No, we aren’t talking about the fate of your fender in heavy traffic.
We mean the “front end” of a software application – the “view” it gives you of the information that’s relevant, as well as the ability to add, change, or otherwise interact with that information.
The front end was known formerly as the “user interface.” Today, software designers put more thought into improving the interaction of humans and applications than they used to, and “user experience” or “UX” – which is what the front end of an application really provides – has become a design field unto itself.
The best kind of front end is the kind that is “transparent”, that seems to disappear. The view it gives is so natural, the interactions so smooth and easy, that you are never conscious of “reckoning with a user interface.” That kind of user experience reflects skill and creative inspiration on the part of UX designers, and there are some very good front ends out there.
But the fact is that you need software to perform a lot of different jobs. How many applications, with how many varieties of user experience (however transparent and natural), are you going to invest in?
The business data already exists, and you need to manage it as well as the processes that depend on it.
Spreadsheet applications have an astonishing property – you can use a spreadsheet to bend your own front end to business data.
A spreadsheet offers an immediate (“transparent”) view of the data contained in the cells. Cells can contain many different kinds of data, and have their own intelligent formatting for ease of use (think drop-downs). They can contain links to underlying data, documents, other spreadsheets…
Interaction with data using the spreadsheet is “natural”, in the sense that people have become as used to navigating the rows and columns of a spreadsheet as they are used to navigating the arrangement of a QWERTY keyboard.
You have two dimensions to work with in organizing data. This is surprisingly powerful, and the reasons for it warrant another post or two.
Have you bent a spreadsheet to serve some other purpose? Send us your stories. Use the comment box below, or send an email to us at editors<removethis>@bentsoftware.com and follow us on twitter.com/bentsoftware