Friday Mar 11, 2011

Now that I've Installed Java, What do I do?

Consumers will eventually go through the experience of installing Java on their computer.  Some of the situations that trigger this activity are:
  • The computer they bought has Java pre-installed, and now there's a security update they want to get
  • The user wants to play a game (or use a banking app, file their taxes, etc.) that requires Java, and their computer doesn't have it, or has an old version.
  • Somehow they are told to install Java (perhaps an application that they use at work will need it).
Our current Java installer is really a "one size fits all" solution.  Although the situations are quite different, the user will eventually see the same set of installer panels.  The experience leading up to the installer launch is the only way we have to cater to the differences.

In the future, we are developing an installer that is more flexible and can be tailored to the specific scenarios where Java needs to be installed or updated.  This will streamline the experience so that installing Java will be easier.

You'll notice a new layout, simpler text and an overall cleaner look.  Where in some situations you would previously see a progress indicator before the installer Welcome panel was shown, you won't have to wait for that part of the download any more as it will occur while you're looking at the Welcome panel.

Once the Java installation has completed, the browser refreshes to a page that will verify that the various components of the Java platform are hooked up correctly.  Or, if you were installing Java because something on the page requested it, then the browser will show the desired Java content.

If you look around the web, there are examples of functionality that are implemented in Java because of it's unique power and flexibility -- or just because it's fun!  Some examples that I've found are:
Take a look around the web and let us know what Java content you find.  And let us know how your experience installing and using Java goes.  We really do read those comments that are entered through the little +/- icon on the lower right corner of the browser window!

Wednesday Dec 26, 2007

The Deployment Toolkit

Jindrich Dinga is an Interaction Designer at Sun Microsystems, and he currently designs developer and consumer software.

It has been a couple of months since we posted the blog entry about changes to the Java installer. Today I want to tell you a couple of things about another usability improvement in the deployment area -- the Deployment Toolkit (DT).

If you're responsible for a web site that provides Java content, like games, applets or other features, you probably struggle with these common concerns: What if people who come to the site don't have the latest Java? Will they come back to the site after they get the latest Java? Are they confused when they have to allow an ActiveX control to run? There are currently a whole set of related issues. Using the Deployment Toolkit, however, these issues will be gone.

The Deployment Toolkit consists of some Javascript code and a browser plug-in. It works with the majority of browsers on Windows. DT will be delivered as a part of the basic Java installation, and because it is signed by Microsoft, Windows users who have it on their machine will no longer see an ActiveX warning when they update Java.

So, assuming that users will have the DT plug-in already installed, how will the user experience improve? DT Javascript on your web site will detect if users have the required Java version, and if not, it will redirect them to the web site to download and install the latest. When they're done, it will redirect users back to your web site. This means that users will no longer get lost or distracted, and they can continue with your provided Java content. And what if a browser restart is required by the update? No worries -- after the restart, your website will be loaded in the browser automatically.

Now, you may ask when this feature will be available to try? The beta is scheduled for the first quarter 2008 as part of Java release 6uN.

Continue to follow the Design@sun blog to learn about other usability improvements in the Java space.

Monday Dec 10, 2007

Sun's usability test labs in Menlo Park

Back in August, Jiri Mzourek told us about the building of Sun's usability test labs in Prague, Czech Republic. In October, Kristin Travis told us what it was like to have her engineering team view her usability tests remotely. And in November, I posted an interview with Kim Arrowood, who manages Sun's usability test labs in Menlo Park, California. Now in this post, Kim takes us for a virtual tour of the labs in Menlo Park.

Kim Arrowood has worked in xDesign for over a year managing Sun's usability test labs in the U.S. Before coming to xDesign, she worked at Sun for 6 years in market development engineering as a program manager. Kim is working to improve the visibility of the usability labs in the U.S.

Jen: So Kim, tell me about the usability labs in Menlo Park.

Kim: The labs have both digital and analog recording; we use Camtasia for digital recording, and DVDs for analog recording. We recently installed all new equipment in two of our three labs in Menlo Park, so the labs are really state of the art. We primarily use two of the three labs in Menlo Park and the third lab is used as a staging area for tours and other demo setups. One lab is set up like an office environment, with desks, chairs, and computer equipment. We typically use that for one-on-one (facilitator:participant) usability testing.

