Wednesday Aug 06, 2008

JavaFX Preview Release

Jeff HoffmanJeff Hoffman is the lead user experience designer working on Java Standard Edition and JavaFX. He's been designing both consumer and developer oriented products since before the boom.

Sun has released the preview version of the JavaFX SDK. JavaFX is a client scripting technology for creating rich Internet applications (RIAs) with immersive media and content across the multiple screens of your life (that currently means the web and Windows/Mac OS X desktops, but will soon include mobile and TV as well).  You can create applications that look like these:

StockWatcher (JavaFX Sample App) 

JavaFX Clock Sample

The xDesign team has been involved in creating the developer network website that you can check out here. We have also worked with numerous writers and engineers on tutorials and samples to show off some of the great features of JavaFX.

Of course, you'll need to have the Java runtime on your system, and the beta of our upcoming Java 6 Update 10 release can be downloaded from here (click on the first orange button labelled JRE 6 Update 10 Beta). And we've already blogged about our involvement in this release.

If you're a blogaholic, then click on over to the JavaFX Blog for lots of interesting stuff.

Wednesday Apr 23, 2008

Speaking about User Experience at JavaOne

Jeff Hoffman is the lead user experience designer for Java Standard Edition.

Jindra Dinga devotes his time to improving the deployment experience of Java for both developers and end users.

Jeff and Duke at JavaOne 2007In a couple of weeks, my colleague Jindra and I will be presenting our process for creating a graphical user interface to the developers at JavaOne. In my last entry, I mentioned a set of user experience talks happening at this year's conference. Now I'd like to describe a bit more about how we developed our session and what's in it.

At last year's JavaOne, our merry little band of Java UE designers presented a very basic overview of user experience design best practices at a 9pm BOF. We dutifully put together a presentation with slides covering a variety of things, and cheerfully presented them to the much larger than we expected crowd. We were terribly nervous, but overall the experience was great and the questions were great too. Some months later the survey results came in and they weren't bad, but not great... Most of the comments were asking for more detail and more examples, so we started discussion about this year's presentation with that idea.

Based on the feedback, this year we are going to take a real example and walk through our process with it. Since we only have 50 minutes (and some of that time needs to be available for questions), we will try our best to reach the level of detail our audience desires. JavaOne Speaker

At the beginning of our presentation we will talk about why it is hard to create good GUIs and how important it is to understand the user's tasks and goals. Later on we take the existing command line process for configuring a network interface connection in Solaris (see Project Brussels) and make it over in to a GUI.

Jindra and I have spent years in the user experience field and we know that it's hard to follow an exact process for every project. We also know that making sure our designs work for our customers requires that we adhere to the principles of design, and we want to make sure that the developers out there understand how these principles apply to a real design problem.

If you're planning to be at JavaOne, sign up to come to our session (TS-4968). Also, if you'd like to say hello to some of the contributors to this blog, stop by the User Experience pod near the Spin-the-Wheel Game in Sun Booth at the JavaOne Pavilion.

Monday Apr 07, 2008

User Experience Blooms at JavaOne 2008

Jeff HoffmanJeff Hoffman is the lead user experience designer for Java Standard Edition. He's been designing both consumer and developer oriented products since before the boom.

Springtime is in the air! The flowers are blooming and the trees are sprouting branches. Along with nature's beauty all around us, it's a sign that we're getting closer to a special time of year for Java developers...JavaOne!

I've been attending this show since 1999 and have always been amazed at the array of Java development related topics -- except for putting good user experience design practices to work for your applications. Sure, there are always wonderful discussions about adding fun visual effects like animations, reflections and transparency to help make your application stand out from the crowd. But developers have deeper questions -- like how to make an application work the way their users expect.

JavaOne SpeakerI'm very excited to report that the 2008 JavaOne show (May 6-9 at Moscone Center, San Francisco) will include at least four technical sessions focused on user experience. There are also a whole bunch of sessions on the latest fun stuff you can do with Java 2D and 3D Graphics, Swing, JavaFX Script and more. I'll be holding a session along with my xDesign colleague Jindra Dinga called Designing GUIs 101 (TS-4968) where we will use an end-to-end example to illustrate our straight forward, repeatable process for designing GUIs that meet the user's needs effectively and efficiently.

Our talk will cover the important phases of a good design process:

  1. Discovering the User's Goals and Tasks
  2. Gathering Requirements
  3. Defining the Task Flow
  4. Designing the GUI
  5. Gathering Feedback

And how we apply these practices when we are designing a specific feature (based on a current command line interface) within a GUI desktop tool. I'll be writing more about our technical session in the weeks right before JavaOne.

To round out this "mini-track" of User Experience sessions, I've discovered three talks from folks who (like me) are interested in enhancing the user's experience with software and are spreading the word about how to make sure it is properly considered during development. They are:

Looking forward to seeing you at the show!

Monday Sep 24, 2007

The New Solaris Installer (NSI):
Installation Made Easy

Jen McGinn is an interaction designer in xDesign who enjoys creating new things, and then writing about them.

Frank Ludolph is an interaction designer in xDesign with more than 30 years of experience in user interface design and development.

At the end of August, I spoke with Frank Ludolph, the Senior Interaction Designer responsible for greatly simplifying the user experience of installing and upgrading the Solaris operating system.

Jen: Frank, what was the impetus behind the new Solaris installer (NSI)?

Frank: A lot of people find Solaris hard to install. The installer asks a lot of questions that many users don't know how to answer. The first time I tried to install Solaris on my laptop, it took me four tries to successfully install. And the installer had the old 1990's Motif look. The underlying architecture of the software showed through too much as well. For example, system configuration was separate from the installer, so before the installer ran, it asked the user a large number of configuration questions and then threw away the answers when the user was upgrading rather than installing. With the release of Solaris on x86, which broadened the target audience to developers in addition to system administrators, installation needed to be better and easier.

