Should we put the A in STEM to delight with our OSS?

You’ve all heard of the STEM acronym right – Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. They’re all pretty important contributors to the OSS story. The question however is whether there’s an “A” missing from STEM in the form of Art. Is it STEAM that should power OSS?

Let me ask you a question – in your whole career in OSS, how many colleagues have you known to have come from an artistic background such as a fine arts degree?

Oxford defines art as, “the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form.”

Whilst there are many outlets for artistic expression in OSS, the three most obvious applications of art in OSS relate to our user interface design, report / visualisation layouts and process flow. In most cases, you can tell which OSS have been designed by experts from the fields of STEM only. As a general rule, there is a tendency for those with a STEM proclivity to design for the functional rather than the aesthetic or the user journey. OSS are not always intuitive or enlightening experiences are they?

I’ll use an analogy here. I spent a year living and working on an OSS project in the capital city of an amazing, thriving, yet developing country. In the year that I spent riding around to all corners of that city, I saw only two stores that were visually appealing. One was a Nokia store (this was back in Nokia’s heyday) and an up-market watch retailer. All the other stores were functional, but shabby. Some were servicing large numbers of clients, but usually not very efficiently due to layout and process inefficiencies. A customer service mindset was also clearly in short supply in that country.

I wonder if there is a common theme – by investing in the aesthetic appeal of your product / shop-front, you’re more invested in the customer’s experience with you. Whilst the art doesn’t necessarily improve the functionality of the solution (but often does), it shows that you’re taking a 360 degree view to delighting your customers.

[Note: I think there should also be a “B” in there for Business, but the BEASTM acronym doesn’t sound so elegant.]

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