We just launched PartsList--a free application to help engineers document their designs, so everyone around here has design on the brain.
Design is always a fun topic for discussion, because everyone has strong opinions when it comes to design.
Some people are on one end of the spectrum, and think that "design" is what works, what is functional—how it looks is in service to what it does. In other words, if something does what it was designed to do, then it is beautiful, because performance is beautiful.
Others say, design equals aesthetics. Design is more like a skin. It’s superficial, yet it’s extremely important, because people make decisions to use a product on their emotions. In this context, design is about sucking people into a frame of mind that is heavily influenced by the visual.
I feel that when it comes to manufacturing, functionality trumps aesthetics every time. (Unless you're Apple.) And this attitude is really reflected in the tools created for manufacturers.
As someone in the manufacturing software business, I personally feel that manufacturing software often supports functionality in its design, but tends to leave aesthetics and “user-friendliness” far behind. While it does what you need it to do, a lot of the products out there are often limited in scope, difficult to navigate and inflexible—especially when you are used to using some of the fancy products designed for marketing and sales.
Speaking from my experience at Arena, we’ve tried to integrate design into the world of manufacturing software, and we sometimes find ourselves alone in thinking this is important. Perhaps we think a little differently because our founders had a background of product design and engineering, but we believe that design makes a huge difference in the amount of customer value—particularly when you’re dealing with a complex domain.
But is this a pointless endeavor? Especially because, when it comes to design, everybody’s right and everybody’s wrong. Do you think functionality is improved by aesthetics, or do you think the two are unrelated? Is aesthetic design in manufacturing software matter just a “nice-to-have” feature, or is it a critical part of creating a usable product?