If you sat down to use a computer circa 1991, you’d find yourself working with a machine with computing resources that comprised a fraction of the power that’s now packed into your smartphone. You’d also find yourself working with an interface much less elegant than the one on your phone.
We no longer have to type arcane commands into a terminal just to open a text file. In fact, most consumers would have no idea how to do that even if they wanted to. Yet today, if you’re a network engineer or administrator, there’s a good chance the software interface you sit down to every day isn’t all that different from the one you’d have used in the 1990s.
You might be using a simple command-line interface (CLI). If you’re lucky enough to have a graphical user interface (GUI), it’s probably not especially elegant or user-friendly.
This begs the question: If computing hardware has come so far over the past several decades, and interfaces for consumers at large have also advanced hugely, why are IT professionals still stuck with age-old user experience and design in enterprise applications? Why don’t more of them enjoy sophisticated, efficient interfaces and user experiences?
That’s what I’d like to discuss here, with a special focus on user experience (UX) for networking software.
If consumer interfaces have come so far, why are IT pros still stuck with age-old networking #UX?
Interface inequality: Consumers vs. IT pros
It’s self-evident that UX for consumer software—like smartphone apps and desktop productivity software—has advanced enormously in the past four decades. We’ve gone from clunky CLIs to basic point-and-click GUIs to today’s touch-enabled, GPU-accelerated environments.
This evolution is no accident. It’s the result of the outsize role that consumerization is playing in driving IT innovation. To succeed in IT, you now have to give consumers an excellent all-around experience. An app that performs its core mission well, yet suffers from poor UX, isn’t enough.
That’s one key takeaway from the 2016 Design in Tech Report, which shows that consumers are six times more likely to buy a product when it delivers a positive emotional experience through excellent UX.
The report also highlights how companies are investing more than ever in UX, with venture capital firms hiring more designers in 2015 and 2016 than they did during the previous four years combined. In 2017, Facebook, Google, and LinkedIn increased their design headcount by 65 percent, according to the 2017 report.
Tx Zhuo of Venture Partners confirms this trend, writing, “Enterprise software is in the midst of a revolution” regarding UX. And the revolution will only continue “as developers move away from a purely utilitarian approach to creating software that’s more intuitive, more user-friendly, and able to cater to users’ changing needs.”
As Forbes notes, “User satisfaction, user productivity, process efficiency and collaboration, business agility, and access to critical business information are the top five areas that organizations anticipate the consumerization of IT will have a net positive impact over the next 12 to 18 months.”
Interfaces and admins
So if software companies and the VC firms that back them are investing so heavily in UX talent, why are networking professionals still stuck with archaic interfaces?
As an IT service provider, if you work in networking, you may think consumer-driven UX improvements are outside your realm. You don’t expect a beautiful interface becuase IT pros are used to CLIs or outdated Web-based frontends. That’s just the way things have always been and always will be, right?
And, let’s face it, there’s a group of us, maybe a bigger group than we care to admit, who are a little proud of using a terminal. The fact that not everyone can use it is exactly the point.
But is that pride worth being left out of the design revolution? Why should you have to use an interface that looks like this?
I’m not the only one espousing these thoughts, by the way. Signs that it’s high time for networking apps to join the UX revolution are abundant on Twitter, too, where users write things like:
Doesn’t UX just mean more eye candy?
When you hear “beautiful interfaces,” you might think of screens that are flashy eye candy but not very efficient for getting work done.
It’s true that the prettiest interface isn’t necessarily the best one and that sometimes CLI tools are the best means of doing work. But great design actually improves the usability of software and the productivity of the user. You can have an interface that’s beautiful and elegant yet also works efficiently.
And while the CLI might be the best tool for certain workloads, chances are that if you’re working from the CLI constantly, it’s because you’re busy completing tasks that could be easily automated.
The way of the future is clear—and beautiful. It’s time networking professionals have access to products that deliver the same quality of experience that consumers enjoy.