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UX is Art

Check out this composition from an artist known as Kulitta.


Next, check out the first few minutes of this Bach piece.


Now try this poetry quiz from NPR.

How did you do? Can you tell whether a human or a machine wrote the poems? Can you hear the fundamental difference between the Kulitta piece and the Bach?

Kulitta, if my ham-handed prose didn’t alert you, is an AI framework for automated music composition. It’s even powerful enough to learn to generate music with different styles. Blows me away what can be accomplished with AI tools. I get my hopes up – probably too much – that we’re entering an AI renaissance.

Renaissance or not, the machine-generated pieces lack perspective. They don’t give you a theme that lasts. Read Sonnet #5 from the NPR piece. Lots of poetry-sounding words and phrases, but no thread of deep meaning moving throughout. Listen to Bach; you can feel the pull of the theme, drawing you through a phrase and into the start of the next. Human works have perspectives. They’re driving toward something. The machines – incredibly impressive – seem to “think” that creating a poem means using poem-like phrases that rhyme. (Which, by the way, lovesick 14-year-old Paul also thought. Luckily, his works are lost to the ages.)

That’s art. Perspective. A creative expression of the theme. Crafting with purpose. The artist has something to say that needs to be said in the medium in which it’s expressed. Larkin feared death and transported that fear to his readers through Aubade. Beethoven thought someone named Elise was really great, but words weren’t right for that expression.

You probably see where I’m going with this.

focus. perspective.
focus. perspective.

The programming aspect of developing applications focuses intensely on feeding machines the right instructions. Pull these things from a database, put them on the screen at these coordinates, and color this thing purple. It’s hard work and takes skill crafted over years to do well. Machines can do some of the tedious parts of this work already, by generating templates and code snippets.

The user experience aspect of developing applications adds artistry. I’m not talking about using the right colors or making the input boxes line up properly…those things are important but they’re not art. I’m talking about perspective. Knowing why a human would use an application you’re developing adds that layer of perspective to every step of the process. A design thinking session uncovers this perspective. A graphic designer puts herself in that perspective when creating a flow. A programmer understands this perspective and creates frameworks that allow greater expression of it.

Focus on UX. Take the time to design applications with a design thinking process. Bring in end users and understand their experience. Embrace the creative process and let go of the crippling fear of failure.

I guarantee you’ll go from notes to music in no time.


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Paul Modderman loves creating things and sharing them. He has spoken at SAP TechEd, multiple ASUG regional events, ASUG Fall Focus, Google DevFest MN, Google ISV Days, and several webinars and SAP community gatherings. Paul's writing has been featured in SAP Professional Journal, on the SAPinsider blog, and the popular Mindset blog. He believes clear communication is just as important as code, but also has serious developer chops. His tech career has spanned web applications with technologies like .NET, Java, Python, and React to SAP soutions in ABAP, OData and SAPUI5. His work integrating Google, Fiori, and Android was featured at SAP SAPPHIRE. Paul was principal technical architect on Mindset's certified solutions CloudSimple and Analytics for BW. He's an SAP Developer Hero, honored in 2017. Paul is the author of two books: Mindset Perspectives: SAP Development Tips, Tricks, and Projects, and SAPUI5 and SAP Fiori: The Psychology of UX Design. His passion for innovative application architecture and tech evangelism shines through in everything he does.

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