Friday, June 26, 2009

Part II: Next-Generation Web Applications Require Elegant Presentation

Leveraging the power of the latest web technologies to “wow” the user

If you’re old enough to have used an IBM 3270 “green screen” or even MS-DOS at some point in your career, you know the exact opposite of elegant presentation. While enterprise software evolved from inconsistency and poor design through to client/server architectures and ultimately the web as a central design point, many things have changed, but one hasn’t: the end user cares immensely about elegant presentation. And, by “presentation” I mean the design, look and feel and the interaction model provided within the application.

Recently, I’ve been researching model Web 2.0 applications – looking for inspiration. I am positively impressed but still wanting a future full of even more capable and elegant, web-based products. As a resource, I’ve found Dion Hinchcliffe’s Web 2.0 Blog very helpful. He emphasizes that the web community gets smarter with every product release because it has become so organic, when he says:

“Not only do we have examples of great online applications and systems to point to and use for best practices, but the latest tools, frameworks, development platforms, APIs, widgets, and so on, which are largely developed today in the form of open source over the Internet, tend to accumulate many of these new best practices.”

Specifically, Hinchcliffe cites “clean, compelling application design” as among the most important attributes of a Web 2.0 application. For fun, some of the latest trends in web application design are published by Smashing Magazine. The primary point is that “attractive applications inherently attract new customers to try them and is a pre-requisite to good usability and user experience.”

I’ll provide an example of elegant presentation (below), taken once again from my favorite Web 2.0 application – JasperServer.

Our goal has always been simple, intuitive behavior, so the product doesn’t get in the way of the user exploring the data (which is the real star of the show in a BI application). While we (at Jaspersoft) can cite a wide number of things we plan to improve in our design and interaction model, we shouldn’t forget that our current product, based entirely on Web 2.0 techniques and technologies, makes use of many state-of-the-art features and is designed to deliver a great user experience.

I’ll use this screen shot again and others in my next post as I continue to discuss the requirements for successful next-generation web applications. Stay tuned for my personal favorite: “End-User Customization."

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