Thursday Apr 17, 2014

The Drive To Visualize Data: Dashboards

Introduction: Cars and Context

Like many people of a certain age, my first exposure to the term dashboard was when I heard my dad using it when driving the car. He referred to it as “the dash”.

Dad’s “dash” was an analog affair that told him the car’s speed, the miles traveled, the engine oil level and temperature, if he had enough gas in the tank, and a few other little bits of basic information. It was all whirring dials, trembling needle pointers on clock-style faces, switches to toggle on and off, a couple of sliders, and little lights that blinked when there was trouble.

Drivers in those days needed to pay attention, all the time, to their dashboards.

Ford dashboard from the 1970s

Old school car dashboards: quaint and charming. And a lot of work. (Source: WikiMedia Commons)

Dashboards in cars, and how drivers use them, are different now. The days of a dashboard with switches to flick or dials to turn are gone.

Today, a family car generates hundreds of megabytes of data every second. Most of this data is discarded immediately, and is not useful to the driver, but some is and may even be life saving. Technology makes sense of the surging data so that drivers can respond easily to important information because it’s presented to them in a timely, easily consumed, and actionable way.

Car dashboards are now closer to the “glass cockpit” world that fighter jet pilots experience. Cars have tiny sensors, even cameras, and other technology inside and outside the vehicle that detect and serve up striking digital visualizations about the health of the car and driver performance. Drivers are empowered to be “situationally aware” about what’s going on (what us UXers would call “context”), as they listen to or watch for signals and cues and respond to them naturally, using voice, for example.

Some car dashboards even use heads-up displays, projecting real-time information onto the windshield. Drivers know what’s going on with their car without taking their eyes off the road.

Chevrolet Camaro Heads-up Display

Chevrolet Corvette Heads-up Display (Source: www.chevrolet.com)

Dashboard design itself is now the essence of simplicity and cutting edge technology, and stylish with it too, arising passions about what makes a great interface inside a car. It’s all part of creating an experience to engage drivers for competitive advantage in a tight automobile market.

Tesla Model S Dashboard

Tesla Model S Dashboard (Source: www.teslamotors.com)

The Emergence of Digital Dashboards User Experience

When it comes to software applications and websites, dashboards are around us everywhere too. We’re all long familiar with how such dashboards work and how to use them, beginning with the pioneering My Yahoo! portal that popularized the use of the “My” pronoun in web page titles, right through to today’s wearable apps dashboards that are a meisterwerk of information visualization, integrating social media and gamification along the way.

Fitbit Dashboard (Author's own)

FitBit Dashboard (Source: Author)

An enterprise application dashboard is a one-stop shop of information. It’s a page made up of portlets or regions, chunking up related information into displays of graphs, charts, and graphics of different kinds. Dashboards visualize a breadth of information that spans a whole range of activities in a functional area.

Dashboards aggregate data into meaningful visual displays and cues, using processor horsepower at the backend to do the work that users used to do with notepads, calculators or spreadsheets to find what out what’s changed or in need of attention.

Dashboards enable users to prioritize work and to manage exceptions by taking light-weight actions immediately from the page, or to drill down to explore and do more in a transactional or analytics work area, if necessary.

The dashboard concept remains a core part of the enterprise applications user experience, particularly for work roles that rely on monitoring of information, providing reports on performance, or needing a range of information to make well-timed and high-level decisions.

Developing Dashboards

In work, we now also have to deal with that other torrent of data we hear about: big data. Dashboards are ideal ways to make sense of this data and to represent the implications of its analysis to a viewer, bringing insight to users rather than the other way around.

To this end, Oracle provides enterprise application developers with the Oracle ADF Data Visualization Tools (DVT) components to build dashboards using data in the cloud, and with design guidance in the form of the Oracle Fusion Applications, Oracle Endeca and Oracle Business Intelligence Enterprise Edition UI patterns and guidelines for making great-looking dashboards.