The other lab that we use a lot of the time, called the "playspace", is set up in a more creative and casual way. There is a table in the middle with chairs around it, couches, and it's decorated in a more artistic way. It's been built to look more like a design studio than a typical usability lab. For example, it has lamps off to the sides, instead of being lit from the ceiling, and we have toys scattered around the room. We only have one computer set up in the room, and it's off to the side.

Jen: So how do you use the playspace?

Kim: It's great for focus groups, and we record webinars (training) in there. It also has a ceiling-mounted camera that looks down on the table, so we can use it for testing consumer devices or for capturing drawings. Once a week, the playspace is used to host a "design cafe" for teams to strategize and brainstorm, or for people to review their current designs and get feedback on what they are working on.

All of our labs in Menlo Park have an attached control room, separated from the lab by a half-wall and a two-way mirror, but they vary in the lab size and the number or observers they can accommodate in the control room. The playspace can accommodate up to 20 observers, and the other labs can handle up to 10 observers. Each lab also has the ability to support remote observers, for people who can't observe a study in person. This is very useful when part of a team in somewhere else and they can see everything that is going on in our labs.

Jen: So what else should we know about the labs in Menlo Park?

Kim: We've given tours to several different organizations internal and external to Sun. We were part of the CHI 2007 lab tours, and we just gave a tour to the SEED mentoring participants.

Jen: When you give tours, what's the feedback like?

Kim: They think that the control rooms look like a newscast. And the most common question is, "How do you get anything done in the play space?" I tell them that it facilitates creative thinking and communication.

Jen McGinn is an interaction designer in xDesign who is working to improve the user experience with software installation and registration. She has an MS in Human Factors in Information Design and works out of Sun's campus in Massachusetts.

Tuesday Nov 20, 2007

Of Notebooks and Pens

Maya Venkatraman is an Interaction Designer at Sun Microsystems. She started working in the area of Human Computer Interaction in graduate school, where she earned her Ph.D, and has been working in the industry for almost a decade, designing software that is easy to use.

I watched the amazing movie Pan's Laybrinth recently. I wandered over to the Pan's Laybrinth website (a webby award winner!) and found pictures of pages from the directors notebook. Apparently, he is in the habit of putting his thoughts into a journal. Years later in the midst of a project he will remember something he sketched that would be perfect for what he was currently creating. Take a look at this snapshot of the journal. Talk about content rich. Maybe I am a Luddite, but I just don't see someone being able to do this using, say a blackberry.
Now if they had  a FlyTop  pen (or the more grownup version by Logitech) and the paper that goes with it - they would have best of both worlds. The flexibility of paper, combined with all the goodness of Digitality(tm). I stumbled onto this product about a year ago, and am surprised that it has not yet taken the world by storm. (...all it needs is a wireless chip..) Maybe sometime in the future, the notepad portlet/widget, will also connect to my physical notebook. Maybe I will be able to throw some of my web pages on to the wall or white board, and some to my real desktop (surface of four legged table). I could place my digital pen notebook on top of the notepad widget area, to upload the pages I have written. Maybe I am more of a Futurist than a Luddite.


Friday Nov 09, 2007

What is it like to work in a design group, when you're not a designer?

Kim Arrowood has worked in xDesign for over a year managing Sun's usability test labs in the U.S. Before coming to xDesign, she worked at Sun for 6 years in market development engineering as a program manager. Kim is working to improve the visibility of the usability labs in the U.S.

I recently spoke with Kim Arrowood about what it's like to join a design group, when you're not a designer.

Jen: So Kim, tell me a little about what it is that you do.

Kim: I manage our usability test labs. World-wide, we have 9 or 10 labs spread across Prague, Massachusetts, Colorado, and California, but I primarily manage the 3 labs we have in Menlo Park, California. I handle logistics, recruit usability test participants, and help out with technical equipment. I also manage some aspect of operations for our organization, like goals, budgets, and dashboards.

Jen: From your perspective, what's the most challenging or interesting part of coming into a design group?

Kim: The most challenging aspect is the terminology. In my former group, we used the terminology of the customer, but the design group uses both the terminology of the engineering teams as well as terms that are specific to design or usability. For example, I had to learn what it was an interaction designer does and how that is different from the work of a visual designer. And I didn't know what a usability test was until I got to see one, so there was a big learning curve.

One really interesting thing that I learned was how "hands on" design is. I never knew all the work that goes into creating designs before they go to engineering. And I was surprised at how collaborative the design process is. When I worked in engineering, a single person wold work to resolve a single customer problem. But here, there's a very supportive environment -- a lot of teamwork.

