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Andy Brice
Successful Software

Doug Nebeker ("Doug")

Jonathan Matthews
Creator of DeepTrawl, CloudTrawl, and LeapDoc

Nicholas Hebb
BreezeTree Software

Bob Walsh
host, Startup Success Podcast author of The Web Startup Success Guide and Micro-ISV: From Vision To Reality

Patrick McKenzie
Bingo Card Creator

Desktop slickness 2013

I'm wondering how much "slickness" (or even "sleekness", pick your texture-to-image metaphor) matters  in terms of sales of desktop applications. 

I've made an effort to make a desktop application look fairly tasty, but on the other hand it doesn't super-cool, either.  It uses native widgets, with a little bit of background effects here and there.  By 1995--2005 (ish) standards it would look like a pretty sweet little desktop application, with pleasant icons, even use of screen real estate, consistency, good contrast, etc.  But in the age of Windows 2008's "metro" look, iPhone apps' look, post-Web 2.0, etc., etc., I'm wondering if it looks a little like the Oldsmobile of applications.

I wouldn't be concerned if this were a B2B app, a utility app, or a development tool, since customers will view those more *functionally* and less *aesthetically*.  But it's more a tool for personal use, and then, I think, eye candy issues might matter.

For an example of a now-old/classic very slick and eye-candy GUI, think in terms of WinAmp.  For a not-so-slick one, think of 7zip.

Racky Send private email
Wednesday, March 13, 2013
There's certainly a bit split between platforms:

- Windows users don't seem to care that much. That said your UI shouldn't look scruffy; it sounds like you're ok to me.

- Mac users really do seem to care & their OS has some unique conventions.

Personally I try to polish just as a matter of professional pride if nothing else; DeepTrawl is currently due a refresh - it over uses glass & gradients while the fashion is now subtle patterns, flat colours & prominent typography.

I think one time a L&F overhaul is a good idea is for a major update. I  like to upgrade the L&F to reflect the upgrade to the internals (just in  case some people stop at first impressions when considering a paid upgrade).
Jonathan Matthews Send private email
Wednesday, March 13, 2013
I think that depends on your competition.

The first desktop twitter client could have been non-slick as long as it had the functionality.

Today a twitter client to be competitive would have to be better than some very slick clients.

Or look at mail client Sparrow - a very mature market attacked very successfully based on how different/better the UI was.

Psychologically speaking, it has been shown that people view pretty things as more luxurious (i.e. willing to pay more) and they trust them more (more likely to pay).

So it always help but is not always necessary to be successful.
Krzysztof Kowalczyk Send private email
Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Your link from another thread is a great example of that for me (www.kaleidoscopeapp.com). Know I'm fickle and a marketers dream but damn... I'd probably pay twice the amount for that as for a competitor with an average website.

Makes me wonder if I should be paying for an awesome bespoke redesign of my site.
Jonathan Matthews Send private email
Wednesday, March 13, 2013
You seem to be talking in terms of pure aesthetics. Reducing friction to sale is what's most important, and the all round UX is what's important, not the fact that the visuals were built in the latest API. OMG! it's Web 2.0... OMG! it's flat look... OMG! it's skeuomorphic and so on.

BCC is hardly the prettiest app, but there are so many sometimes *unseen* improvements to make purchasing the thing easy.

That said, if it's a crowded market you're in I suppose you need to do what you can.
elstensoftware Send private email
Wednesday, March 13, 2013
From my experience people care more about features than about shiny.
Jeremy Morassi Send private email
Wednesday, March 13, 2013
@Jeremy: I don't think anyone would disagree.

Shiny without features is useless => no sales.

Features without shiny is useful => sales.

Features with shiny is useful *and* shiny => more sales.

In other words, features vs. shiny is a false dichotomy. You want to be in the "more sales" quadrant and have both.
Krzysztof Kowalczyk Send private email
Wednesday, March 13, 2013
> "Your link from another thread is a great example of that for me (www.kaleidoscopeapp.com).

Jonathan, that's exactly what got me thinking about all this!  :D
Racky Send private email
Wednesday, March 13, 2013
OK, so how about some votes on what is best... Looking around at some of the few examples here...

- Regular ("3D") buttons or flat buttons? 
- A single frame (like Word) or multiple frames (like The GIMP)?
- Background gradients or not?
- 8 pt font for application text (like a native Win message dialog), or chunkier text (12 pt font?)
- Decorative images like logos on the application (like DeepTrawl uses), or not?
- Classic blue-ish color scheme or other schemes?  Or user customizable colors?
- Anything really often the reservation, like custom frame shapes (rounded corners), transparent parts, etc.
- What else???

