Save money: invest in a big display

Today’s article is a bit of a diversion, but it’s something that I see time and again which unquestionably hurts the productivity of anyone who uses a computer professionally.

Many companies wax lyrical about the need to operate more effectively and do a lot of pondering on matters of productivity and efficiency.  They sometimes pay top dollar to external consultants who come in and analyse this, measure that and recommend changes to processes, systems and so forth.

All of this can be really worthwhile but in my opinion the benefits gained on an organisational level are usually easily bettered by a small change for every computer user.

What am I talking about?  Display size (or, more specifically, resolution)

Big curved monitor

Far too many companies ‘go cheap’ by providing their users with small, inexpensive monitors – say, 19″ os a typical example these days.  These small monitors might well have been considered ‘luxurious’ by the standards of the Windows 3.1 days, but those days are gone now and our increased reliance on windowing systems has raised the bar and companies need to understand that they need to move with the times.

Take, for example, a small software house I spent some time at a year back.  They were doing some fairly cool things with the latest tech, and there were some really good developers working there.  However, each was hamstrung with the sort of budget display that meant that even when an application was maximised, the actual ‘workspace’ was tiny after the various toolbars and panels took their cut.

Even assuming that these budget displays were completely free to the company, their cost was far higher than that of a pair of 24″ displays would have been, or even a 30″ display.  The low resolution meant that developers were frustrated and had to keep shuffling things around to make enough space to accomplish anything.

Let’s look at the ‘mid-range’ compromise of a 24″ display.  That will provide a desktop of typically 1920×1200 resolution, as compared to a typical 19″ offering 1280×800 or similar.  In numerical terms, the 24″ display has around 2.3Mp to the 1Mp of the 19″ display.  In other words, its ‘screen real-estate’ is over twice as capacious as in the smaller display.

What this translates to is the ability to see more code, or more of that spreadsheet, or the opportunity to place two Word documents side-by-side for comparison purposes, or the option to have an email client open and visible at the same time as the web browser, and so on.

Every time a user is forced to reorganise windows on the screen to cope with limited screen real-estate, they waste valuable time and it can snap them out of ‘the zone’ of real productivity.  These context switches will, over the course of a day, a week or a month, have a cumulative negative effect on that user’s ability to perform.  Lower performance is opportunity lost; opportunity lost is money wasted.

I don’t feel the need to wheel out complicated equations or calculations to justify this stance; it should be obvious to anyone who has ever done anything on a modern computer.  However, lest I disappoint, if we assume that (over the long term) a restrictive display reduces productivity by even 5%, bear in mind that 5% of most any professional computer user’s salary buys several 24″ displays!

On top of that, a larger display gives that user a more enjoyable computing workflow experience, reduces mistakes due to excessive context switching and reduces the need to reduce font sizes so as to make it all fit.

Any company which skimps on decent displays for its employees is needlessly wasting money – and that’s a fact.

About John Clark

My name is John Clark and I previously ran a software house called Reynard Thomson, from which this blog originally grew. In the meantime, we launched a video-based user testing service (Kupima) which didn't really take off, and I have since moved into a new field specialising on software-based research & development consultancy. I'm active on LinkedIn, and would love to connect to anyone who has an interest in software prototyping or R&D: http://uk.linkedin.com/in/jtclarkuk/
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