Does it make sense to build intuitive CAD & PLM?

Does it make sense to build intuitive CAD & PLM?

In a lexicon of CAD and PLM marketing “intuitive” talk is cheap. You can find it everywhere. Google “intuitive PLM” and you will find long list of websites, brochures, videos and other materials claiming one or another PLM product or technology “intuitive”. Here are few examples from vendors, customers and analysts:

Siemens PLM: Active Workspace is an innovative interface for Teamcenter that provides you with a streamlined and intuitive product lifecycle management (PLM) user experience. It literally puts PLM at your fingertips. Active Workspace increases your productivity by allowing you to find what you need faster, enabling you to see the big picture so you can make smarter decisions and providing you with seamless access to PLM when and where you need it.

Arena Solutions: Arena’s intuitive user interface and cloud architecture better enables businesses to control and collaborate on product data during development, which ultimately results in stronger supply chain management and effective change control as volumes increase.

Autodesk: Key benefits:Stay focused on business goals with intuitive point-and-click system connect, define, and map operations. Detailed information transfer occurs immediately with no manual user intervention. Shrink costs and complexity by keeping hard-coded integration programs to a minimum. Integrating Autodesk Fusion Lifecycle and ERP to better predict the cost impact of change.

JLR: ”Our IT history has generated more than 600 silos of legacy data”, says JLR’s Paul Davies, director of Product Development Operations.’ The majority is not inter-compatible. To flourish in business, all our data must be interoperably integrated and intuitively available to every JLR stakeholder”.

Tech-Clarity: We predict that satisfaction with the status quo will fade as users begin to demand more intuitive, easy to use solutions that are more on par with the connected, social, mobile-enabled software applications they experience in their personal lives.

Here is the thing… It is very easy to claim something “intuitive”. However, what does it mean? How to prove it? And… the most interesting question to me – Does it make sense to build intuitive software?

The following article from UIE (User Interface Engineering) by Jared M. Spool can help us to answer on these questions. Navigate to What makes design intuitive? article, read and draw your opinion.

Here are my favorite passage:

To those who police the English language, interfaces can’t be intuitive, since they are the behavior side of programs and programs can’t intuit anything. When someone is asking for an intuitive interface, what they are really asking for is an interface that they, themselves, can intuit easily. They are really saying, “I want something I find intuitive.”

However, the most important point in my view is about “knowledge gap” between current knowledge point and target knowledge point.

The Knowledge Gap is where design happens. We don’t need to design to the left of current knowledge point, because it’s all stuff the user already knows. And we don’t need to design stuff to the right of the target knowledge point, since the user won’t be needing that information (for this task, at least). We only need to design the interface for the space in between current knowledge and target knowledge.

The article brings few very interesting examples when companies deliberately decided not to design things to close the knowledge gap.

These examples made me think about similar examples in CAD and PLM industry. For example, CAD system preference by engineers is actually an indication of knowledge about specific CAD system. Take this engineer to another CAD system and his knowledge gap will be too big to consider system intuitive enough.

Data management functions are almost the same. If you expect system to behave in a certain way, you can call this interface intuitive (eg. Check-in / Out). However, many complex data management functions build unique for a specific requirements will not be considered as an intuitive to other customers.

The same knowledge gap explains why Excel and spreadsheet are so much popular and loved by everyone – it introduces zero knowledge gap to users.

Design to close knowledge gap is expensive. Does it make sense to spend significant budget to build an intuitive systems in CAD and PLM. In my view, the answer is “it depends”. For companies with large existing marketshare, building new intuitive system can be disruptive. After spending lot of money on development, new system will introduce knowledge gap compared to existing old systems. The outcome can be questionable. At the same time, if you build CAD system, you might want to copycat existing CAD system behavior and your user will welcome new system as very intuitive. If you sell PLM as a replacement of existing product, you can use existing PLM concepts to make your system intuitive and recognizable by users of your competitor. Knowledge gap is also a place where consulting and training companies are making their business. By reducing this knowledge gap, you can destroy business of your partners. You can think about examples, since I didn’t want to mention specific companies.

What is my conclusion? There is no absolutely intuitive CAD and PLM system. It all depends on target audience combined with market and business strategy. So, don’t buy intuitive PLM system marketing. Think about knowledge gap, target audience and your business. You can save money and sell expensive business system with consulting services. Alternatively, you can find a way to prove ROI to get additional development budgets. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg

Want to learn more about PLM? Check out my new PLM Book website.

Disclaimer: I’m co-founder and CEO of OpenBOM developing cloud based bill of materials and inventory management tool for manufacturing companies, hardware startups and supply chain. My opinion can be unintentionally biased.


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