With the increasing popularity of mobile devices in daily life, workers have become accustomed to switching between gadgets according to the task at hand – smartphones for calls and quick searches, tablets for web browsing and e-mails on the go, and laptops for more time- and labor-intensive activities. But switching devices in the workplace is not always so effortless, especially when it comes to using business intelligence (BI) applications.
A new wave of design options is changing this, making it easier than ever to build and deploy BI apps that can be used on any device without the need for extra development – apps that are clean and modern, and designed for quick consumption of data and taking action. This article covers the trend toward two design concepts: Responsive Design and Metro Design, both of which are essential to next-generation BI applications that increase productivity on all devices. I’ll also explain how arcplan’s BI solutions are leading the way.
In 2013, users will come to expect “BI anywhere,” which puts the burden on designers to create BI apps tailored not only to users’ needs, but also their device preferences – particularly if the organization has a bring your own device policy (BYOD). The intelligent approach – utilizing Responsive Design principles – is to create one application (like a dashboard or report) for all devices, where the layout adapts to the appropriate screen size, resolution, and orientation.
In my last article, I wrote about why arcplan advocates Metro design for business intelligence apps. I discussed how Metro design is great for mobile BI, with speed, intuitive navigation, and motion built in. Today I’d like to address another reason why Metro (or Modern UI) design is ideal for BI apps, like dashboards, scorecards and mobile reports.
Information prioritization. It’s a concept important to every busy person. Wouldn’t it be nice if your phone or tablet would just tell you what’s important?! Now it can thanks to the Metro/Windows 8 concept of “live tiles.”
The fact is that all legacy BI today is infrastructure to manage our stuff. Organizations track thousands of KPIs – so many that we’re unable to keep track of the KPIs themselves. We’ve lost control of the “BI animal” to the point where it’s very common for designers to create new BI content like reports and dashboards, publish them, and forget what happened to them. Then the same reports get created again and again. In many cases, that new content may never be utilized because no one can find it. The result is that BI systems are simply organizing and managing “BI hoarding.”
Last year on this blog, our SVP of Global Marketing Tiemo Winterkamp said that 2012 would be the year that mobile design standards emerge. In the same article, he predicted that Microsoft would be back in a big way with a new design language called Metro that would make mobile apps friendlier than ever. He was right on both counts, except that now Metro is called “Windows 8 design” or “Modern UI Design,” rumored to be because of possible infringement on the name of a company called Metro AG. Either way, Windows 8 is influencing mobile interface design well beyond Microsoft products. In fact, it’s transforming the way we design mobile BI apps − for the better.
Why do mobile apps need special design rules? A parallel is how nearly every company has a mobile version of their website. It’s the same content but it adapts to the user’s device, incorporating larger buttons, bigger fonts, etc. This idea is known as Responsive Design (depending on the target device, a completely adapted layout will be launched). Mobile traffic is currently only 10% of all global web traffic, yet we’ve created a set of design standards for experiencing websites on mobile devices. In the same way, mobile BI use is a small percentage of overall business intelligence usage, but it’s growing and it demands to be accommodated.
So why does arcplan advocate the Windows 8 design style for mobile apps?
One of the hottest topics in software and user experience design right now is a concept formerly called Metro, now known as Windows 8 design. It’s a design language popularized by Windows Phone 7 and further developed in, you guessed it, Windows 8. And it’s the latest paradigm shift in technology design, which is now all about users being a click away from their most needed information and interacting with content in unique ways.
Windows 8 design differs from traditional user interface (UI) standards, whereby access to content was controlled by keyboard and mouse actions and files could only be organized in folders or subfolders. The Windows 8 interface is a typography-based design created to speed up usage by eliminating extraneous graphics in favor of large tiles with clean typeface. It’s “content as UI.” The goal is to allow users to navigate smoothly and intuitively, even on mobile devices.
Since Microsoft came out with this design standard, arcplan has moved in its direction, favoring tiles, saturated colors without shadows or reflections, and easy-to-use navigation. We’ve incorporated “Metro” design concepts into our product demos, free trial, and arcplan Mobile BI apps. As we’ve been influenced by this new UI, many others have as well. It’s offering a fresh approach to software development that is transforming business intelligence dashboard designs, especially those for mobile devices.
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 Amazon.com 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.