Different But The Same Is Familiar

One of the first projects we did for a large multinational in 2001 was the porting and customisation of open source applications for a new concept Linux PDA.  This PDA was way ahead of its time, with Bluetooth, WiFi, landscape mode view, email and browser.  It predated the Nokia 770 by 1/2 dozen years easily.

One of the main applications required was an email client.  Now in 2001, the choice of good graphical-based Linux email clients was thin on the ground.  Bonus points were awarded for calendar and contact management.

We chose Evolution 0.9 for a number of reasons.  We were already headed down a GTK path and didn’t want to start with KDE applications as well, and it did a lot of what we wanted.

It was also attractive to the customer because  it bore a striking resemblance to Microsoft Outlook.  This was also what killed it, you see it the customer didn’t want it to look too much like Outlook!

FFWD -> 2009

There is a lot of familiar-but-different stuff going on.  Two new products that stand out are:

Toshiba’s new TG01:
http://tinyurl.com/bq4w9x
http://tinyurl.com/dalppk

And HTC’s Touchflow Windows Mobile:
http://tinyurl.com/6z7nsm

As you can see, there is an emphasis on taking the standard Windows Mobile offering and customising it with the Toshiba and HTC look and brand.

The same thing is true for Google Android.  When / if companies like Toshiba do make an Android mobile, they will want to create a unique GUI for the same reasons.

Differentiation of product is mandatory, its branding, familiarity and its important.

The key features of a good UI are:

  1. Familiarity
  2. Ease of use

You see, the customer wants it to be familiar, but not too familiar.  They don’t want a copy of their competitions application, but they want their application to be easily understood.

Its a fine line.

At FST we have found that separation of the GUI from the code is vital.  It lets the customer change the look and feel at will and is what gives our customers their uniqueness.

We have gone to great lengths to create a system that allows the customer to very easily change all aspects of the user interface without having to plunge into the code.

This means small tweaks and big GUI changes alike are easy to execute and don’t require code change.

Mar, 15, 2009

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