Friday, September 4, 2015

Classic Design -- The Essbase Excel Add-In

What's better than a laid back Friday just before a long holiday weekend? Maybe a philosophical discussion on the nature of design.

High quality designs tend to last a long time. I'm a fan of documentaries and a couple of design related films come to mind: Helvetica and Welcome to Macintosh. These films talk about two things that have incredible designs -- one a font and the other a machine. Both have lasted quite a while and are very popular. Macintosh sprang from design work done at Xerox PARC. They essentially invented GUI but couldn't bring it to market at a low enough cost. Ideas are great but execution is the key to success.

Some designs are beautiful. I'm awestruck whenever I enter a Frank Lloyd Wright designed home. Each one I've seen speaks to me as a manifesto on quality design. Attention was paid to every detail from the view you have of the building as you approach all the way down to the lampshades and electrical sockets.

Some designs are ugly, or at least they seem ugly. Put someone in front of a Unix terminal showing the command line and they might cringe. Put me in front of a Unix terminal and I'm at ease. This operating system is older than I am and is essentially unchanged. Sure it has been improved over time, it handles 64-bit hardware now and you can put a GUI in front of it if you really need to, but at it's heart it is the same. A beautiful, long lasting design, held in high esteem by those willing to take the time to learn the power available. The speed of getting things accomplished is amazing when one doesn't need to ever lift their hands from the keyboard to fidget with a mouse.

This brings me to another lasting design -- the Essbase Excel Add-In. This interface is essentially unchanged since I began my Essbase journey. Yes, it has moved on to be called Smart View, but it uses the same principles.

I recall the first Essbase training class I ever taught. I had a lab with about 30 students in it. Essbase was completely new at this company and I'd be teaching people totally foreign to the product. I still remember the sound when people discovered that they could double left-click to zoom-in and double right-click to zoom-out. The room went nearly silent. All I could hear were hundreds of mouse clicks. There was no talking, just clicking. These people had just been given an incredible tool that would change the way they do their jobs. It would improve their productivity.

Here we are twenty years after it was designed and my users do not even want to try Smart View because it means they would have to part with their beloved, beautiful, simply designed Essbase Excel Add-In.

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