Whether it’s consumer devices like the iPhone or apps like Instagram, well-designed products are now all around us. As consumer expectations for design migrate to business, it’s more important than ever to build ad-tech systems that people actually want to use. This is especially important given the number of systems that most people already use every day.
Creating Web-based business applications has been a focus of mine for some time. My first company was a Web design agency where we created sites for corporations like American Express, Aetna and The Hartford. More recently, I worked with a team to develop Pictela, a next-generation rich-media platform. Today, I’m building Namely, an HR platform for media, advertising and technology companies.
Along the way, I’ve learned a few things about creating well-designed software, including:
Keep it simple. Perhaps the most important task in B2B software design is to make the complex seem simple. Business applications are often rich in features, so a lot of thought needs to be given to organizing all the info. For example, our application has only four main menu items. Every new feature must naturally fit within one of those four areas.
Keep it consistent. One blunder in software development is to change the navigation or location of key features depending on where you are in an application. Overly designed software can actually be worse than more basic designs.
Use a grid. One great way to keep things consistent is to overlay an invisible grid on top of each page of an application. This way everything from the logo to the page margins remain consistent. The grid has been used by print designers for years to organize magazine and newspaper layouts.
Understand color. Before I got involved in media and advertising, I studied graphic design. It was in a course called “Color Theory” that I learned about the impact that color can have on a user. Colors that are next to each other on a color wheel are called “analogous” and can create a pleasing feeling. Blue and green is a good example of this — which explains why many applications use these colors. Colors that are opposite from one another on a color wheel like red and green create a sense of excitement.
Use the right fonts. Every font has a specific quality that users respond to. Some fonts are great for software applications, while others are more appropriate for offline media. Also, all fonts move in and out of fashion. What was a hot font a couple years ago may look dowdy today. Professional designers will know what fonts are appropriate for the job at hand.
Add a showstopper. Every software application, even in ad tech, should have at least one visual, must-see feature. It might be a beautiful info graphic or some other interactive tool. This feature is important because it is creative and appeals to the right brain, while most ad tech apps are all about numbers and the left brain.
In the crowded ad-tech landscape of applications, systems and platforms, great design can be used to create a significant competitive advantage.