UMA

UNRELATED MENTAL ACTIVITY

 (This is supposed to be a place where I'll occasionally dabble about LEGO-unrelated thoughts (or also LEGO-related, why not), with the newest updates on the top. I'm not even insinuating any of this is actually readable or makes much sense; you've been warned.)

"Ugly" means "Expensive"

Well, the more I work in the software industry, the more insane it (sometimes) seems, at least in the B2B sector where I got to end up. Things tend to be very counter-intuitive from the business point of view, as I had learned my lesson recently.


In my earlier programming & software design days, I was often obsessed with the efficiency and usability of GUI's. Simple organization, clean and logical windows, easy shortcuts, lots of graphics and icons to help the user find the needed options quickly... that sort of thing.

When I've developed software for the end users directly, as it was then often the case, this effort was usually rewarded by positive opinions. End users really do notice good program design (and a bad one likewise), even if they are not aware of the criteria they are subconsciously applying. If a user says the application is simple to use without reading a manual or opening a help window once, the mission is successful.

However, things get pretty much different when one gets into the industrial-systems-automation-sort of projects. Here, the beautiful GUI's and simple shortcuts often make the customers' cash people suspicious and reluctant to accept the validity of software. As if making the software visually elegant undermines its professionality. It results in tons of GUI changes (which are regularly unnecessary), too much haggle, and general perception that the software is worth less than its good looks may imply.

So what happens when these same customers face a brutal green-on-black text mode application without mouse support, complicated installation and very tough environment requirements? Suddenly the complaints are gone; they even seem fascinated a bit. "It's obviously professional industrial-grade software," one hears. Price is now "reasonable", as well as personnel training, server investments, etc.

I guess making something obviously user-unfriendly makes it look kind of sophisticated, complex. These guys don't waste time painting buttons and signal lights ― they've had better things to do; that kind of thinking.

Weird? No doubt. But that's how the customers seem to think. You'll never trust a car mechanic with a clean, fresh garage as much as the one with obviously worn tools and grease everywhere, right?

Nomen est omen

I'm aware of the value of image in the modern business world, with the name of products and companies being one of its components, and in a few instances in my previous career as a tech journalist I've seen entire debates on their meanings and how they reflect on success.

But one funny yet telling story I have heard shows nicely how far things can go. A certain distant contact of mine, a genuine car enthusiast and racer, has some years ago established a small car tuning and race preparation workshop with a friend of similar interests, on the outskirts of one city in California. They simply named it "Fred's and Mick's Sport Garage"*, and while they had some revenues that kept the roof above the head and meals on the plate, business did not thrive either. They have invested some money into advertising, but that helped only slightly, so they decided to consult one esteemed marketing specialist. And from him they got a quick suggestion that seemed just too crazy to work ― but they gave it a try anyway, as it could not harm them seriously in any way.

They renamed the workshop to (drum roll) "Schwarzbach & Adenauer Automechanik GmbH".

Those aren't their surnames at all; they just came up with something that sounded very German, and even the "GmbH" has no meaning in the USA as it is an acronym of a German term, similar to "Ltd.".

But no matter ― in a few weeks, numbers started to grow. Soon afterwards, they have had customers approaching faster than they could serve. They had to expand the workshop to a neighbouring house, then hire two more technicians, then buy the entire house and set up some offices and extra workshops in the back...

Clearly, Germans have through the past decades earned an image of extreme preciseness, expertise, quality and validity of work (not only in that part of the world, I can confirm from my own experiences). Even when a company actually has nothing to do with Germany except having an entirely fabricated and fake German name, the subconscious message to the customers obviously does the trick.

I wonder, how long before all the restaurants in the area start changing their names to French- or Italian-sounding phrases...

* I have very slightly changed the names, to respect their privacy.

Notes on musical over-fanatism

Having recently had contact with many music fans and avid concert-goers, I'm more convinced than ever that many genres of music, particularly rock I am sad to report, are frozen down into worn-out recycling by fanatical, misinformed audience which has stuck to its manufactured heroes from decades ago and doesn't let go.

Don't misunderstand me ― I quite like classic rock, right from its beginnings in 1950's on, and have enormous respect for the artists and bands that have created and formed this distinctive genre. But respect is one thing, while being obsessively locked into repeating their ideas is something entirely different. And I fear that a big chunk of audience is not aware of that.

Still now, people expect good rock to sound like Jimi Hendrix Experience, and various publications don't help the matter by repeatedly proclaiming him the greatest guitarist, greatest wizard, greatest who-knows-what of all time, implying that the peak of rock music was in 1967., and since then it has just gone downhill. Well it has, for that very reason. Jimi was undoubtedly a legend, a guitar master who knew how to make a song rock, but if we just never let go from the strict sound, ideas and styles he has established, we will hardly have any progress. "Hendrix is the best of all time, and the closer you are to him the better, but nobody can do exactly what he did the way he did" is a line of thinking we should avoid.

Of course, it's not only Jimi who "suffers" this image, but there are some though not many other such untouchable heroes that supposedly define what good music is, and thus restrict other generations of musicians, regardless of how good these old masters actually were. The Doors are another example, then Nirvana from the later dates.

It poses a problem, both for my band and indirectly for me too ― because we just hit a wall of misunderstanding when we try to introduce new ideas, new approach (none of which defy the foundations of rock the slightest!). Far too often we've heard "guys, that's not bad, but why trying to be smart when it's well known what rock should be".

Musicians are no exception, actually. Far too often I stumble upon a musician so obsessed about his/her idol, that any departure or variation of sound and ideas is unthinkable. Are we supposed to be a large, cumbersome replacement for CD players? Many accept it, it seems.

Maximum respect to Jimi, his albums will never leave my MP3/FLAC player, but really, let's all try to stand on his shoulders rather than just blindly accept crawling under his ankles.