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Good design, and connecting the dots

Four recent articles in Business Week that - to my mind - all circle around a common topic.

The article Motorola: Left to Its Own Devices describes Motorola's declining fortunes, largely because customers do not particularly like their cell phones. I own a Motorola Razr and consider their fate well-earned. In the article Sprint's Wake-Up Call we see a multi-billion dollar company in trouble simply because service to customers was poor. The notion in The One-Guy Theory is that the right guy in the right position can make or break a business. The point touched on (but not well made) in Software You Shouldn't Ever Notice is that the end user experience with many products is still surprisingly bad.

We see two multi-billion dollar businesses in deep trouble (Motorola and Sprint) because they lost sight of their core business - a customer making a phone call. We see that one guy in the right position can make or break a business - even a very large business.

How do these connect?

Things we buy and use need to work. Well done user-centered design is - or should be - at the core of customer's experience. That end-user experience can make the difference between keeping or losing a customer. Getting that experience right can determine the fate of a multi-billion dollar business.

The Apple iPhone is a good example. The iPhone is a success simply because it is a better designed combination of software and hardware than any of it's competitors. Looked at one way, the iPhone should not exist. The existing cell phone vendors should have long ago come up with something nearly as good.

But they did not. This is where the "one guy" theory would seem to apply on the design side.

The hardware in modern cell phones is almost absurdly powerful, yet I find the end result presented to the user is amazingly bad. From my background in software, physics, and engineering I have a pretty good idea about what should be possible, and so am especially annoyed to find products that - to my mind - are done so badly.

Have to admit that I am still amazed that the fate of multi-billion dollar companies can hinge on something so simple ... but the evidence is pretty clear.