July 31, 2012
In an era when bring your own device is becoming a common practice and cloud computing gives individuals access to corporate data and applications anytime and anywhere, one-size-fits-all graphical user interfaces will not get the job done.
It is becoming increasingly common for employees to, over the course of their day, access company data and applications from a smartphone or tablet in addition to a traditional personal computer. Because screen sizes and control methods vary so substantially between computing platforms, the GUI has to be designed to fit each device type.
This trend, though relevant in almost every sector, is especially clear in healthcare. When hospitals made the initial transition to electronic health record systems, most of the applications were built to be used on a desktop PC and, in some cases, a laptop. Whether the software used a web interface or a dedicated program, a single interface would usually get the job done. However, more physicians are beginning to use their mobile devices in the workplace, creating an environment in which they are attempting to access patient data in applications designed for traditional PCs on the 4-inch screen of a smartphone and using touch-based controls instead of a mouse. Those interfaces do not mix well.
Similarly, traditional businesses are facing a situation in which their workers may start off the day with an hour of work on a commuter rail. During this time, an employee may use a mobile application to access corporate systems, before getting to the office and accessing data through a desktop PC. The employee may then again use the mobile web when an issue comes up during a lunch break or on the train ride home. These operational capabilities offer organizations considerable productivity gains because they allow employees to get the job done in a more flexible way, but they also depend heavily on well-designed applications.
Workers using mobile phones alongside traditional computing options may access the same solution through their desktop, a mobile application and a mobile website in the same day. Therefore, application developers need to adapt their GUI design principles to allow the app to function equally well on any of these platforms. This can be accomplished through separate versions of an application that are purchased in bundled forms or an application interface that is aware of what kind of device it runs on. Regardless of how developers make the GUI work on diverse platforms, the process is an increasingly important part of application design.