We decided to replace the old installer. The UI team reviewed a number of current operating system installers, both proprietary (Mac OS X and Windows) and open source (SUSE, Fedora, Ubuntu). We decided the goal of the installer should be to do minimal configuration during install; just enough to get you up and running following reboot. During installation, you'd only be asked to choose the installation target, set the clock, assign a root password, set up a user account (so you don't have to log in as root), and specify the language support to be installed. Any specialized configurations, which relatively few users needed, could be done by after the reboot. A new Solaris feature, Network Auto-Magic (NWAM), allowed us to drop network configuration questions because it automatically configures the wired and wireless network connections when the newly installed system is booted.

We then created an interactive UI mock-up that targeted both desktop and enterprise users. This mock-up was used during early engineering discussions when the functionality and architecture were being developed. But we estimated that it would take at least a year to fully implement the new installer. Too long.

Then Solaris Express Developer Edition (SXDE), a fast-moving project targeted at developers, appeared. This project had fewer functional requirements than on the full installer and allowed for a phased implementation of the installer.

In the first phase, guided by our earlier studies, we just cut a lot of questions and screens out of the old installer by choosing defaults appropriate for our target users. The SXDE installer would install developer tools, Sun Studio and NetBeans, and add them to the Launch menu. When the system started up, it automatically configured network connections and greeted users with a web page with developer-specific help. The installer wasn't pretty -- the flow wasn't as smooth as it might be and the visuals were dated, but it was much easier for developers, the target audience of the product, to get a developer desktop up and running.

The second phase of the new Solaris installer, Dwarf, has a modern, branded graphical appearance and a user experience that is the equal to any of today's installers. It still has plumbing from the old installer underneath, but the team worked very hard so that the graphical user interface masks the old architectural underpinnings. The architecture itself will be addressed in the third phase of implementation, named Slim. Future phases will add the support needed by enterprises. When that is complete the old installer can be retired.

Jen: So a little over a year ago, you were working on writing the branded interaction guidelines for system startup, and I was leading the team to write the branded guidelines for install -- I love how I'm seeing convergence between the Solaris installer and the OpenDS installer and the OpenInstaller, as a result.

Frank: Also with respect to consistency in the user experience, the GNOME desktop is themed, and because the Sun theme, Nimbus, is the default on Solaris, the installer picks it up. As a result, the look and feel are consistent from installation through to the desktop experience.

Jen: So what's the coolest thing about the new Solaris installer?

Frank: It has a modern look-and-feel, new users are successful, and the short, six-month SXDE release cycle gives us the opportunity to get feedback quickly from our target audience and make it even better.

Monday Jul 30, 2007

Blogging by Design

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.

Recently, I had a conversation with Anant Kartik Mithal, who is Director of xDesign (Software Experience Group) at Sun Microsystems, Inc. xDesign provides a wide range of design services for Sun's software products including visual and motion-graphic design, interaction design, usability reviews, user research, web development and assistance with accessibility compliance.

Nalini: Why launch Design@Sun, a blog by and about Sun's Software User Experience Group (xDesign)?

Kartik: xDesign does an incredible amount of absolutely fascinating design work. As I spend time talking to all kinds of people across Sun — designers, engineers, managers — I listen to the problems they're trying to solve, and the problems are simply fascinating. I think a lot of people inside and outside of Sun would be interested in them. It’s interesting to understand what problems people are solving and how everyone solves them differently. And it’s fascinating to see how people think through the solution process. Look at the design for Solaris’ start-up, for example. I would have done it differently. It’s wonderful to see an absolutely fantastic design that’s different than what I might have done. And the same goes for the work in the Tools space, in the Web Admin space.

Nalini: What kind of problems and solutions will Design@Sun cover?

Kartik: The designers in xDesign, for example, are looking at how we can turn Solaris into a modern operating system and what that means. How can we get the Solaris start-up experience to be fun? Something like start-up poses an interesting design issue. It’s something a user has to go through; it's not something the user necessarily wants to go through. This kind of design problem that’s a little different than those users encounter when executing tasks. If I’m using JavaFX to create an animation, I’m actually getting work done. But if I'm doing start-up and install, these are wasted steps. So how can you make them interesting for users? How can you give the user something back while they're happening? If you take our individual software products, they’re all very different. What we’re trying to do is be as similar as possible across our products. So if you learn to use one of them, you can learn to use all of them. That’s something we achieved in the productivity apps a long time ago, and we’re doing it in the admin apps now.

Nalini: What will people get from Design@Sun?

Kartik: We hope to share with our readers a bunch of interesting problems that Sun is trying to solve. A lot of our stuff is open source so people can follow along as it shows up and comment if interested. Sun is all about making our customers more successful and more productive. And design is all about supporting that.

Also, one of the things that some people have lost sight of is that Sun invests a great deal in its user experience. Whether it’s the hardware or the software. It’s very important to us. It’s very important to us that administrators are able to assemble and disassemble systems as easily as possible. That system administrators are productive with Solaris. That developers are productive with NetBeans. That everyone is productive with StarOffice. We want everyone to be productive.

We were at CHI this year, as we are most years. I was a little shocked when a few people came up to me and said that they didn’t know that Sun had HCI (human-computer interaction) professionals. Very prominent people in the field of HCI work at Sun. Sun has been very active in this field, and maybe this blog can provide people with a better idea of what Sun is doing in design and user experience.

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