The Architecture of Glances- A New Paradigm

Icons and Glances are changing software as we know it. Thanks to the Apple Watch, there is a new paradigm shift happening in software today. This revolution is based upon the idea of glances. Software glances could be described as ‘roadsign-like’ icons where needed information is viewed very quickly in, well, a single glance.

What are software icons in their most basic form? They are visual representations of some snippet of information or a destination where you might need to go next. For example, an icon for a customer could be the silhouette of a person’s head. Another example could be a receipt book for the representation of payment(s). And, a settings or preferences area might be represented by a gear. In usage, these icons would be placed on layouts to indicate where you might want to travel to by a single click. So, on a customer layout, a payment ‘receipt book’ icon would take you to that customer’s payments.

Perhaps the best example of glances, in software, is the use of icons modified by content counts. Another type of glance is one that filters a large-ish amount of data into a small tidbit. For example, a customer may have a handful of contact numbers and email addresses, but prefers you to use only one or two. The filtered displaying of only those preferred contacts is another form of ‘glanceable’ info. (By the way, I love that newish word ‘glanceable’…. it conveys what it means so quickly.)

So why use icons? Why not just have a button that says “View Payments” instead of an icon? It turns out your eyes can perceive an icon’s meaning much faster than it can parse a set of letters into a concept with meaning. And the difference is dramatic. Perhaps 5X faster. Wow! This difference is why the best road signs have few or no words. For example, have you seen some of the new McDonald’s signs on the interstate highways? Some of them simply show their golden arches, with “3 mi” right below it, indicating the next McDonald’s is 3 miles ahead. This is a perfect example of glanceable content. It is instantly accessible , with no words! Brilliant!  Now, go back to software. Can you now see, in PestaRoo, why we try to use icons wherever possible? Anytime we can make it easier on your eyes to parse information, it is a win for you. Each month we convert more text to icons that are glanceable. Software work is never done, every single day, we tweak and refine.

Good software developers consciously work hard to save wear and tear on your eyes. Snippets of information accessible as glances express thoughtful software development that will save you time and fatigue. Indeed, great software developers work hard to save you even one second anywhere they can, and to eliminate as many displayed words as possible since the cost of processing a word and converting it into an action is far greater than having an icon of that same action. Carefully designed icons have become a critical component any well-built software solution.

And so,we use icons. (Think of the McDonald’s golden arches.)  What about the “3 mi” indicating the distance to the next McDonald? Is there something comparable in software, where we should be using this idea? Yes. How about putting the number of related records that are associated with the icon directly below it? For example, a 13 below the work order icon would mean there’s 13 work orders for that customer. A seven below payments would indicate there are seven payments to be viewed. In PestaRoo, we have done just that in over 100 places. And to help train a new users, we also include a mouse-over tooltip that explains, in English, what the number conveys. For example, the tooltip might say, “Click to view this Customer’s 7 Payments”.

In some places, like invoices, we can also add another layer of glance complexity that can be valuable. A number in parentheses could show a second value. For example, a seven followed by a three in parentheses would indicate seven invoices with three of which are unpaid. Wow! This is how we do it in PestaRoo. Again, we always include a tool tip that explains its usage in English.

Careful curation of glanceable objects precludes the wild public bulletin board effect. Well-placed glanceable content should be located with consideration of the process path you are following. Glances only work when their content is apropos to the activity at hand. So, glanceables need to be visually designed for quick consumption of their content, but also must be placed with thoughtful care. It is easy to see how glances can become critically important for rapid navigating through your software with the understanding of where you’re going. That is, glances and icons must be planned and tailored to support the task at hand.

How do glances help you build your profits? It’s easy, they make your work easier to do, and improve your staff’s efficiency while reducing fatigue. Let’s face it, every office person, although incredibly important to the business, is an overhead expense. So anything we can do to make their work easier and faster, your profits go up. No office worker has a enough time to get everything done every day, so anytime that you can do to save them a little time will go straight to the bottom line.

Another way to grasp the value of glances is to look at software where glances are not used. We’ve all seen such software where so stuff is packed onto the screen, that it’s almost impossible to find what you need. A common illustration of this is one of those bulletin boards found is public places. Notes piled on top of notes, messages on top of messages, posters, announcements…. and everything as a giant confusing mess of information. Such messes, unfortunately, are also common in software. The effective use of glances is part of the means whereby good developers avoid such nightmares. They provide small concise bits of well-placed bits of critical information that can be digested in a fraction of a second. Good software, at its best, can be thought of as a set of beautifully interconnected glances, well organized along lines of process that make it easier to do those things that you have to do every day. Or stated more simply, great software is comprised of interconnected glances organized around those things you must do every day.

Glances are one of those amazing techniques used in software that you can quickly see how they will save you time and make you money.

With buying software always pick software that uses glances well. Want a great way to evaluate software? Look to see how well they implement glances. This gives you have a metric you can act upon….