Part 01: What is design and why design matters

Our industry is in the middle of a dramatic shift today. For so long the IT-industry was all about features and functions. Adjectives like robustness, scalability, performance, were the important talking points. And now more than ever experience, the user experience, is at the core of what all of our customers need. You could call it experience innovation in the enterprise. Some people have also called it the consumerization of IT. I like to refer to it as the humanization of IT.

There was an article that I read over the summer that talked about what they did at Apple with regards design. This was an ex-Apple designer. And the point that he was trying to make was he wanted to demystify some things that people conceived about apple. Number one, he said, Apple didn’t have the most number of designers. Also, he said that apple didn’t necessarily have the best designers. But what he did say is that at Apple, at the core, everybody cared about the user experience, whether it was the designer or the architect or somebody even kind of involved in the packaging. And that kind of value system, those cultures, really was pervasive within Apple. I think that thing has to happen for our entire IT industry as well. At SAP, hopefully you have seen that we have done a lot internally to really bring that design process, the design culture into what we do. And hopefully you have seen that that’s reflective in some of our new products and solutions. But I feel that in general that that transformation, that journey has to happen for the entire industry.

Good design and designing for People

Good design brings people joy! It helps us do things we care about and helps us to connect to people that we care about. Good user interfaces can have a tremendous impact on both individual abilities to accomplish things and societies’ as a whole. Graphical user interfaces have put computing on hundreds of millions of desks. Enabling us to do things like create documents and share photos, interact with family, and find information. Conversely bad design cost time, money and lives. Medically devices, airplane accidents and nuclear disasters are just a few domains where bad user interfaces have cost serious injury, even deaths. When gets me is that when I have to use my headset at my desk. I do have two connectors. The left one is for my telephone, the right one for my pc. Everytime I change the device I have to change the connection.

Example for Bad Design

Example for Bad Design

Crazy! But it’s not just the dramatic reasons that good design can be so transformative. We are interact with in a hundreds of websites, apps, ticket kiosks, all sorts of physical, digital and combined information and user experiences. And let’s say that the friction caused by bad design causes Americans 10 minutes of delay each day. Now there are three hundred million Americans. So just in America along that would be three billion person minutes a day or eighteen billion person hours per year. This is an enormous amount of time and if you think about the problems in the world and the opportunities facing society, we could put these eighteen billions person hours to much better use. At its best, good design often becomes invisible.

Good design focuses on results not tools

When you think about making a dinner, the first thought that comes to mind is probably not “Oh, great! I get to use the knife.” The thought that comes to your mind probably is “I need to chop up some vegetables.” When you think about having a tea, are you really excited that you get to use a tea pot or a kettle? Or, is it a prospect of having a nice cup of tea? The case is the same when you need clean clothes. Most people would not get too excited about using a washing machine. What you really need is clean clothes. The washing machine is just a tool to fulfill your need. And, in other words, people are result-focused. A washing machine might actually not even be your preferred method of reaching this result.


“Let’s all remember that a good design equals removal of all nonvalue add work for the user while still having a laser focus on the results.”


So, for a user when an idea for something or a need occurs they will look for a tool or interface to reach the wanted result. And it’s the result at the end of the day what’s important and not the tool itself or the interface. We should be very conscious of this. As too often, as we design applications and develop applications we get stuck at focusing on the tool itself rather than on what the user really wants, which is the result. The other concept to keep in mind is that as users want to reach the result, they want to do this with minimal effort from their side.

 Introduction to the language of design


Language of design

Before we get into more details around design, let me clarify some general terminology. I’m not a designer. But when I focussed on creating absolutely highly usable applications I was looking for design patterns. I founded a course of SAP about Design for NON-Designers which I really like. The text you read here is sometimes a simple copy of it. It outpoints the right issues for applications.

Not directly related to design, but absolutely vital to design are personas, storyboards and use cases. We won’t go into much detail around any of these in this class, but keep in mind, that these are vital prerequisites for any design work.

Personas describe who the solution is for and what their needs and motivations are. Storyboards describe the user journey in context of performing a task and illustrate where potential software solutions might help the persona. Use cases describe a very specific task and the steps the user will take to reach the goal of this Task.

I like to think about the design process in two main phases. One is conceptual design and the second one is what I call production design. With the solution, specifications becoming more concrete in each phase. We will go into more details on some of this terms in a minute. The conceptual design phase consists of wireframes, floor plans, early interaction flows, and typically the solution architecture. In the production design phase we talk about Interaction design, visual design and user interaction gets developed, data & functional design happens.

Let’s talk about wireframes some more. Wireframes outline what is on the page. They depict the layout, the interface elements, the navigation, and how they all work together. Here are some examples. Wireframes can be hand drawn sketches or more high fidelity mock-ups. Interaction design describes the application behavior in response to user interactions. Interaction design happens later in the process when the wireframes have been tested and iterated. Interaction design specifies the details of where your UI elements or User Experience elements are located, what they are called, and how the user interacts with the application. Individually designed screens are than tied together in an overall interaction flow describing the flow of user interfaces. Visual design conveys the mood of the application and will have direct impact on how the user feels about your product. It describes the icons, colors, fonts, and images to be used. Visual design often also includes elements of a corporate brand such as icons or color.

Why we should develop well designed Business Intelligence Applications

I think that this question is not really asked enough in Business intelligence Projects and in my eyes, only a few persons WORLDWIDE can develop well designed Business Intelligence applications. The reason why we should do this is because user want to communicate with data shown in applications as well as with other colleagues in order to making business decisions. But when applications are not well designed than users will not use the applications to communicate and making decisions and then the whole effort for data extraction, loading, modeling, visualization is useless.


“The design of applications for users is the most important task for Business Intelligence Initiatives and should be considered first. If not, the Business Intelligence Manager does a bad job.”


About Tobias Riedner
Tobias Riedner foundet in 2015. He works and worked as innovator, consultant, analyst and educator in the fields of business intelligence and data warehousing. He learned a lot from the best consultants, managers und educators in the past and shares his knowledge worldwide. He works for a steady growing traditional company which is a leader in industry 4.0.