Truly great software is great for many reasons, and one of the most important is the user experience.

UX experts can describe the specific factors that make great software great. Speed, design, conformance to a platform’s UI guidelines: Those all matter. Ease of use, compared to ease of learning. A powerful first impression. The correct balance of extreme simplicity vs. depth of functionality. Graphic design. Typography. Colors. Originality. Convenience. Intuitiveness. Elegance. Responsiveness.

The list goes on and on.

Say you’ve got a requirement for a killer business application. If nobody likes it, people won’t use it, and the software will fail in the marketplace.

Sure, if you are building in-house software, the CEO can mandate its adoption. For a short time, anyway. We all know stories about software the CEO adopted and which, very shortly, became expensive shelfware.

The best software today must be immediately useful, delivering value to both the individual user and to the organization. No owner’s manual. No on-line help. No training. No months of rollout. Of course, the UI metaphor will depend on the runtime environment: lots of drop-down menus and overlapping windows for desktop software. Pages and hyperlinks for Web apps. Big buttons for mobile apps.

It’s all different, it’s all good—and it’s all really hard to get right. Even Apple, famed for its incredible attention to detail, has released its share of hard-to-use stinkers for both Mac and iOS, and the beautiful UI of the Windows 8 desktop doesn’t always extend below the surface.

What I’m saying is that attention to UX detail needs to be as important as attention to the use cases, the algorithms, the data security, the caching and buffering, the workflow, and all the other moving pieces of software.

For any non-trivial application, UX must be a forethought, not an afterthought. It must be budgeted and tested. Even though it’s harder to measure the benefits, a UI designer’s gifts must be as cherished as the DBA’s much-praised ability to optimize SQL queries.

Two resources to suggest:

Infragistics, known as makers of UX toolkits, has started a new consulting practice, called D3. According to the company, “D3 takes its name from its unique 3-phase approach to Discovery, Design, and Development. The process, which distinguishes the group from other Software Development/User Experience providers, allows for the team to consider users and their needs, and guarantees that D3‘s designs can be built within the constraints of the individual project before diving headfirst into the development of features or applications, greatly reducing the risks to deployment.” Check ‘em out.

You can also learn from Jakob Nielsen and Donald Norman, the gurus of usability and founders of the Nielsen Norman Group. If you haven’t read their groundbreaking book, “The Design of Everyday Things,” please do so. On this page, you can subscribe to their Alertbox newsletter and blog. You won’t regret it.

How important is user experience and design to your organization? Write me at

Alan Zeichick, founding editor of SD Times, is principal analyst of Camden Associates.