Style Over Substance

Stephen Fry now has a technology column with The Guardian, following on from the style of his blog which I linked to.

He talks about the value of style and substance in a digital device:

What do I think is the point of a digital device? Is it all about function? Or am I a “style over substance” kind of a guy? Well, that last question will get my hackles up every time. As if style and substance are at war! As if a device can function if it has no style. As if a device can be called stylish that does not function superbly. Don’t get me started…

This is the exact problem I find with Windows Mobile phones. Functionally, third party applications means you can get GPS navigation, instant messaging, interactive underground maps, and thousands more. But there is one fundamental problem with Windows Mobile, after six versions and seven years of development1 its still not possible to use it without a stylus.

Those of you that haven’t used a smartphone whose interface requires a stylus won’t quite understand, but its infuriating. Its almost impossible to use one accurately when walking, so you have to be either standing still or sitting down. Even then some of the buttons and scroll bars especially are still small enough to make errors fairly common.

This leads me back to the aforelinked Why Enterprise Software Sucks. I’ve yet to come across any enterprise software that manages to blend the right amounts of style and substance. In fact 99% of enterprise software is incredibly poorly designed, and I sometimes wonder how much people get paid to write this appalling rubbish.

Some people will never get it, the kind of people who wonder why the iPhone is such a success when it doesn’t even support MMS. But they’re a dwindling minority, it’s easy to forget that such software only started to become mainstream 10 to 15 years ago, and many people are still not very well educated about it. I’m hoping that as people learn more about software, they will eventually realise that usability and design can be just as important as the functionality.


  1. And even more if you count that the first version, Pocket PC 2000, which was based on Windows CE 3.0.
css.php