The other day, I was on a panel of 4 pundits where an audience member asked whether we felt Microsoft would approve a Metro app that was data heavy. The visual I got was a data grid application, something perhaps written in Access, VB, FoxPro, or some other visual designer at a time when raw data access was thought to be a good thing.
I spoke pretty candidly about the fact that if you’re making the effort to port to Windows 8 (or to the iPad, for that matter), you’re doing your users a disservice to bring these old apps (as I somewhat theatrically noted) “kicking and screaming from the past onto your tablets”.
If an organization is investing in tablet hardware (iPad or Windows 8 – it doesn’t matter), and you’re just “porting” your apps over without taking the time to stop and consider how users actually use the applications to get their job done, and how you can make that task more efficient through your redesign, then you need to ask yourself 1) Why are you porting, and 2) Why are you trying to use tablets and touch?
In Windows, it is my belief that data grids and input heavy form-based applications unfortunately became a common go-to UX paradigm. It wasn’t that they were efficient for users (they aren’t), it wasn’t that they helped users get more done fast (they don’t). It was the fact that you had a database on the backend, and a need for users to put data into it. As a result, raw input from forms into a database became the norm.
Stop doing that. Really. Stop it.
Whether your organization is examining the iPad, Windows 8, or even both of them (consider it carefully, as the design approach to apps on each is fundamentally different), take a chance to think (ahem) outside of the box. Take advantage of the design aesthetic of the platform you’re looking at porting to, and follow those design guidelines. Make the most of touch affordances, sensors, and the screen real-estate that you have allotted to your application. Be vary wary of writing your application in a non-native approach. If you don’t design to the platform, it will be very apparent every time a user tries to use the application.
To that end, the touch-first interface of Windows 8 (and the touch-only interface of iOS – there is no mouse) mean that you need to think carefully about design, positioning of UI elements, and workflow in a way that you likely never have before in an internal application.
That’s a good thing.
It shouldn’t have ever been acceptable to give design and workflow – how a user actually performs tasks with the application – the short shrift. But somewhere along the way, it did. In a time where we’re all trying to pinch pennies and make the most of our technology investments, actually taking the time to design an application to save users time can result in literal savings over just “throwing something together”, or pulling forward the application that had been thrown together several years ago.
Wherever your tablet path takes you – take the time to stop and consider design. And don’t try to pull your legacy applications forward. Either make the most of the platform – or stay on your current one instead.