Here's a painful lesson: It doesn't matter much how powerful and or cool your company's product is if customers can't figure out how to use it. That is as true of software and web sites as it of physical products.
And that's why Pivotal, a company focusing on next-generation software development, is buying the whimsically named Slice of Lime, a company that specializes in making web pages, mobile applications, and other products attractive and easily understandable. Slice of Lime, based in Boulder, Colo., worked with Nexia, to make its connected home products easy for mere mortals to control from their preferred devices, for example.
Terms were not disclosed, but Slice of Lime's 19 or so Denver and Boulder-based employees will join Pivotal Labs, the product design and development consultancy part of Pivotal.
Pivotal Labs and Slice of Lime have collaborated on projects for the past several years, and it just made sense to put the two together officially, Drew McManus, Pivotal Labs' vice president of products told Fortune.
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"The user experience is becoming the product," McManus said. "If you’re the CEO of a major bank or financial services company, whether you realize it or not, you probably have several thousand software people building sites that enable interactions with customers employees or other companies."
Once that sinks in, along with the notion that for most banking customers, the ATM, computer, or smartphone screen has become "the" way to interact with their bank, then the value of well designed interfaces is readily apparent.
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Companies like Slice of Lime focus on that user experience—known as UX in tech jargon. Basically, UX applies the concept of industrial design—the smarts that make a Herman Miller chair great to look at and to sit in—to the digital universe.
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Pivotal is not alone in seeking out user design expertise.
Last year, banking giant CapitalOne bought Adaptive Path, a user experience specialist. In May, consulting goliath McKinsey & Co., bought Lunar, a Silicon Valley design firm. And, BlueFocus, a Chinese communications company reportedly paid nearly $50 million for a stake in FuseProject, the design company founded by award winning designer Yves Behar.
Customer-facing design makes or breaks products, said Mark Rolston, co-founder and chief creative officer for argodesign. (He was formerly chief creative officer of frogdesign, famous for its work with Apple.)
Since manufacturing processes and the technologies have become commoditized, he said. "We all have access to that now, so what's decisive in making products succeed? It comes down to marketing power and good design."