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Today's Design Tools -- Are They Really Better?

May 7

By Tim Gales

One of the key features of any design is its simplicity -- or its "understandability". This understandabiliy should permeate the project and make itself immediately apparent to the end user. Today's designs are much more than just plugging in some text with pretty pictures. The whole design process is a culmination of customer direction, design creativity and time-consuming detailed development, documentation, testing and deployment. For most of today's companies obtaining a coherent application design, no matter how complex it is, along with a web presence is not an option -- rather it is a requirement.

Can you just buy "COTS" software (i.e. commercially available Off-the-Shelf software) as an alternative to an in-house software development? The use of COTS to solve certain business problems can produce significant savings in procurement, development,and maintenance, but it often solves only one certain problem. And, according to Dan Galorath in 'Software Reuse and Commercial Off-the-Shelf Software', COTS application software often satisfies less than 40 percent of the functionality of an application. So, to answer the question of can you buy "COTS" software the answer is yes -- if you can accept some compromises.

Software can be strung together in a serial fashion to solve problems which can be lined up to be solved one by one. The difference is whether developing a whole new set of software will contribute to the overall profit. For instance, if it costs $2,000 - 5,000 to redesign a given website, and you set aside %5 of total revenue for marketing/advertising, then the redesigned website should generate an additional forty to one hundred thousand dollars in gross revenue.

Many businesses have a stand alone website and some stand alone accounting along with some form of e-mail. One idea is to string everything together with a web portal. This idea of putting everything in one place is a step in the right direction. If nothing else, it puts all of the computer access together and outlines what is already in place. This in itself acts as an an automatic functional analysis of what exists so far.

Any additional software can be plugged in to the portal. Two pieces of software can be made to work together by connecting, let's say, the email to the customers in accounts recievable to produce new promotional mailings. The point is that everything can be made to work together with some effort.

If the redesign offers a way to solve problems in a multi leveled, or parallel manner, and that multi-layered approach will enable a business to gain an edge over other businesses then it would make sense to redesign.

Designs fall into one of five  categories: Left to Right, Right to Left, Top-down, Bottom-up and Inside Out - and more often some mixture.

For instance the hardware is often already in place. The given hardware dictates the weakness and strengths of the network that connects the computers. In fact, anything that is already in place adds a Bottom-up component to the design. An EDI (Electronic Data Interchange) interface requires a certain output Right to Left style. Real time connection to market data requires input in Left to Right style. So unless you're building everything new, you will be faced with some amount of retrofitting. So being able to capture the way things work, or reverse engineering, will help.

All that being said, the only thing you really need to capture the design process in a high level design document is a text editor or a word processor and a way to incorporate diagrams. This depiction of a high level design doesn't have to generate anything, but it should communicate the thinking behind the design. In other words, 'some text with pretty pictures', is good enough to depict most designs.

But the question of how you communicate to users and programmers the design still remans. Toay's tools don't help much in that regard, other than to organize design decisions -- the communication of the design is still left to the designer.

VoltaireFrançois-Marie Arouet ( 694 - 1778 ) better known by his the pen name Voltaire

"There is an astonishing imagination, even in the science of mathematics... We repeat, there was far more imagination in the head of Archimedes than in that of Homer."