Business Intelligence Blog from arcplan

Responsive Design + Metro Design in Business Intelligence Applications


Recently we have seen a dramatic change when it comes to deciding which screen size to design a new report or dashboard for. It's always been a struggle for BI app designers to optimize applications to fit to the different sizes of desktop PCs and laptops, but adding mobile devices like smartphones and tablet PCs to the mix makes it even more complex.

The most natural solution of the past was to design two different views – one for the desktop and one for mobile deployment. But we no longer recommend this approach as the lines between different device categories are blurring.

Netbooks are encroaching on notebook and iPad territory, coming closer to their display capabilities. iPad has initiated a storm of new devices from other vendors with similar screen size. Even worse (from an app design point of view), Internet giant launched its Kindle Fire, whose screen size sits between traditional smartphones and tablet PCs. And now new devices like the Galaxy Note and the Galaxy III by Samsung, whose screen sizes are between the iPhone and the Kindle Fire, have found their own fans.

Although size does matter, screen size is not the sole point to consider when designing BI apps. There's orientation to consider – which devices are optimized for portrait or landscape orientation – and on top of this, different vendors also offer a wide variety of pixel density – defined by pixels per Inch (PPI). For example, the new iPhone 4S with its Retina Display is able to display more pixels on its 3.5" display than a decent netbook.

For app designers, it is impossible to create separate reports for every device, especially at organizations where BYOD (bring your own device) is the standard. This would end up being a total nightmare from a maintenance point of view. So what can we do? It's time for a new and intelligent approach that will allow us to use one app and one report or dashboard layout for all devices.

As the vendor with the most flexible analytical applications and app design environments, arcplan already provides layout management with its recent 7.2 release, which allows designers to define particular reporting elements that will automatically resize and use the available screen space for an optimal look.

This is only the beginning of creating a fully adaptive user interface. It's both exciting and challenging when you need to create one single application that provides different layouts for various devices. To achieve this, new concepts need to be applied to business intelligence and analytical applications that are known in the website design world as "Responsive Design."

Whereas layout management provides the option of adapting an existing layout to make it more flexible, responsive web design goes a step further. Depending on the target device, a completely adapted layout will be launched. Screen composition of objects and the menu structure are dynamically adjusted to serve the device in the best way. What does this look like?
Responsive Design concepts can also be adapted and used in business intelligence and analytical applications. arcplan already provided a glimpse into this future at our recent partner conference, arc|platform, in March 2012. In combination with the Metro design language – developed by Microsoft – arcplan demonstrated a "Responsive Design" concept that will be used by future arcplan user interfaces.

Metro design has been around longer than Windows Phone 7 or the upcoming Windows 8. It has its roots much earlier in Microsoft history, e.g. in the Windows Media Center. Interestingly for us at arcplan is that the current Metro design correlates well with a "Responsive Design" approach and the various input options of the different devices (mouse, keyboard, touch, etc.).

Metro design for business intelligence applications will not require a Windows 8 system or any Microsoft product. It is all based on the latest Web technologies such as HTML5 and CSS3 – also widely employed by Microsoft and others. arcplan's goal is to create a "unified user experience across all arcplan product and for all devices." Our development prototypes show very promising results:
With Garner predicting that by 2013, mobile phones will overtake PCs as the most common Web access device worldwide and that in the same year, 33% of BI functionality will be consumed via handheld devices, app designers have no choice but to prepare for this future now. Responsive Design may well be the impetus for Gartner's predictions. It's a virtuous cycle of user demands and Web and app designer adjustments that will ultimately lead to mobile's domination in the BI world and beyond. arcplan is already on board – is your BI platform?

Image 1 Source:
Image 2: ©arcplan 2012

Stefan Spittank

About Stefan Spittank

I work out of arcplan's headquarters in Germany as the Senior Manager of GUI Development. I am responsible for our collaborative BI solution, arcplan Engage, and our migration to Metro design style. I'm passionate about providing our customers with a good user experience. Connect with me on LinkedIn or follow me on Twitter @spittank.