Jen: How do you see that manifested?

Kim: Well, when Kristin was working on some designs for the Identity Manager team she took them to the weekly Design Cafe, to get feedback and input on her ideas from other designers in the group. And we have those design cafes weekly, so anyone with an idea or a new mock-up can get feedback from their peers, in a supportive way. But I was surprised, too, at how small the group is, when design is so important to Sun.

Jen: So what is the most interesting part of your job?

Kim: I get to learn a lot more about the products we make; what they are and what they do. I'm reading as much as I can about design and usability testing, but I like to learn about our products by being the participant in our dry runs -- the practice round of a study, when the lab setup and script get tested.

I enjoy participant recruiting, but it's challenging. It's really hard to find good participants; ones that match the test goals for each study.

But the best part of my job is getting involved in the projects, and working on the teams. Everyone works together and communicates -- there are no funny looks and no stupid questions. I really enjoy the collaboration and the teamwork.

Tuesday Nov 06, 2007

Toh-may-toh? Toh-mah-toh?: Let's call the whole thing.. a terminology study

Ann Sunhachawee is an interaction designer in xDesign, and has been working for over 8 years in the area of tools, Java client, and currently OpenSolaris projects.

When deciding on terminology to use in your user interface, you try to fulfill a couple of different objectives: 1) accurately and concisely describe the concept 2) make it easy for the user to grasp.

The Network Auto-Magic project (which is part of OpenSolaris) needed to capture the concept of associating a group of settings (such as network proxies and services) with the network the computer is connected to. For instance, if you're using your computer in your office, you would need to use proxies that allowed you to work through your employer's firewall. But you would not need those particular proxies when using your computer at home.

What do you call this concept of needing different network settings depending on where you are? Mac OS calls it "Location" (as does Windows Vista). However, "Location," as Mac OS uses it, is not exactly the same as what Solaris will be implementing. We tried some alternatives like "Network Environment". No term was fully accepted. So what could we do?

A quick & dirty terminology study! I printed 2 sets of screenshots — one set featuring the term "Environment", and the other "Location". Then I walked them around the hallways to get people's opinion: "Hey you — Do you like A or B?"

But, before rushing into that, I consulted user researcher Nalini Kotamraju to figure out if there were any gotchas to think about. There are a few factors to consider, for what seemed like a short & simple survey. Here are some of them:

  • Alternate which term is shown first to each person, to get rid of any order-effect bias.
  • Don't ask about the term directly; instead just ask what they think the function of the dialog is. Observe the person's understanding by listening to their response.
  • Only directly prompt the user about the term in question if the person doesn't comment on the term during the course of their discussion.
  • Present the alternative after finishing discussion of the first term.
  • Ask for any alternatives that they might think are better.
  • And of course, avoid leading questions.

The Results

In the end, of the 10 people I polled, only 1 person preferred Environment over Location; 8 people chose Location; and 1 was undecided. I hadn't thought the results would be this skewed. Reasons for choosing Location did include familiarity with the term (a number of people were Mac users) and the notion that Environment is way too broad, evoking associations with the Desktop Environment and Unix environment variables, which were both something people felt were not changed very often.

In the end, the term might not be the most accurate, but sometimes it's better to use a good approximation that is recognizable. In the case of this project, it is an acceptable trade-off. I highly recommend the quick & dirty study method — great payoff for the price of a couple of print outs and getting to know your neighbors =)

Thursday Nov 01, 2007

Sharp Design

Maya Venkatraman is an Interaction Designer at Sun Microsystems. She started working in the area of Human Computer Interaction in graduate school, where she earned her Ph.D, and has been working in the industry for almost a decade, designing software that is easy to use. I love stationery. If Stacey and Clinton ever appear at my door step and give me a credit card loaded with $5,000.00, I would try to ditch them at the earliest, and duck into the nearby Staples or Office Depot and splurge on notebooks, pencils, pens, sharpeners, and the like. It goes without saying that "back-to-school" is turning into my favorite season ...

One of the nicest finds this year is the stop-signal pencil sharpener. It has a small button on the top, which you press down before you start sharpening. When the pencil is sharp and the point touches the end of the blade, the button pops up to let you know. And you are saved from over sharpening and, thus, breaking the lead. Kids using the sharpener now have a cue that tells them when to stop. :)

During my online journey to discover more about this sharpener I found a blog devoted to pencils, etc.! Maped, the company that manufactures these sharpeners, is in France and has a nice web2.0, flash-filled website, complete with a carousel widget and pop-up bubble. actually has some entries on sharpeners (and yes, I will be sending them a tip about this one).

