Seriously, Can Enterprise Apps Ever Be Beautiful?

No one wants to use an ugly or boring app. People deserve enterprise and mobile apps that are "human" and that can "turn you on," said execs on MobileBeat's design panel.

Boonsri Dickinson, Associate Editor of BYTE

July 12, 2012

3 Min Read

We all can agree on one thing: No one wants to use an ugly app. We don't want boring ones, either.

Enterprise software has never been known for its usability or design. But at the MobileBeat conference in San Francisco, apps with a focus on design were all the rage. At a panel on Tuesday, Jeff Haynie, co-founder and CEO of open source software company Appcelerator, spoke with Tim Lee, a partner at Sequoia Capital; Ketan Anjaria, founder at CardFlick; Jaan Orvet, head of creative at Nansen; and Mikkel Svane, CEO at Zendesk, about what defines a beautiful app and discussed reasons why companies should make better looking apps.

Sequoia's partner Lee called beautiful apps "delightful"--and not just because of their surface appeal. With beauty comes money; Lee said a mobile company focused on design leads to a better business.

Sequoia has invested in Evernote and Dropbox. Lee said that a lot of CIOs drop by his office and ask which companies are the next Evernote and Dropbox. Which companies should they be using? A lot of companies are having to adjust to the bring your own device trend because it's happening whether or not they accept it.

But it is more than just dollar signs. CardFlick's Anjaria said apps should "turn you on". After all, design is a story and it should affect you emotionally.

Anjaria said it is a good idea to involve the designer and user experience from the beginning. A good designer is thinking about product. In a way, Anjaria said, Web design is like a novel and mobile design is a haiku.

Orvet said the way business is done has changed. No one is walking around giving 150-page slide presentations. Instead they are using text and a photo from their phone.

There's design jargon to be contended with: what's the difference between UI and UX? How would you explain this to a CIO?

Anjaria said UI is a pixel and you'd have to be a designer to understand it. UX is the human interaction between you and your applications.

Orvet said the most important thing is to think about it as a human being. "That makes Zendesk work. It's human," Orvet said.

From left, Ketan Anjaria, founder, CardFlick; Tim Lee, partner, Sequoia Capital; Jeff Haynie, co-founder and CEO, Appcelerator.

There's a lot of innovation in the consumer world, so the sample size is much larger, Lee said. "New companies can be built to be transformative and make the economy more productive. There are so many apps that help us waste time and only a sliver have been built to make us save time. If you take away mobile even, we have a raised expectation of what email should be now that you've used Gmail… Lotus Notes is not acceptable," Lee said.

Orvet said that corporations have done a good job at suppressing employees' desire to be productive. Tablets and smartphones don't suppress that desire.

Orvet said that app development is like software development was in the early 1980s. It's clear that the money flows to those who are doing it better. And in the Apple App store, those who have apps that have a good design tend to be more popular. The app ecosystem has democratized software development in a way.

"Mobile is bringing us closer to technology--you can touch the screen," Anjaria said. In the future, devices like the Google Glass project will get us even closer to technology.

But what if your company can't afford an in-house designer? Anjaria doesn't think that's a big deal. Just outsource it, he said.

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About the Author(s)

Boonsri Dickinson

Associate Editor of BYTE

Boonsri Dickinson is the Associate Editor of BYTE

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