Bread mixers, user interfaces and enterprise software

It’s bread week on ‘The Great British Bake Off’ and Paul Hollywood has inspired me to make a batch of Focaccia. And, it’s while I’m listing the ingredients I am reminded how my cake mixer inspires me with enterprise UX.

Bread mixers

Last year, I received a Kenwood food mixer as a gift — something that I have coveted for a very long time — and after using it for the umpteenth time today, I realised that I always have the same negative reaction. And, that reaction says something about the importance of a quality crafted user interface.

The mixer is heavy — it exudes quality in every way. It is mainly constructed from iron and steel with robust gearing that is up to job of kneading the stiffest bread dough. But, for some reason, the dial has been manufactured from the most insubstantial plastic-y feeling plastic that I have ever encountered. It does not feel robust at all — and that’s the one part of the appliance that I have to handle repeatedly. Every time I touch it, I wish that it was nicer.

Frankly, it lets the product down.

User interfaces

And so my thoughts move to user interfaces. Because that is what the dial represents — it’s the part of the machine with which I interact to control the machine.

Feature-wise, Kenwood should be proud, the mixer does everything that it should (It doesn’t do the washing up, but then I guess that’s not part of its MVP). But as a user, I just wish that it was software, that way that I could hope for a UI patch with the next point release.

Quality where it counts

From a certain point of view, a product’s user interface might be considered as a minor part of the overall package. It’s likely to occupy a smaller portion of the overall development budget, and more often than not just getting a system to work at all can be a Herculean undertaking. But, from the user’s perspecitve, the user interface defines the product — and should, therefore, be considered very carefully indeed.

In short, I have a big expensive mixer and I should be happy. But, here I am telling the world that it niggles me that the same attention wasn’t put into the parts of the machine that I have to interact with than was clearly lavished on whatever gubbins makes it do its job.

Enterprise software

Tangental insights like these remind me how important ‘fit and finish’ is to a person’s appreciation of a product. It reminds me of my mission to try and make enterprise software, well — beautiful.

Within the software realm, its factors like motion, balance, tone and style that are the qualities that create a good tactile experience. One that resonates positively with users when applied to something that is both useful and functional.

I want users of the software that we make to benefit from the digital equivalent of a lubricious stainless steel dial — something that makes them feel good about using the software they have to use to get things done.