Wednesday 22 July 2009

Gentlemen v Players

Do you have to be a full time programmer to write a commercial program?

This question came into focus recently after reading a report in Art Business Today on the Framing Industry Awards. The article reported a speech made by the winner of the Innovation Award (a Norwegian Visualisation & Pricing program). It was stated that this program was top because it was written by an expert professional programmer, not some "framer with an interest in computers".

Now, I was always taught to "never disparage the competition", but I feel definitely disparaged! (as should the other framer/programmers out there).

The first point I would make is that writing a program is not rocket science, any more than learning a foreign language is. Microsoft (who market Visual Basic that I write in) go to huge lengths to make their product robust and easy to use. The same goes for Borland and their Delphi language that John MacAffee's Preview & Estlite uses.

The second point is that I've more than 20 years experience in writing programs for framers. I've also attended a college course (passing with distinction) and written articles on the subject, as well as being a professional framer for over 30 years. I'm sure that similar experience goes for the other framer/programmers too. So, a bit more than a slight interest in computers then.
As for professional programmers - you've only to look at the many programs that didn't run on Vista to see that sometimes you can be too clever for your own good.
In fact, it is precisely because programming is not our main bread & butter that framers can spend a large amount of their spare time optimising their programs, time that a professional would have to be paid for.

However, the most important point is that programs written by framers for framers are easier and more intuitive to use.
A program can be the most sophisticated, all-embracing package imaginable, but if it gets in the way of your framing or your dealings with your customers - it's useless.
My philosophy is that anyone in your framing shop should be able to give a price/issue a work-ticket, from the person at the top to the Saturday-helper. This is achieved by designing the program to be easy and good to use (see previous posts). This may mean that the pricing (or visualising) algorithm is simplified in order to make things more understandable and unobtrusive to use, but if this means the user can actually understand what's going on in the program - it's a compromise I'll take any day.

You have only to look at the Norwegian website (the memorably labelled to see that the winning program was written by someone who has never made a frame in their life or had to deal with a customer (or with any artistic sense, but then perhaps I'm just being hyper-critical!).
One of the issues many people have with programs is "bloat", which means that the program contains many features (which you've paid for) that you'll never need (MS Office immediately comes to mind - why not use Open Office for free?). Of course a feature you'll never use is another's must-have, but surely this emphasies even more the need for roots within the framing industry?
So - if you're in the market for framing software - beware and be wise!

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