Refreshing the NetBeans Brand

Nalini Kotamraju is a user researcher in xDesign, and a PhD in Sociology. She has a penchant for research methods and telling it exactly like it is.

I recently spoke with Leos Tronicek, a Visual Designer in xDesign and located in Prague, about the recent re-branding of NetBeans. NetBeans is the original free Java IDE, as well as a vibrant open-source project dedicated to providing rock solid software development products (such as NetBeans IDE and NetBeans Platform).

Nalini: Recently you worked on the refresh of NetBeans. What can you tell me about the project?

NetBeans IDE Splash ScreenLeos: We wanted to refresh the visual identity of the NetBeans IDE along with the visual representation of NetBeans.org. We had been doing small refreshes of the NetBeans brand for each major release of the IDE, but with this release we decided, along with management and marketing, that we could move forward more. We wanted to build an even better visual identity and put guidelines in place. The earlier visual identity was abstract. The initial target audience was very broad so we were really conservative, but now it's more young and fresh. And now we thought more about the use of the NetBeans brand on the web site, that it should work on different media and format, from the web page to billboards to welcome screens. We wanted to maintain the feel and perception of NetBeans so people who see it will still say “OK, it's still NetBeans, but a bit different.” People still have to understand that it's NetBeans from first sight.

Nalini: The refresh of Netbeans.org seemed to go really well. Can you say why?

Leos: If you ask anybody (in xDesign) what is the best approach to web site design, they will know. If I ask you or somebody doing a web site what to do first, they know. I would think who is my target audience, what content do you want to show, what do people want to see, what are we trying to push. Then we would discuss, decide what should be where and do some mock-ups and layout and make it nice in visual design. But it usually doesn't work this way. There are so many bad approaches, like “Oh ,we want it just like this other web site we like” or “We want to have everything on the home page.”

This project was better in terms of conception. We started, not from what we would like to have there, but we listened to people, checked some statistics about what are the most visited pages.

The process worked because someone was directing it and saying clearly: "This feature will be this way." Usually everybody is invited to bring comments to any part of the creation process, which is bad. This time it was, “OK, you are a professional in UI design. You get to decide." I could think more about the visual part, how to layout different areas, how to make some parts more visible. I could concentrate very well on the visual part itself because everything was done right, and I had everything I needed. I didn't need to come and explain that if they wanted to do something one way, I would have to do it another way.

They gave me final layouts and said that there might be some tweaks, but said: “This is more or less what it will be in final form so make it work visually.” You have to give the right part to the right professionals. Everybody has an opinion on visual design but it doesn't mean theirs' is the right one. If you visit a doctor and he tells you what to do, you wouldn't do anything else because you think it's better. In visual design it's more common because everyone likes something. Everyone has his own taste, and with visual design it's much easier to lose the control over the design.



Nalini: How did the audience react to the refresh of NetBeans.org?

Leos: First, we made a beta version and did a usability study, even though we thought it was very good. We found some small issues around workflow and ease-of-use and we made changes that helped a lot.

After the launch, we got some good feedback from inside of Sun and outside of Sun. For this kind of site, it's difficult to maintain the same quality from home page to the last page, which is deep in the structure. For this project I was working with so many people; it went really well. It was a good feeling to work with professionals on a project that went well and followed the plan. The whole creation process was a collective effort, and I was just one part of it. I'm proud of it. And I want to thank all the people that worked on it also.

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