The Two Day Workshop ‘Building Great-Looking, Usable Apps’ Explained

The Course Background

As a pilot it will no doubt evolve in the future, however this one was billed as a train-the-trainer event and so included experts from inside Oracle as well as those from six different partner organizations, several of which are Oracle ACE directors. The course actually originated from the Applications User Experience team being asked if they had anything to help partners and customers build solutions that look like (and would work with) Fusion Applications. This is a growth area for certain, as the adoption of both ADF and Fusion Applications evolves, so amalgamating content from various different sources into one, hands-on session made perfect sense.


The pre-requisite was working ADF knowledge, which I found excellently introduced by the ADF Insiders series of recordings. The labs required just a laptop with JDeveloper Suite 11.1.6 and an XE database, with all the seed data and utility project files provided by the trainers.

Fresh Collaboration

The delivery was done through a collaboration by members of three different Oracle teams, each bringing their own skills and experiences. These were the Platform Technology Solutions (PTS) trainers, the ADF Product Management Team, and the Applications User Experience Team. They were also supplemented by several interesting presentation sessions by the attending Oracle partners, who shared some of their client experiences, showed some interesting examples, and shared some useful tips on using ADF in the wild.

Content

The agenda was pretty packed for both days, and included an even mixture of presentation, demo, discussion, and hands-on. Content covered many different areas, obviously focusing around UI design and the Oracle technologies available to implement it – mainly ADF. Informative presentations included topics like User Experience Fundamentals, Wire-framing, ADF’s capabilities for building Rich UI’s, Responsive and Adaptive Design, and Oracle’s Design Patterns.

In addition each day had one or more slots for hands-on practices, to apply what you’d learned. This was based on building two simple applications, the first based on a scripted flow and the second more open for you to use your own creativity (and learning).

My Takeaways

The following points I found especially interesting, and I heard many of them reiterated by other attendees also.

  • Wire framing to create early visual designs is not really in general use, however is a powerful and low-cost method of ensuring the investment in building a prototype is not wasted. In some cases it may even replace prototyping all together.
  • Usability Testing need not be complex or costly. Whilst Oracle has many PhD scientists and experts in their usability labs, simple measures like time-on-task, number of errors, number of assists, and user satisfaction ratings are all proven to work. Even simpler is spending a day with users observing how they work, doing a few simple A/B tests based on sketches, and running surveys or questionnaires.
  • Oracle ADF works best for Enterprise Apps. We saw how parts can be successfully used for building external web sites and web-apps, however the complete solution really excels when applied to developing Enterprise Applications.
  • Successful usability is about data-driven design, not about what just looks nice to one person. Iterative design feedback that starts early is recommended, but better still is to leverage what has already been done (e.g. use design patterns).
  • Mobile’s role in Enterprise Apps is real, driven by current mind-shifts like Bring Your Own Device (BYOD), the productivity and always-on advantages of tablets and smart-phones, as well as the fact that most managers are more effective walking around than sitting behind desks.
  • Usability improves productivity for business users and developers, through re-using templates, common components, and leveraging consistent design standards.
  • Responsive and Adaptive Design are different. Responsive Design reacts to accommodate the form factor, such as re-sizing frames, whereas Adaptive Design reacts to take advantage of it, such as using the current location. ADF includes components that support both, and can be integrated with specialist external libraries like JQuery. Several times it was recommended to use a fall-back design, just in case device-specific processing fails.
  • Visual design of UI’s includes many aspects such as; branding, color, contrast, layout, spacing, fonts, icons, and graphics. And there is plenty to consider in your choices under each. Usability promotes consistency and clarity, with the goal to draw the eye to important areas using size, color, or an image, but to never overload.
  • Facial Gesture Analysis (emotional valence) adds powerful semantics to eye tracking. The technology being used already recognizes happy, sad, angry, surprised, scared, disgusted, and neutral.


Summary

Although the examples and lessons originated from building Fusion Applications, this course is intended for those building their own custom applications based on the same Fusion Middleware/ADF technologies. The course does a great job of introducing developers to effective UI design and usability, and even if you take away only a few points it will certainly enrich the products you go away and build. As our own leader Steve Miranda (EVP Applications Development) puts it; “Apps can never be too fast.  Apps can never be too usable.  Developers, your code is always ON.”

References

The following related materials and links may be useful:

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