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What's more important: Functionality or the UI

Got an instant message from a buddy today asking me what I felt was more important for an application: excellent functionality, or a bleeding-edge user interface. My gut-reaction was to say "functionality - UIs aren't as important"... but I started to think of all of the applications that I've seen over the years that had some amazing functionality, but that's lackluster UI kept the user adoption numbers down. Why is that? Well, people are prejudiced by what they feel a "killer app" should look like. It's plain and simple, and an ugly part of human nature.

It's the reason there's such a title as "UI Consultant" - Good software companies employ UI Consultants to help them improve their applications, to streamline their solutions, and to make them more accessible. And if good software companies take such measures, shouldn't us good software developers? I'm not saying that you should go hire a UI guy for $250/hr. so he can tell you that you should use a gradient fill on your title bars - but you should take the UI of your applications into consideration - they're the face of your solution.

It's not to say that we should abandon application function for pretty gradient bars and stock images. I think the ideal is finding a balance between delivering the excellent function, while also delivering a clear, crisp, and user-friendly user interface.

I also think UI considerations greatly depend on the target audience for the solution. For example, there are plenty "functional" applications that I've written over the past few years that have been "for IT eyes only" - thus, I didn't need to play around too much with a pretty UI. Marketing and Sales folks however wouldn't touch some of these solutions with a 10-foot pole.

I considered going on tonight... I had an idea to talk about Notes-based UIs. I wanted to talk about how it always struck me that the Notes-based UIs (which often consist of a 3-frame banner/nav/content frameset) don't compare to the majority of web-based UIs. The NUIs (for lack of a better term) result in 20+ tabs being opened across the top of the client, while WUIs often replace the current browser content with it's intended/linked-to content, resultant in a single instance of the browser. I actually came up with a pretty slick (but in truth not all that creative) way to mirror the functionality, but I realized that 1) I'm dead tired and need to go to sleep, and 2) if I were to attempt to mirror WUIs and not NUIs, I would only be benefiting first-time LND users - anyone who's used Lotus Notes for more than a week would be expecting a new tab to launch on every mouse-click. And when it didn't, they'd be as lost as most people are the first time they use Lotus Notes!

About the author: Chris Toohey

Thought Leadership, Web & Mobile Application Development, Solutions Integration, Technical Writing & Mentoring

A published developer and webmaster of, Chris Toohey specializes in platform application development, solutions integration, and evangelism of platform capabilities and best practices.

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