With respect to software innovation, the off-the-shelf software we need to keep our businesses running is evolving, too, but often at a slower pace. For example, the new accounting package you have to buy because the old one is not supported on your new hardware may not offer much in terms of innovation. Sadly, its main value may only be that it runs on the new hardware, and that’s a hard pill to swallow when you’re trying to cost justify its purchase.
For the first 30 years of software creation the focus was on functionality. You designed your programs to be efficient and do exactly what was needed. Hardware was slow and limited, and while it was getting better every year, the reality of what you could program was limited. At some point in the 1990s hardware reached a point where we could start getting really creative with the software, especially in the presentation to the user.
But one of the major factors software designers have to recognize is that people are slow to accept change. Looking back, we can see that most software continued to be far more functional than innovative. If you look at most business software produced in the last 20 years, you’ll notice that it really doesn’t look that much different than the mainframe form screens of the past.
As a society, we have been conditioned to a certain type of data entry. Name, address, date of birth – logical groupings of related data. People that attempt to break this mold are systematically ignored or derided. Why change what works or create confusion?
Despite these longstanding habits, changes in the user experience is coming. As the general public gets used to constant innovation, mostly in the form of their cell phones and tablets, they start wanting that same innovation in their business software. They’ve begun to complain that their business software isn’t as intuitive or as easy to use that they would like. And instead of wanting to keep their hands on the keyboard (and off the mouse), they’re wanting more automation and touch-screen capabilities so their hands can spend less time on the keyboard.
Finally, there’s the distraction factor. People (at least in the United States) are addicted to distraction. It’s why so many people are staring at their cell phones while driving, even though they know the dangers. Distraction, in the form of visual elements, is starting to become a necessity in software in order to keep people’s attention. You see this in many web sites now. For example, some sites run a background video clip behind the main information on the site. Twitter is another example. Market research by Neuro Insight has shown why Twitter is actually addictive. In short, for people sending and receiving tweets, brain studies show users gain a heightened emotional arousal linked to the right half of the brain.
What this means for the future of software developers is more focus on the science of the user experience. What is it that keeps someone’s attention and allows them to work effectively? How do we automate someone’s work so they only need to focus on the most important things?
Going forward, neural activity and workflow analysis will be the keys to optimizing the user experience. Knowing what people need to accomplish and how they naturally go about doing it will help make their lives easier. This information is also the key to profit; companies will buy new software if they believe it will elevate the user experience, increase efficiency and reduce their costs.