Friday, December 03, 2010

Business Apps Need Names And Faces. Not More Buttons and Text Fields

A few months back, I was interviewed by my company's magazine and I spoke to them about my thoughts on the mobile industry and how it is changing the world in profound ways. I am very sure that hardly anyone read  what I had to say. I rarely pick up the inhouse company magazine and read it. However, when the magazine was published, I went and picked up a copy and turned the pages to look for the article and my picture in the article.

If you think this is odd, I have another story for you. About 19 years back I won a product design award from the LG Group of Korea and they invited me over to Seoul for the award ceremony. A local Korean magazine interviewed me and put my picture on page 75 of the magazine. I have no idea what they wrote because I do not know Korean. But I still have a copy of that magazine with me at home.

This is human nature. We like to see our names and pictures on print or online. We also like to see the names and pictures of people around us and find out what they are up to. This human behavior is exploited successfully by local newspapers such as the Daily Record published out of Dunn, North Carolina. I read, in the book Made to Stick, about the strategy of the publisher of Dunn Daily Record. He insists on having enough names and photographs of local people published in the paper everyday to ensure that people buy the paper and read about themselves and people they know. The circulation of The daily Record is 110% in Dunn. In fact, the publisher argues that if he prints the entire town's telephone directory in the paper, everyone in town will buy and read the paper to ensure that their name and number is printed right.

This was an Aha! moment for my enterprise-software-designer-brain.  I understood why everyone I interviewed in the past two years asks me for a facebook-like interface for their, otherwise mundane, applications. If their names and faces are in the page, they will go there, even if the information on the page is as boring as a telephone directory listing.

I suspect that putting names and faces in every possible, and appropriate, context is an effective way to put collaboration at the core of enterprise business applications and encourage participation. What do you think?  Let me know.
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