“Business or Pleasure?” For Customers Always Choose Both

In Nikita Mikhalkov’s film “12” (a remake of Sidney Lumet’s well-known film “12 Angry Men”) there is a particular scene in which one of the twelve jurors deliberating in a dilapidated, old school gym notices the rusty uncovered heating pipes hanging from the ceiling. As it turned out, the pipes had been installed almost 30 years before, as a “temporary” solution and remained there, ignored by everybody and apparently harmless. But in fact – as the juror reveals – constant exposure to their ugliness had been steadily mutilating the aesthetic sense of the people working in that room, ultimately shaping their attitude towards the world around them.

The rendition of this scene may seem a bit dramatic, but it stands for a compelling plea to integrate beauty in our lives, more precisely, in our working environment and tools. The aesthetic approach is not only about experiencing some transient moment of visual pleasure, but about developing awareness and choosing to be surrounded by valuable and beautiful things, as constant exposure to them does shape all of us. 

As digital transformation consultants, our projects were mostly about building customized software apps, from scratch. But there were also cases where we have implemented ready-made solutions of large international providers. Almost without exception, we have noticed their bland aspect and unfriendly user interfaces. Apparently, software providers seemed to think that if an app is for business, then it should be sober and not necessarily enjoyable. After all, people use it for work and not to have a good time, as if the two should inevitably be mutually exclusive. And aesthetics are not so important for business decisions and calculations, only robustness, reliability, and accuracy, right? Wrong.  

Now, keep in mind that the neglect of aesthetic standards does not affect software only, but also the office space, interpersonal communication, and everything related to business set-ups in general. Could this have something to do with the high level of unhappiness at at work? Highly probable: a 2017 Gallup study[1] for instance showed that over 70% of employees felt disengaged or even hated their jobs. But this should not come as a surprise, looking at the obvious disconnection between the “human” side and the “worker” side in the mindset of most companies, which is further reflected in the dull offices, rigid procedures, unfriendly (but functional!) working tools, and the overall company culture. But when choosing to abandon aesthetic criteria, these companies seem to ignore certain essential realities.

Aesthetic brain systems[2] are responsible for the very survival of our species. Studies have shown that brain areas responsive to aesthetics are involved not only in evaluating “objects of evolutionary importance” and value of objects in general, but also in processing negative emotions such as disgust and pain, which further highlights the effect of aesthetical stimuli on our level of happiness. Therefore, the quality of the workplace has a major contribution to staff’s well-being and ultimately their tenure. After all, people spend about one third (or more) of their adult life at work[3], therefore making this time enjoyable is especially important for overall satisfaction.

Great design also influences people’s ability of logical structuring and processing information, directly impacting their productivity and creativity. In software, this influence is particularly impactful due to the visual component, which affects the user’s ability of processing the information displayed to further articulate ideas, concepts and ultimately to make decisions. Because of project fatigue, as in the aforementioned example of the heating pipes, many businesses choose to end the software implementations with a “temporary”, plain app with minimal functionality, thinking they will get to what they call “cosmetic” improvements later (which, of course, almost never happens). The result is that the majority of employees are frustrated by the software systems they work with. A study carried out by Forester indicated that 75% of employees had difficulties accessing information in their enterprise systems and applications and 91% said that their problem may be solved by implementing “simplified, modern enterprise apps”[4].

In short, saving money on aesthetics leads to much higher losses from decreased productivity, low-quality business decisions and higher staff turnover.

Further, on a more strategic level, the business world has seen many examples of how exquisite design has separated winners from losers. One of the leading companies that comes to mind is Apple, of course, but in the world of IT platforms there are many other examples, such as MapQuest vs. Google Map or Hi5 vs. Facebook. Certain prominent business figures have been advocating in recent years for a second type of A.I. that should be embedded in the business culture – Aesthetic Intelligence. It translates into the “ability to understand, interpret, and articulate feelings that are elicited by a particular object or experience”, to create experiences that win over customers[5].

Reaching this kind of sophistication means to become a “design-thinking” company at all levels, which is quite a challenging endeavour. Still, in the current “low touch”[6] economy era, we consider it a critical factor in determining not only the success on the market, but the very survival of the business, as customers grow more demanding, while their attention span becomes scarcer. 

Obviously, the subjects of aesthetics and human-centric design are too broad to be covered in one piece of text, not to mention that a plethora of books have already and extensively argued the impact of aesthetics on human life. Our case here is that companies should grant aesthetic standards the rightful place in the economy of software implementations and actively foster a design-thinking mindset when opting for software solutions, since they are an increasingly big part in all employees’ work life.

At Axiobit, calling ourselves “human-centric” was not simply a decision based on the latest trends. Human centric design of software was in fact a common preoccupation of each team member for the last ten or more years and it is one of the main reasons that brought us together in this company.  Axiobit was born with a mission to advance a new way of designing elegant, effective, and efficient applications that are still largely missing in the world of enterprise applications. The ease of working with an app is an essential design requirement, regardless of the user’s profession or the business purpose of the app. 

These are some insights of Axiobit approach that helped us ensure high aesthetic and functional standards for our final products:

  • A comprehensive definition of “design” concept, that addresses not only the aesthetics of the visible interfaces, but also the full users’ experience, empathy features, functionality, scalability, and overall architectural agility. 
  • Multi- and interdisciplinary teams, which are essential in achieving excellent software design, as argued in a previous article[7] of ours .
  • Placing prototyping and visual methods at the center of our digital transformation methodology.  A product of great design delivers on both the emotional promise and the functional one, and these aspects must be thoroughly validated before investing in development. Physical models are extensively employed in design-thinking[8] as they engage future users on multiple levels, thus ensuring that proposed solutions are fully satisfying aesthetic and functional expectations. 
  • Focusing on the mobile experience. The offer has improved significantly in this area, but most leading enterprise applications still lack the mobile component, despite many studies indicating this is an increasing need of today’s employees. One explanation for the mobile features’ scarcity is that simplicity is a complicated thing to achieve. Bringing complex business processes on small mobile screens requires high expertise in UX and design of enterprise apps in general, however, we believe this requirement has moved in the recent years from “nice-to-have” to “must-have” category and it is therefore a strategic component of all our digital products.

If you want to learn more about how we work and how Axiobit can help you transform your organization, visit our contact page and let us know what your current challenges are.

[1]https://news.gallup.com/opinion/chairman/212045/world-broken-workplace.aspx

[2] https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/the-neuroscience-of-beauty/

[3]https://www.who.int/occupational_health/publications/globstrategy/en/index2.html

[4] https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/study-employees-dont-use-enterprise-applications-crave-personalized-experiences-300317422.html

[5] https://www.bigcommerce.com/blog/aesthetic-intelligence/#sell-an-experience-not-a-commodity

[6] Term coined by Board of Innovation – https://www.boardofinnovation.com/low-touch-economy/

[7] https://axiobit.com/articles/change-management-and-the-resisting-corporate-dna/

[8] https://hbr.org/2015/09/design-thinking-comes-of-age

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