The UI is a personal thing. What is intuitive and pleasing to one person might be less than helpful and ugly to another. In the beginning of computing, the UI was a box of green-bar paper with perforations and sprocket holes on the sides. Businesses made critical decisions from the data they saw on that paper. Programmers had an even more limited interface--punch cards.
Once the screen came to computing--look out world! There was no stopping us. Real user interfaces.
The AS/400 system had 5250 screens, wide screens and color. UIs evolved through Non-Programmable Terminal User Interface (NPTUI), client-server and the Internet. Then came GUIs, TUIs and every other kind of UIs. Oo-wee!! We have never looked back.
The driver behind all of this change has been the need for developers to understand how the user interacts with their applications--the user experience (UX). This is more than just the screen of information that is displayed. It includes the interaction that is required–by buttons, keys or fingers, with audio or video controls, etc. The UX also encompasses the feelings that users experience when interacting–positive so they will want that interaction again? The screens being shown are just pieces of the overall experience, but they are important.
I have been talking with many clients who truly provide a targeted user experience to their application users. One such UX story is from The Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising (FIDM). They had been providing email notifications to their students regarding agenda changes, course information, etc. Although initially a very popular way for the students to receive their information, interest in email checking was waning. Through a discovery process, FIDM learned that their student population had adopted a preferred form of communication–texting. FIDM stepped up to the challenge and today communicates with students via text messages. They are providing an appropriate user experience for their students.
In today’s world, having a GUI for applications is more common that ever before. Whether the GUI is Web based or client-server, it’s the way the modern world views computing. New entrants into the work force don’t understand green-screen terminology. What is a PF3 key? How do I find F24? We need to provide the right user experience for the new work force. It must be easy to use, intuitive and provide a positive experience.
Just when we thought we had heard all the demands possible regarding the UX, the world turned mobile. Applications are being adapted to support new form factors, the new “finger experience,” rotation, sizing, etc. Reports by Gartner and Forrester estimate that there are more than 200 new smart devices and 250 new smart phones announced world-wide every year. Application users want to use them to run their corporate applications. This means we have more choice and more user experiences to consider.
Programmers, too, have benefited from the evolution of the UX. Gone are the punch cards and green-bar compile listings. To start, languages are getting more sophisticated in their ability to communicate with each other. This allows developers to take advantage of the strengths of multiple languages when creating applications. An application might be written using RPG for the back end (data access and business logic), while PHP or Java provides the graphical front end. To support this new application paradigm, developers needed a new UX, too. New developer’s tools are based in graphical form, dragging and dropping as they design these business services and build robust graphical UXs. Many developer’s tools, such as Zend Studio, also provide a mobile environment for developers. These are a far cry from the green screens of old.
Today, IBM i shops have UIs and UXs of all types. There are spooled files, pdfs and query reports that can be viewed from a green screen, a Web browser or a mobile device. IBM i business applications, traditionally viewed using green screens, are now experienced with browsers, mobile devices and a plethora of other options. The choice you make for your applications should be based on evaluating and understanding your users. Once you have done that, you can provide the right UX, including an appropriate UI.
Meanwhile, the IBM i 25th anniversary celebration continues on facebook. See what others have to say and join the conversation.