Business Application UI Design


Basically I'm going to go a bit broad here and ask a few questions to get a bit of a picture of how people are handling UI these days.

Lately I've found it pretty easy to do some fancy things with UI design and with WPF specifically we're finding new ways to do layouts that are better looking and more functional for the user, but in contrast one of the business focused guys at our local .NET User Group wouldn't even think of using WPF until it had a datagrid that he could use to make Excel like input forms.

  1. So basically, have you rethought the design of your business apps as you move to Web/WPF/Silverlight designs, because for us at least - in winforms we kept things fairly functional and uniform, or are you trying to keep that "known" UI?

  2. Would a dedicated design guy (for larger teams), or a dev with more design chops rank higher when looking at hiring these days? (Check out what a designer did for Scott Hanselman's BabySmash and Microsoft's Prism demo)

  3. Are there any design hints/tips/guidelines you use for your UI - especially for WPF?

  4. What sites would you recommend for design?

9/2/2008 10:56:14 PM

Accepted Answer

I recommend that you read Steve Krug's Don't Make Me Think first. The book has a great checklist of things that you have to take into consideration when designing your UIs. While it's focused on web usability, a lot of the lessons therein are valuable even to desktop application designers.

That being said, whether you use Windows forms or WPF or Flash or whatever new and shiny thing that comes around is, it is of utmost importance to hire either a) a real designer, or b) a development guy with a lot of UI design experience, either of which who can provide you a serious URL for their design portfolio. It will help a lot not only in improving the design of your application but also unburdening your developers from thinking about UI design, and allow them to focus on the back-end code.

As for "business focused" guys -- it would be really great if you would get the opinion of actual customers and stake holders, and have them do some usability testing for your application. It's their opinion that would matter most.

I think it would not be difficult to get a good designer up to speed on Microsoft Expression Blend to whip up some good XAML designs that your team could use to come up with a really good product.

6/22/2009 7:42:57 AM

Here's a great screen cast where Billy Hollis goes into many of these issues:


I think WPF can greatly improve user experience.

However there are not much business oriented controls out there which means you need to do a lot by yourself.

As for designers I think it's really hard to find WPF designer now days, it still would be a dedicated programmer rather then design-only guy.

I hope that this situation will change in nearest feature.

I think it's worth at least start experimenting with WPF to be able to compete with upcoming solutions.


@aku "I think WPF can greatly improve user experience."

I believe that WPF has amazing potential as a tool to make UIs more creative and better suited to the actual data that is being displayed, BUT..............

Just the mere act of using WPF isn't going to make great UIs appear out of nowhere.

A great carpenter may use the best wood working tools, but that doesn't mean that if you picked up his tools you'd all of a sudden be popping out fine furniture.

Using WPF over HTML/Flash/WinForms/etc just increases your potential .
If that's potential for ugliness or potential for beauty is up to you.


The whole concept of re-thinking a UI of an existing application is dependent on the target audience. For a boring business application, like accounting or budgeting, it may even be counter-productive. For one, users of those kinds of apps may have used a similar looking and feeling UI for years and years, and second, looking too "cute" and colorful can even bring a perception of toy-ishness (is that a word?) with it.

We have done several new projects with the latest & greatest UI gadgets, and for the most part for new applications it seems to be a good chance to get some feedback from a live audience. Then it gets easier to translate that feedback into existing applications.

We also have some apps which are still actively developed (and used obviously), where the UI looks almost like in Windows 3.1. They're awful, gray, clunky, and our only real designer is always trying to get a permission to bring it to the current centrury - but the biggest customer actively refuses this. They say it's just fine, people know how to use it, and it works even in their oldest computers.


@David H Aust That's part of the reason for asking the question - with these newer tools like WPF that lend themselves to providing newer, more intricate, and at the same time simpler for the user, interfaces that we might need to adapt to new ways of doing things.

And trying to find out who else is adapting/interested and what they are doing, and where they get some inspiration, knowledge or help :)

IE: This is me being proactive about change in possibly the slackest manner ever, short of actively googling :)

^ That was a joke, to make it clear, I'm actually pretty active about learning new stuff, I'm just finding some of the crowdsourcing stackoverflow vs googling pretty interesting :)