Tuesday Oct 30, 2007

openInstaller User Interface Design

Jen McGinn is an interaction designer in xDesign who is working to improve the user experience with the Java Enterprise System installers. She has an MS in Human Factors in Information Design and works out of Sun's campus in Massachusetts.

Last year, one thing I did was to work with a team of Sun engineers and UI designers to create a set of branded interaction guidelines for desktop applications.

[aside] Two weeks ago, I posted an interview with the folks behind the web application guidelines — those are different, because they focus on UI components used in a browser, not a desktop application. [/aside]

The interaction guidelines that I worked on were not component-oriented, but task oriented. Another colleague led the effort on branded system startup, and I led the branded installation guidelines. We may see those guidelines go public at some point, but until then, you can see them in action in the New Solaris Installer (NSI) and the openInstaller framework — even the OpenDS Installer took on some of the guideline design, even though it's a web application.

The openInstaller project team describes the effort this way: openInstaller is an open source community project building a free and comprehensive next generation installer framework. Initial development of openInstaller was done by Sun Microsystems, but is now available under the open source Common Development and Distribution License (CDDL). What's really cool that's not in that statement is that the framework is all Java + XML. I've looked at their code, and if you know a little Java and XML, you can create an installation program quickly and easily. 

From an interaction standpoint, there are a few things that I'm particularly happy with. One is how software licenses are presented to the user. Another thing that you may notice is the placement of buttons. The most frequent interaction is placed bottom right, and then other buttons are organized by projected frequency of use from right-to-left. This organization supports the visual scan patterns of readers of most languages better than button placements that we often see, which are grouped in the bottom right-hand corner, but require the user to read all of the button labels from left to right, to find the most frequent interaction.

openInstaller screen

From a geeky coolness factor, the openInstaller is written in Java and XML that even I find understandable, and the output of that code is two-fold: not only does it render a GUI, but it renders a command-line CUI, that is comparable to what the user would see in GUI mode. As a result, installers written using the openInstaller framework are easier to develop, maintain, and use.

Thursday Oct 25, 2007

Thoughts from a recent remote usability study

Kristin Travis has been working in high tech as an interaction designer and usability engineer for more than 15 years. She is part of the xDesign team based in Menlo Park, California, and she currently supports the Identity Manager team, which is based in Austin, Texas.

Identity Manager Login Screen

The last release of Sun's Identity Manager software (in May of 2007) had substantial user interface changes, so when I joined the team in June we discussed conducting a usability study in the Menlo Park usability labs, to get feedback from representative users on the current release.

In my experience, most development team members appreciate seeing how users interact with a piece of hardware or software that they've helped to create. Seeing first-hand reactions to existing functionality helps to shape team members' thinking about changes and new features for a product.

Picture of LabBut while I'm located in Menlo Park, the Identity Manager development team is located in Austin, Texas. So the questions I had going into this exercise were: would it be relatively easy to involve a remote development team in a usability study? And would the remote team be satisfied with viewing a study in real-time, but not actually being in the same room as the user?

So what did we do?

In terms of the setup, we created a VNC connection between the usability lab in California (where I was, with the study participants) to a conference room in Texas, where the members of the development team could observe the test sessions.

The remote access allowed the people in Texas (and other locations, if needed) to see what study participants were doing. The Texas team could see the participant's computer monitor and watch, in real time, while the participant interacted with the product. In addition, the team could listen to the participant over an audio conference call that we established between the locations. At the end of each session, if the remote team wanted to follow up with the participant about a particular issue or question, they could do so by using the conference call.

And how did it work out?

Here are some highlights of the feedback that I got from the remote and local teams:

  • As with any other type of study, it's really important to conduct a dry run of the session. You don't want to get side-tracked during the study by unanticipated logistical issues. During our dry run, we diagnosed an error in the VNC login instructions for the remote set up. That took a while to figure out, but then things went according to plan.
  • The remote team's commitment to the study is essential. Jeff, my main contact in Texas, coordinated the remote conference room, kept everyone there informed about any schedule changes, and attended each study session. Considering the two-hour time zone difference, this meant a few late nights in Austin. But it was extremely helpful to have Jeff complete intra-task dependencies so I could concentrate on working with the participant.
  • Jeff said that seeing how the participant interacted with the product was a huge benefit. This was true even though they couldn't "see" the participant directly (as they would have if they had been here locally).