I know the Right Answer is "it all depends on your needs, app, etc.", but I'm just inviting spitballing.

Thanks, Krzysztof, for the mention of Sparrow.  In their case, I was surprised at how simple and flat their aesthetic was, but apparently people loved it in that case.  That's a Mac story, though, per Jonathan's point.
Racky Send private email
Wednesday, March 13, 2013
(That was supposed to be "off the reservation", meaning kind of wild, not "often the reservation".  Glitch in the Matrix)
Racky Send private email
Wednesday, March 13, 2013
A side-note: I think people misread the Mac vs. Windows situation.

It's not driven by users i.e. it's not that Windows users don't care about polished software but Mac users do.

Having polished software will increase your chances of success on both platforms.

The difference is driven by developers. There are at least 2 factors:

1. Even if we assume that Sturgeon's Law (90% of everything is crap) is equally true on both platforms, in absolute numbers the number of unpolished apps will be higher on Windows because there is more apps, giving an illusion that Windows apps are more crappy.

2. Apple's own applications were much more polished than Microsoft's (much less today, but certainly in the past).

Apple was setting a higher bar by showing how to do it well.

We all learn by first copying others and Mac developers had much better source material to copy. Then they were copying other successful Mac developers. This built a culture of heavy emphasis on design in the Mac dev community.

And I'm only bringing this up so that people won't think "I'm building for Windows therefore I can get away with sub-standard design because users of Windows don't care". They do care.

Sparrow would likely be as successful on Windows as it was on Mac - writing a similar program is actually a great opportunity for someone with serious Windows expertise.

In fact, if you have Windows programming skills but are not good with coming up good software ideas, it's a great business meta-model: find polished, successful Mac software that doesn't have similarly polished Windows alternative and port it to Windows.
Krzysztof Kowalczyk Send private email
Wednesday, March 13, 2013

I think to an extent you're right about the split between Mac / Win being somewhat cultural among developers (not users). But I do believe there's also an element of developers having to be more into athletics on the Mac because users demand it.

I believe people who value athletics are drawn to pay more for Apple hardware (I know there are other reasons they pay more for it but this is certainly one), therefore to cater for them you must up your game athletically. The good thing is they've already proved they're willing to pay for this experience.

If this sounds like snobbery I don't mean it that way. I pay more to have a Mac as my laptop partly for athletic reasons (more sexy than any other hardware I've see). On the other hand I thought the basic L&F of OSX was inferior to Win 7 at the time when Win 7 came out (Unfortunately I can't seem to get into Win 8 so things are slipping back towards the Mac for me there).

Of course this is all IMHO etc. Occasionally users say DeepTrawl could look nicer on the Mac but never complain on windows even though 70% of DeepTrawl customers are on Windows. Of course that could be because I primarily use it myself on Windows & write my code there.
Jonathan Matthews Send private email
Wednesday, March 13, 2013
"how about some votes on what is best"
Buttons:  Ideally, buttons are only used if you need to toggle the selected state.  If it's a link, highlight the text or image and change your cursor.
Single/multiple frames:  In theory dockable frames should be more intuitive, in practice, go for simplicity.  Never, ever emulate GIMP's UI.
Colour gradients:  yes, for backgrounds only, gives a sense of depth and is very easy on the eyes.
Type size:  no smaller than the smallest element on the screen, but smaller is generally better than unnaturally big.  Users adjust their distance to the screen to read the smallest type, and don't like to move away.
User customizable colours:  Avoid at all costs.  Automatically coordinate with OS themes.
Howard Ness Send private email
Wednesday, March 13, 2013
"I pay more to have a Mac as my laptop partly for athletic reasons"
That must be a typo, did you mean aesthetic?  Admit it, you buy a Mac for conspicuous consumption, not to exercise your artistic sensibilities.  Depending on who you are trying to impress, you might be better off buying $200 jeans.
Howard Ness Send private email
Thursday, March 14, 2013
"developers having to be more into athletics on the Mac because users demand it"
Mac users demand that apps look like Apple developed them.  Which is all part of the tightly controlled user experience that Apple uses to give its hardware a cachet in the market, especially with consumers who desperately don't want their computer illiteracy to show.
Howard Ness Send private email
Thursday, March 14, 2013
> Admit it, you buy a Mac for conspicuous consumption

I don't want to make this a Mac / PC /Linux flame war (& they erupt so easily!) so this is my last word on the subject. But yes, I will admit there is that side to my character. This is probably one reason amongst several I prefer a Mac as my laptop.
Jonathan Matthews Send private email
Thursday, March 14, 2013

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