Dreaming: An effortless conversion to Gui

October 16, 2009

The following query appeared on a technical programming e-mail list to which I subscribe.  My response, which I’ve printed below, is really a discussion about the importance of dance, and about the design process.

We are testing out a product which sits over our character product and give it a GUI [Graphic User Interface] look and feel as well as most of the important GUI functionality.  Has anybody had experience in doing this and , if so, what are the pitfalls I should be looking for.

So far the results are phenomenal. With very little change to our character code we have been able to generate a gui application that does not kill the network resources. Instead of looking at one – two years of development to get our software . . .  we are looking at one – two months.  . . .

Tell me I’m dreaming!!

You are dreaming.  Definitely.

You can certainly get products that will put GUI objects on the screen.  People may take a quick look, and say that you’ve a “GUI” application.  But conversion to GUI is much more than just GUI objects!  It means enabling different kinds of work flows, allowing users to move through the screens in different ways.  It means providing parallel tracks, so that most applications can be run either by mouse or by keystroke commands.  It means conforming to well accepted GUI standards, so that users accustomed to products like Microsoft Word and Excel will find themselves at home in your application.  The result should include more efficient use, easier training, higher accuracy, less user stress.

Also, the process of moving to GUI can be a time of re-thinking how your product enables users to do their jobs better, and to re-think some of the core functionality.  A plug in product that transforms the visual appearance of screens does not invite that important re-design step.

So dream on … or invest in a constructive process of really transforming your application.  (Or … re-think what advantage you believe GUI offers.  If it’s just marketing — being able to say, “We’re GUI” without being better for it in any way — then the whitewash product may be just what you need!).
.  .  .
I use the word “Design” in the new subject line above in its broadest sense.  Design starts with listening to users, and includes building mockups, having real users test and critique them, re-working the interface to accommodate this user feedback, and iterating on this process.  “Design” does not just mean drawing pretty pictures or screen layouts!

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