How to make PLM UI less terrible?

April 3, 2014

handwritten-BOM

I’m coming again to this topic – User Interface. These days you can hear about it as user experience (UX). UX is more complicated thing and includes lots of factors and aspects. So, I’d like to speak first about how UI looks. Back in time when I was developing and demonstrating PDM user interfaces, the worst thing was to get in line after somebody presenting CAD and visualization software. Their UI are always looks good. It was obvious, since they can show all these cars, phones and airplanes… Opposite to that, PDM user interface is all about tables, list and values. The nature of PDM system makes this type of UI boring and not interesting. For example, take a look on the photo above. This is handwritten BOM of locomotive made almost 100 years ago (image credit) . It doesn’t look nice, but it is absolutely "must have" document in manufacturing.

To change UX concept is a complex things. It requires to make a lot of changes in the way people performing their tasks. For engineering, manufacturing and enterprise organization is a big thing. However, what about to make a change just in a way PDM / PLM UI looks like?

The following image by darkhorseanalytics caught my attention with the presentation how to make table looks less terrible. Take a look on the power of "less is more". It comes as a sequence of remove colors, remove gridlines, remove fills, remove the border, remove bolding, left align text, right align number, align titles with data, resize columns with data, put whitespace to work, use consistent precision, round the numbers, remove repetition, no more Calibri font, add back emphasize.

So, here is the table before:

table-nice-ui-before

… and here is the table with UI improvements.

table-nice-ui-after

Not sure about you, but I like the comparison and the result.

It made me think about how many places in PDM UI is actually requires clean table presentation. Think about drawing reports, bill of materials and many other things. To make them look clean and fresh will improve to visual impression about PDM product.

What is my conclusion? It is very hard to design nice and clean UI. Every company developing software applications these days must focus on how to make the UI less terrible. The ugly and annoying enterprise software UI is a thing in the past. The new UI will be designed with the a different state of mind and thinking about modern web and mobile user interface and experience. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


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