A few weeks back, I had the opportunity to sit down and chat with my colleagues, Chip Alexander and Karen Stanley, about the Sun Web Application Guidelines.
Chip Alexander is the User Interface Architect for Sun's Web Applications and co-led the user interface design for the Java Look and Feel Design Guidelines: Advanced Topics. He has 21 years of experience designing intuitive user interfaces and leading user interface design teams, 6 of them here at Sun.
Karen Stanley is the former Project Manager of the Web Application Guidelines, and has been the lead for making the guidelines available externally. She has worked in the HCI field for 20 years, with experience designing software applications and user interface components, usability testing, and project management.
Jen: Chip, Karen, how do you describe what the Sun Web Application Guidelines are?
Chip: They are a set of building blocks for web applications that have been designed by user interface specialists, thoroughly thought through and usability tested. They can be used for developing full web applications, allowing designers and developers to focus on their application's particular needs rather than the design of all the controls and elements inside.
Jen: So how long have they been under development at Sun?
Chip: Over six years -- they were started by Robin Jeffries (now at Google) and Tom Spine (now at AutoDesk). The guidelines came first and then the User Interface Review Board (UIRB) was established to help ensure compliance with the guidelines.
Karen: Tom and Robin started seeing applications built for the web, but every group in Sun was designing them differently. Tom saw an opportunity to align the look and feel of web applications at Sun before things got too out of control, so Sun could show a single face to the world.
Jen: Over the years, who else has contributed to the guidelines?
Chip: I've been the architect for the team for the last 5 years or so, and the project management was done by myself, then by Karen Stanley, and now by Liz Clayton. We have the full list of contributors included in the guidelines.
Jen: I know that the guidelines have been Sun-internal all this time, so why are we releasing them now?
Karen: The project Woodstock components are available under an open source license, but there are no guidelines on how to use them. We wanted the open source community to benefit from the guidelines. We've had a close relationship with the Woodstock team during the development of the components — there's been a lot of give and take, back and forth.
Chip: The Woodstock web app components are based on the guidelines, which explain the specifics of how and when or where to use them. The benefit is that web app developers can draw on our design expertise and years of work, giving them more time to build their applications.
Karen: And to see how the designs were intended to be used. We're trying to share our internal work, so that anyone using the Woodstock components will have examples of the components being used in context. The guidelines provide numerous screen-shots showing the components used in the context of an application.
Jen: So why not publish the guidelines as a book, like Sun did with the Java Look and Feel Guidelines?
Karen: The environment is changing. Mary Lautman, the manager of the Woodstock team, has been asking for these guidelines to go public since the components went open source. The amount of work it would take to publish the guidelines as a book is prohibitive. It would take too long — they would be out of date as soon as they were published. This way, we can update them more quickly. The guidelines can be revised as the Woodstock components are revised. Not creating a book and instead releasing our work to the public allows more agility for Sun and ensures that web app developers always have the most up-to-date tools for building their applications.
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.