Thursday, May 22, 2008

Jobs and lyrics...emotional design

I'm no psychologist, but I play one on the interwebs. Anyway, let's take a blogger favorite subject, Steve Jobs...or preferably, El Jobso. Of the many things he's famous for, it's memorizing his speeches, down to the last seemingly spontaneous slip-up & joke. That "scrolls like butter" comment? Scripted. Yeah. Believe it.

But you gotta admit, it works. Whom else scripts their words so well? Musicians for one. And from his public speeches, we know El Jobso admires musicians. Musicians memorize their lyrics to get us to feel a certain way...just as El Jobso does when he demos the next new delicious piece of gadgetry. It's probably the highest art to get someone to feel as you do when you need them to. It's like a great concert when an entire stadium all feels the same emotion on cue. It's pretty cool, isn't it? So, where is all this going and how does it relate to WebSphere? We're getting there.

Compared to Apple, Microsoft's products are less emotive...but they're damn effective. They're good enough not to get in the way (most of the time...bluescreen...doh) and ubiquitous. Compared to Apple Music, they're Muzak. The white noise of music. Hold music. You know, that stuff in the background that helps you pass the time, but isn't so amazing that it forces you stop, to listen, to *feel*. That would be distracting. But it does remove some of the monotony.

Anyway, there's obviously a place (and I would say a need) for both approaches. I love beautiful objects as much as the next person, but after awhile, the beauty fades into the background, and utility had better be underneath, supporting the facade. Given a choice, people I speak to usually value utility over form, but only slightly, and only then after the glow of newness has worn off. You don't want your tool to be so difficult to use or so ugly that your profession becomes *work*. Bleh.

Frankly speaking, the WebSphere products I've worked on and with emphasize utility a bit too strongly over form. That is, they haven't been strong (but we're working on it) on design focus. We first set out to make efficient, scalable systems that run the back offices of your world reliably. Our model is mainframe reliability. You know, the every credit card transaction, every ATM withdrawal kinda stuff. But not the prettiest GUIs. Some Google software fits into this, none too pretty, but all effective.

I suppose all software designers strive for that ultimate goal: perfect form, perfect function, perfectly intuitive, consistency top to bottom, inside and out. Based on the behavior of something you already know how to do, the next feature functions with the same general behavior. Looks, proportion, cut, color, fit, finish, function...all there. Applied well, your product develops a personality of a good, reliable, effective beautiful tool. A killer app. Much like a great sports car (maybe that's why we have so many comparisons between software and cars? but that's a topic for a different post...).

Anyway, those are my ramblings. Until next time, let us know your thoughts in the comments.