internal tools aren’t the same quality and sexiness as your client-facing tools, then your employees aren’t going to be as excited as they could be and won’t be selling your company as well as they could.

While working at Bookr, our design motto was “dead simple; dead sexy.” It’s something that I think is a great, simple goal that most everyone in the company can eat least target. We applied this to our product and customers loved the way it looked. I’ve carried that through (internally) for Blueprint, although I don’t think that “sexy” quite fits our brand here as it did for Bookr.

On almost every project I’ve worked on, we put a lot of effort on client-facing parts of the product and tools that are used internally (often called “admin” screens) just don’t get the same treatment.

Have you ever called up a company on the phone and had to wait while the representative has to navigate an extremely complex system or set of systems to get your information? Ok, have you ever called a company at not had that experience? Doesn’t that frustrate you as a customer? Quite often, I’ve had representatives apologize for the poor quality or capabilities of their software. As a software developer, I don’t want this ever to happen with my products.

So in the last two companies, I’ve been working to promote as much, or nearly as much, effort on the design and thoughtfulness and usefulness of “admin” screens as I do on the client facing stuff.

For Blueprint, not only are our clients using the product directly, but account managers and analysts use the product for consultative services. They get the benefit of client-facing tools, but when they cross into the “admin” parts of the site I don’t want them to feel put off.  We are constantly looking at the tools we have built for managing, tracking and maintaining client accounts and client information — tools that clients don’t have access to — and they way we use those tools to try to make sure they can be simple and sexy.

Microsoft Office for Mac: How not to design your installation experience

I needed PowerPoint to change files for a project so I went to grab a copy of Office. Not only did I have to download the entire 900MB package of Office (instead of just the PowerPoint app I wanted) it had a terrible first experience. Each time I try a Microsoft product these days, it just feels so clunky. Where’s the aesthetic and pleasing design? I know they can do this.

It’s simple things like the email they sent me from “OFFIE.OESD.WW.00.EN.SIT.BAG.CS.T01.RTG.00.EM@css.one.microsoft.com” (which of course is what you see your email software first) rather than adding a name like “Microsoft Office”.

Or the installation itself. I downloaded a copy of the software (which, for what it’s worth, “2011” makes it feel old by now when everyone else is updating software o 6-week schedules) and installed it. Then it immediately required a critical update. And another one. And a third one. During the course of which I wasn’t allows to have any browsers open. If I just downloaded your software why doesn’t it have all the critical updates?

I think the final frustation of bad user experience was when all the updates where done. The updater presented a dialog that made me feel like having no updates is a bad thing. Apple does the same thing with their automatic updates (incidentally, Apple “fixed” this in Mountain Lion by running updates through App Store which has it’s own problems). Why not just close the updater if there are no more updates? Really, I’m not that emotionally attached to my software updater that I need a modal dialog to tell me it’s all fresh. Oh, and when I clicked “OK”? It still didn’t close; I had to quit the updater app.