Leading the trend are two prominent industrial designers, Ken Musgrave, head of experience design for Dell’s commercial products, and August de los Reyes, director of user experience at Microsoft Surface.
Consumer appeal in business products, including a growing appreciation of – and demand for – better design, has been an obvious trend in recent times, according to Musgrave.
“Our customers and users have become more savvy and sophisticated and this extends beyond the traditional areas like the commercial notebook PC and into products designed for classrooms and the data centre,” he explains.
Musgrave suggests the next generation of Dell data centre products, including the new Dell Blade servers and the 11th Generation of servers, has brought the same level of attention and detail to design, material quality and user experiences consistent with all Dell products.
“The new Latitude 2100 developed for the classroom is another great example. It has been designed specifically for the student user and their relationship with the teacher while most other technology solutions for the classroom are really just standard PCs and often not meeting student and school needs.”
Musgrave believes the new product brings consumer appeal through design and colours and provides manageability “through the mobile computing stations required by school systems.”
At Microsoft Surface, collaboration is a key component of supporting user experience, according to August de los Reyes.
“A big trend we’re seeing in the overall technology interfaces is the move toward the Natural User Interface, NUI, and multi-touch. This shift signifies a change that we haven’t seen since the move from command line, DOS, to the graphical user interface, GUI, more than thirty years ago, and Microsoft Surface is at the forefront of this next computing inflection point. Interfaces are shifting from being explicit to implicit.
"To help explain, a doorknob is an explicit interface: to pass through the door, I have to interact with the piece of hardware; a sliding glass door is an implicit interface: a user simply walks towards the door – something that he or she would deem natural – and the sensor actuates the door to open. In other words, technology will do the heavy lifting as far as anticipating user needs and desires.”
With NUI, according to de los Reyes, the computer responds to manipulation, natural hand gestures and physical objects, mirroring the way we interact in the real world.
Musgrave and de los Reyes acknowledge the critical role of good communication tools in conducting any business and agree current technologies are supporting this with innovation that encourages collaboration.
Says de los Reyes: “In the past, we’ve thought of technology facilitating collaboration when people weren’t in the same room – through the Internet and social collaboration. However, facilitating physical collaboration using technology has been largely ignored.
“Microsoft Surface allows for multiple users to collaborate with each other in a way that other technologies haven’t. The 360-degree large screen enables several people to gather and consume information simultaneously, providing a collaborative and engaging, face-to-face computing experience.”
According to Musgrave, most of the new technologies and designs are enabling greater communication and collaboration. He says it is a key and critical trend globally as more companies have international relationships and the workplace extends beyond the office.
“Products are adapting to address the intrusion of business or professional life into the home. Cameras were once rare in business class notebooks but now they are being adopted as a communication and collaboration tool.
"Cameras are integrated with a notebook that has built-in mobile broadband, which all Dell notebooks have, allowing users to have a video chat anytime and anywhere.”
Musgrave suggests a number of significant factors will drive business technologies into the future including issues around security, environmental sustainability and flexible work environments.
“From a design and user experience perspective, I believe that the lines between work and home life will continue to blur and the concept of ‘business as a lifestyle’ will continue to evolve,” he adds.
Intuitive technologies that are approachable for clients and provide greater business value will be in demand, according to de los Reyes.
“Technologies that are intimidating or have a steep learning curve, or ones that are flashy and cool but don’t deliver real return on investment won’t be as successful as technology that is natural and intuitive.”