By the early 1980s everyone knew that if you were going to travel any kind of distance, your chances of getting to your destination would be greatly improved if your car was made in Japan - they were reliable, great value for money and bristling with gadgets. Sadly, they were also tinny. Proper cars had to be more, well, German.
Toyota was, I believe, the first to ask customers: "Why do you think German cars are better than ours?" The answer was unanimous: "German car doors clunked, Japanese car doors clanged."
Toyota and other Japanese makers were soon investing in acoustics experts to tune doors, switches and locks.
Steve Jobs was applying the same "GUI is everything" principle. The strange thing is, with scads of money being poured into ensuring that icons are cuter and splash screens funkier, most printed output is still woeful.
Picture this: a chief executive signs off a multi-million pound enterprise resource planning (ERP) project on the understanding that the result would give him fingertip control of the business. Dips in production in the Kyoto plant would instantly be reflected in the pricing strategies in Longbridge. A few months later, however, with the new ERP system implemented, the CEO walks into his office to find the latest reports from the new ERP system the same pile of fan-folded gobbledegook he has seen for the last decade.
The moral of the story is that all the IT improvements in the world count for very little if you don't pay due attention to the GUI. When you are planning your next big implementation, don't forget the people in your company for whom the printout is the user interface.
Ian Benn is marketing director, systems & technology, at Unisys