Would we change anything for the next time?

I was in the room with the participant, and Kim, our Usability Lab Manager, was in the control room interacting with Austin by phone, so there was a bit of a communication delay at times. If Kim and Jeff had relevant content to share, Kim had to wait for an appropriate time to break into the conversation that I was having with the participant. It would have been useful to have a '3-way IM chat' up and running, so if the participant discovered any software surprises, or they had any related questions, we could communicate more quickly, without disrupting the flow of the test.

So the questions I had going into this exercise were: would it be relatively easy to involve a remote development team in a usability study? And would the remote team be satisfied with viewing a study in real-time, but not actually being in the same room as the user?

Well, in this case, yes.

Tuesday Oct 23, 2007

A designer's take on the myths of innovation

Maya Venkatraman is an Interaction Designer at Sun Microsystems. She started working in the area of Human Computer Interaction in graduate school, where she earned her Ph.D, and has been working in the industry for almost a decade, designing software that is easy to use. There seems to be a tight coupling between each phase of the internet era and a set of buzz words. The omnipresent and overused buzz word for the web 2.0 era is "Innovation".

My garden supply site , a respected business journal, and everyone in between wants to tell me about their innovations, how to innovate, who is innovating, why we are not innovating enough, and many, many more innovative things.

Given all of this attention to the topic of innovation, I found it hard to resist buying and reading Scott Berkun's latest book The Myths of Innovation. After reading his first book , The Art of Project Management, I expected this book to be pragmatic, realistic, entertaining and informative. I was not disappointed.

The earlier book, The Art of Project Management, is about the effective management of the environment in which designers work. But this book is about the everyday work of designers and the way their work is perceived. While I learned a lot of new facts reading "The Art...", I found a lot of supporting evidence for existing beliefs when I read "The Myths...".

The book is organized into ten chapters, each chapter focusing on debunking one myth. I have taken the liberty to translate the list into design parlance:

  • Myth 1: Good Design is the Result of a Single Moment of Inspiration or Epiphany
  • Myth 2: Winning Designs Are Immediately Obvious
  • Myth 3: There is One Single Method to Get to Good Design
  • Myth 4: People Love New Designs
  • Myth 5: The Designer Works Alone
  • Myth 6: Good Design Ideas Are Hard to Find
  • Myth 7: Your Boss Knows More About Design Than You Do.
    (probably not, but he can create an environment where it is safe for you to innovate)
  • Myth 8: Problem Statements Do Not Matter
    (they do, phrasing the problem correctly can give you half the solution)
  • Myth 9: The Best Design Always Wins
    (no, the design that is optimum for a given situation and time - wins)
  • Myth 10: New Designs are Always Good

I can see myself reaching for this book when I want to use a quote or anecdote to make a point, but I can also see myself using this book to analyze the "innovation trajectory" of projects that I'm involved with. My favorite quote from the book is, "An idea is not an innovation 'till it reaches people."

Entertaining and informative, I would highly recommend this book to anyone involved in, or nearby, a design project.

Thursday Oct 18, 2007

What's Right With This Picture?

Loren Mack is a design architect in xDesign who creates strategic and tactical designs for the Service Oriented Architecture/Business Integration group at Sun.

Things done right in the darndest places...

Every once in a while I imagine myself and Andrew Zimmern from Bizarre Foods trotting the globe, he's searching for strange cuisine and I'm searching for usability blunders. I can see us chatting over the table, smiling for the camera, and me wincing while he chokes down some bizarre-bug-bisque. I would then comment on the strange design of the spoon he's using.

Yes, I know what you're thinking - "What a fantastic idea!!" Change the name of the show to "Bizarre Foods and Users", or "Eat-a-usability", or my personal favorite "Bizarre Food Usage". Funny thing is he still hasn't called me back on it yet. It's going to happen though, and I can be patient.

While I was waiting for that call though, I went down to my local library to find some ideas on potential destinations. And then, while waiting in line to check out my books, I saw the most amazing newfangled contraption ever. It was beauty and simplicity defined, an ergonomic eros of non-error. I was rapt with attention while I watched some brave soul actually use the thing.

