What’s Behind Sexy

The coolest websites in the world just work. Like Google. You can even misspell something and it somehow figures out what you meant to type. Or sites that allow you to dig deep into detail and related articles, and then provide you with an intuitive way to find your way back out again. Fast, clean, easy-to-use, comprehensive technology is sexy (at least it is to me).

Why is it that so many sites (and web portals and applications) are confusing, difficult to use, clumsy and annoying? It often comes down to mistakenly thinking that technology is like a dishwasher.

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Notice how far we are from sexy right now. On the upside, you install a dishwasher and it works. It doesn’t need security upgrades. Rarely do you refresh its design. Dishes get cleaned without any password resets.

It’s very common for non-techie types, specifically those who are paying for the new website / portal / application, to think of their new technology as a fixed set of functions that gets built and then forgotten about. They want it installed quickly so that they can get on with more important things. They want a dishwasher.

If a website is simple, it may fit the dishwasher analogy. In the world of web technology, however, a static website isn’t where the excitement is. Things start to get interesting as soon you are incorporating tables of data, with feeds coming in from and going out to other systems, with flexible screens where you can see things and change other things, and you can define multiple levels of users with different rights, and stuff like that. Now you are in the world of web applications. When it all ties together, and suddenly your life and the lives of your stakeholders becomes dramatically easier and more effective, you’re running a properly built web application.

A powerful web-based system is like a really cool building. The foundation is the server environment, the design of the room to room flow is the data architecture, the fixtures and furniture placement is the workflow process design, and so forth.

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Okay, it doesn’t look sexy YET, but this is where it all starts, the foundation. In web tech, the foundation is the “stack” (we are partial to Linux, Apache, MySQL, PHP) running in a server environment (we go with scalable secure cloud servers with daily back-ups). Unlike the steel-reinforced concrete under your favorite building, however, all these elements constantly evolve (new versions of PHP, kernel upgrades) and security threats require thorough monitoring with automated defenses.

The data architecture is where a lot of the magic happens. Sometimes that would be black magic, at least on some of the systems Tumblewire has inherited and had to rebuild for our clients. Poorly conceived data structure will cause errors, force manual reconciliations, unwanted duplications, and crippled reporting. Worse, there’s no way to reliably add new functionality. The mess just becomes bigger.

When properly designed, data architecture is like a finely tuned engine that gives you endless joy. The process of achieving exceptional data design is fascinating and complex. We love getting this part right, because we know that it unleashes the full potential that technology can offer. Proper data architecture design opens up your world with sunshine.

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Developing work flow processes is just as important, but you don’t have to get it perfect immediately. It’s usually better to allow flexibility to support an iterative process of refinement with those who are executing the processes.

Back to our building analogy, cool media, shmancy navigation, brand compliant colors, classy fonts … that’s your paint, art work, lamp shades, and even your *ahem* dishwasher. Content? That’s the people inside. They’re kind of important too.

When you are dealing in the world of information and communication, it’s very difficult to imagine everything that is possible. Your dishwasher is never going to change. Great technology will grow with you, empower you, and make everyone’s life easier. You’ll find yourself showing it off, much like you would a beautiful home. I don’t know if that’s sexy, but it is most definitely worthwhile.

Thanks very much to Shauna Ehninger for providing the photo at the top of the retro dishwasher. Please check out her really cool site here: www.meowsk.com

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