Infor the world’s third largest ERP vendor unveiled impressive advances in the design of its business software applications at its ‘Infor on the Road’ user conference in the UK last week, taking “beautiful software” to new levels. FSN’s managing editor, Gary Simon, was at the conference to experience the latest development in Infor’s crusade to re-invent how people interact with business software.
It’s a mission that received widespread acclaim and approval from a broad spectrum of the software industry when Infor embarked on its unique mission around 18 months ago. For example, Rebecca Wetteman of Nucleus Research said, “this is not just about wrapping a better user interface around functionality but taking a more holistic approach to how users engage with the application in
a linear process.”
The impact has been truly transformational. The look and feel of Infor’s product set has changed beyond recognition but the changes go far deeper than aesthetics. Underlying Infor’s endeavours is a commitment to understanding the human/machine interface and the way that individuals process information as they go about their work. And it is these deep insights that inform the ultimate design of the applications.
Duncan Angove, Infor President, told the packed conference that Infor’s approach to design was a far cry from the software engineering-led approaches of yesteryear - software developers can constrict free thinking, focussing on what can’t be done (technically) rather than enthusiastically embracing the art of the possible.
So Infor created a trendy design agency in the heart of New York’s fashionable agency district and employed not software engineers but creatives. As Duncan Angrove put it “not the usual suspects”. The staff roster at the Agency, called Hoop and Loop, included, the first Apple iAd creator, an On-air reporter, an Official Google storyteller, a digital effects artist for The Avengers, a Pulitzer Prize winner for information graphics, fine artists and even a documentary filmmaker.
The result has been a raising of the bar in what makes software acceptable, propelling it from a tool of convenience to something that has personal significance and is pleasurable to use – something that users will delight in sharing. And it is this latter point that is particularly compelling, since collaboration holds the key to business productivity. The ‘right’ user interface has bottom line impact.
A demonstration of a hotel front desk application illustrated how deft use of design incorporating the latest Google cards could reinforce the process, reducing mouse clicks, placing context sensitive information where needed, enabling social interaction and speeding up the whole process.
The psychology of the design is vital, but it also has to be pleasing on the eye, no matter what device it is delivered on. David Fleischmann, consultant optometrist and an expert in the area of Visual Stress, told FSN that to the eye what matters in designing a great interface is the relationship between spatial frequency and contrast sensitivity; “essentially when an object becomes overly ‘striped’ or repetitive within itself the brain can’t handle the information as efficiently. In most cases this leads to poor visual efficacy but in some, not inconsiderable cases it can actually cause significant discomfort and turn users away from interacting. Infor’s well-designed interfaces appear to strike a delicate balance between presenting appropriate information but avoiding condensed blocks of text.”
So is the software disruptive? The term disruptive has been hugely overworked with every software house in the industry claiming its software has disrupted the market, but Infor can genuinely lay claim to the term have radically transformed software design. The new interfaces have been rolled out across its vast software portfolio and customers are beginning to benefit from its impactful design. Some commentators have even compared Infor to Apple. And now that Infor is encouraging its customers to move to the Cloud, the organization is poised for exciting times ahead.