I had to try it myself!! It was just so... um... usable!! I approached the lady whom I'd just seen use this usable thing -- a kiosk at the public library -- to check out a book, and then realized she didn't speak English. Her books were in Russian! It was amazing to me that a non-English speaker could go to this public library and check-out books without any assistance!

I immediately found my favorite librarian and asked for a demo. This video shows her showing me how to use the most usable kiosk I've ever used.

Notice that even though the interface is in English, the video instructions are so clear that even someone who cannot read them can see what needs to be done. And, if you listen carefully, you can hear auditory feedback as well, letting you know something happened and you succeeded.

Every once in a while, you'll find something that's really well designed and thought through, and in the darndest places.

Technorati Profile

Monday Oct 08, 2007

User Research at Innovation@Sun

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.

Jen McGinn and I recently had the honor of giving a talk about user research at Innovation@Sun, a gathering of Sun's top engineering talent. This illustrious group count among their ranks people who are pioneers in Java (of course), but also in computer graphics, routing security, cryptography, and large-scale distributed computing. Many great technical brains, many patents in pockets. An intimidating group, by most measures.

Jen was presenting (I was back-up) about user research that we had done last year for an organization in Sun. The research findings themselves are terrific and already being applied within Sun. What we wanted to share with this audience was the innovative way in which we conducted the research, and to remind the audience of the importance of understanding the people who are ultimately often the end-users of technical innovations.

One might imagine that such an audience, gathered to exchange information about advances and challenges in the realm of engineering might be -- at best, apathetic -- to a presentation about users and user research. Or at least I had imagined such a response from the audience. Instead, I found that many of the people who stopped by during the poster session or who asked a question after the talk were not only receptive, but were even enthusiastic about user research. In the formal settings, as well as over meals and in hallways, these engineers asked questions about how we think about understanding users and, more often than not, wanted to know how they could utilize user research in their own work for Sun.

Thursday Sep 27, 2007

Improving the Java User Experience

Jeff Hoffman has been designing developer and consumer software at Sun since before the boom.

Pop Quiz: What is the application, delivered by Sun, that is most used by people around the globe?


There are about 1 million successful installations of Java every day using the Java installer (the installer is just needed for the Windows platform, because Java is already included with Solaris and many Linux distributions, and Apple provides their own Java installer). With all those eyes on it, the installer design receives a lot of attention. The Java installation process may be the first experience that a customer has with Sun and we do our best to make this experience simple, fast, and aesthetically pleasing.

From the user's perspective, the installation process usually starts at a third-party website, which needs the latest Java version to run an applet. The applet could be a game (, a map locator (, or the virtual view of a cruise ship cabin ( The Java installation experience presents a unique challenge for Sun -- we wanted to make this experience positive for the end user, while providing brand recognition for both Sun and the applet's provider.

Let's have a look at the old installation experience:

The user starts at a third-party website by clicking the "Get Java" graphic which leads to the download and enables them to install the latest version of the Java runtime environment. This download page is simple and straight forward, containing a single button to begin downloading the Java software. The default "automatic" installation process from Internet Explorer involves downloading a small application, which launches the Java installer UI and then continues to download the files that contain the Java runtime environment.

This installer design attempted to reduce the number of panels by putting more "decision points" on a panel -- for example, the initial panel had three purposes:

  1. confirm that Java was to be installed
  2. Display the license agreement and get the user to agree
  3. Provide typical and custom option radio buttons

The design placed too much information on a single installer panel making it appear complicated to the typical consumer. Other installer panels were not visually attractive due to spacing and alignment issues.

We had a couple goals for our redesign of the Java 5.0 installer. The first goal was to keep the number of steps to a minimum, making sure that each step had only one necessary decision point. While creating the current design, the challenge of incorporating the variability (when the user will see a third party offer, does the user have to restart their browser) meant that we had to spec out the various paths and ensure that they made sense. Also de-emphasizing the "custom" install options was necessary.

The second goal was to manage the changing nature of the steps. Our installer has the capability of offering third-party bundled software, such as the Google toolbar. This offer is only shown if the user does not currently have the offered software, or if they have an outdated version. The design of these optional panels needed to be modular so that they would not disrupt the flow of the installation process.

So now lets look at the new Java installer design:

The first panel of the Java installer UI confirms that the user is installing Java, and gives them pointers to important information like our privacy policy and license agreement.

It's still possible for a more advanced user to customize parameters of the install, but since this level of control is not necessary for most users, this feature is not checked by default and placed out of the main control flow. A single click on the first installer panel both accepts the license agreement and continues the installation of Java.

A second panel may appear, offering the user a bundled installation (for example, the Google toolbar).

The next panel (not shown here) shows the progress of the installation process and a message to reinforce the Java brand. When the installation completes, the user is shown the last panel of the installer, which confirms that the Java software was installed without incident. On this last panel, the user may see a checkbox to restart their web browser.

These improvements are already available in the latest release of Java 6. If you want to know about other improvements that have been made in the Java installation and deployment arena, keep a look out for a future blog entry.

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.

Friday Sep 21, 2007

Journeys in Design

Andrea Kendall has been a Graphics and User Interface programmer and designer for over 20 years. She is passionate about designing for the user, and is currently leading the Sun B2B Platform Dashboard in the SOA/Business Integration Composite Applications group.

Designing a Business To Business Dashboard

My team and I have been on a journey to design a “Business-to-Business” dashboard. Like any traveler going on a journey, I didn't go alone. This project required a team of international programmers, our director, the Software Experience Design (xDesign) Group and, most importantly, our customers.

What is B2B?

Business-to-Business is “the exchange of information to support commerce”. This is a world that requires businesses to send standardized information. It's a world that allows a doctor to look up information about a patient or allows a factory to get the best price on steel from its partners. It's a world that spans large businesses and small mom-and-pop shops that want to do business together.

Identifying the Users

The first and most important step was to identify our users: the people who the dashboard had to serve by supporting their tasks and making their lives easier.

  • Business users
    • Dollars and cents — cut waste and increase profits.
    • Who is costing us more/less and why?
  • Operations users
    • Make sure the end-to-end system is up and running correctly.
    • View alerts about something that was expected to happen but did not. For example, "Purchase order 99587 has not finished processing".
  • Business-to-business centric users
    • Track transaction status for standard messages
    • Drill down to lowest level of a message and show:
      • The Message Hierarchy
      • Errors
      • The actual data sent
    • Resubmit messages back to the system after correcting errors
    • View audit information

Designing for the Web

I had sent off some of our best technical minds to explore what options we had for creating the Web application. This exploration brought into sharp focus that design a Web application is very different than designing a desktop application. It was like the difference between working with bronze or clay: you can create works of wonder using each material but you can not expect the materials to respond in the same ways. Using Swing to create a desktop application was like working with clay: very flexible with a rich set of widgets. Working on the Web was like working in bronze, more restrictive.

However, the rewards for working on the Web were also richer. One reward is that the Web is more available to users than a desktop. Our hectic business user would have access to statistics about his enterprise even while on an important trip. Our brilliant business-to-business-centric user would be able to communicate status about orders to our other users. Our crucial operations user would be able to ensure the smooth running of her business-to-business enterprise even at home. And best of all, they would all be using the same Web-based GUI.

Identifying Example Charts and Tables

Having read the requirements, our team knew that we could not possibly know every chart and table that would be needed to shown on our dashboard. What we did know is that we needed good examples that could be shown in a Web 2.0 application, and which contained data that each type of user would care about. Given these examples the customer could add their own charts and tables. Our team to came up with the charts and tables shown below.

Example charts for B2B Dashboard


Working on the Mock-Up

With the example charts in hand and an understanding of our development material (bronze), we started to tackle the next major task of designing the user interface. Working with Sun's Software Experience Design (xDesign) group was key, especially given that we had to create a way to allow our users to explore their data. This would require that we invent a way to show a hierarchical structure where a node can have thousands of children — a paginated tree. These experts quickly created screen designs and acted as much-needed guides on the path to creating a mock-up that we could show to users.

Message Structure

As of this writing we are exploring several other looks for this widget by creating a working prototype. However, ultimately we may follow one of my rules of thumb, ‘ when in doubt let the user decide what works for them ’.

Not the Final Destination, But a Good Stopping Point

At the end of this part of the design journey, we had several things to show for our efforts. The mock-up and some running code. We were able to see how the mock-up fulfilled the needs of our users and knew we were at a good stopping point.

  • The business user could find out how much money was sent/received.
  • The operations user could monitor the health of the system and check key tasks.
  • The business-to-business-centric user could find the data they needed to track, fix it and send it back to an enterprise.

We are confident that the design work we have done will help us create the right application for our users, and that, after all, is the point of any journey in design.


xDesign is a software user experience design group at Sun.
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