Fusion Apps Desktop UI Dashboard

Typical Oracle Fusion Applications Desktop UI Dashboard (Source: Oracle)

Beyond Desktop Dashboards…

Dashboards’ origins as a desktop UI concept obviously predated the “swipe and pinch” world of mobility, today’s cross-device, flexible way of working with shared data in the cloud. Sure, we still have a need for what dashboards were originally about. But, we now need new ways for big data to be organized and visualized. We need solutions that reflect our changing work situations--our context --so that we that we can act on the information quickly, using a tablet or a smart phone, or whatever’s optimal. And, we need new ways of describing this dashboard user experience.

Enter the era of “glance, scan, and commit”, a concept that we will explore in a future Usable Apps blog.

Twilio: Democratizing Communications to Build a Better User Experience in the Oracle Cloud

Oracle has a powerful partner ecosystem in the Oracle Cloud, adding value to our applications in many areas. Enabling partners to integrate with our cloud applications is key to Oracle’s “Extending SaaS through PaaS” approach. Sharing our expertise with partners, which helps them to productively build a great user experience (UX), is a major drive of Oracle Applications User Experience (OAUX) outreach.

One of the latest additions to the Oracle PartnerNetwork  is the very cool and happening Twilio. Followers of the AppsLab know the OAUX team loves exploring the UX possibilities of Twilio-based voice and SMS integrations. I took a trip to Twilio's San Francisco HQ to ask David Wacker (@dlwacker) of Twilio Channel Sales and Partnerships to find out more about the whys and hows of integrating in the cloud and simplifying user experience...

Being in the cloud offers the potential to make a major difference with a superior UX. The days of cumbersome, on-premise installations and horrible UX are gone. Now scalable, cloud-based applications, customizable and reflecting each customer’s business, are changing the UX across datacenter management, CRM, marketing automation, and ERP, all driven through how we power communications.

Twilio is a cloud-based communications platform that offers a powerful, open API for building communications applications, what Twilio refers to as "democratizing access" to communication in a traditionally complex and expensive world of telephony.

Using Twilio, developers can easily access the means to create robust communications integrations, fundamentally changing the UX landscape for applications users in the cloud. Twilio’s open API framework means developers can utilize prebuilt solutions in the Oracle Marketing Cloud, Oracle Service Cloud, and Oracle Sales Cloud. Developers can build such UX integrations productively, without the cost and effort normally associated with such projects.

David pointed out a few ways how Twilio enhanced the user experience for Oracle application users, such as the Oracle Marketing Cloud, Oracle Service Cloud, and Oracle Sales Cloud.

Twilio’s seamless integration to the Oracle Marketing Cloud (Eloqua) means that users can just drag and drop the Twilio Cloud Connector onto a marketing campaign canvas to provide for outbound SMS, MMS (multimedia messaging), and voice calls. This delivers a great multichannel user experience, such as for mobile marketing campaigns with pictures or QR coupon codes.

Twilio Cloud Connector

Dragging the Twilio Cloud Connector onto a campaign canvas easily adds Twilio SMS, MMS, and voice to marketing campaigns.

Twilio's embedding of SMS and voice capabilities right into the Oracle Service Cloud (RightNow) means a superior customer experience built in a scalable, flexible way. A service agent can use click-to-call to phone an end customer, automatically creating the event on their system and then recording the call, for example. An SMS capability can also enable customers to chat with service agents using SMS on their phones instead of web chat, if preferred, and more.

Twilio Click-to-Call

Click-to-call for customer engagement, which allows customers to call inbound more effectively.

Twilio's integration into the Oracle Sales Cloud, drives efficiency by simplifying the UX. Twilio uses the Oracle Sales Cloud native CTI toolbar to track and record phone calls, allowing for seamless conference calls, and all integrated to drive sales productivity. For example, a sales rep can use Twilio’s click-to-call to contact opportunities, automated dialing, or conference line bridges powered by Twilio, creating events and logging activities easily within the Oracle Sales Cloud.

Twilio integrated with Oracle Sales Cloud

Computer Telephony Integration (CTI) toolbar for easy access to inbound and outbound dialing in Oracle Sales Cloud powered by Twilio.

David tells me that “Twilio’s integration possibilities are endless. That's the best part about working with developers in the Twilio and Oracle communities; finding new ways to solve user problems, unconstrained by technology or traditional project limitations. I’m excited to explore new and unique ways that the Oracle developer community and Twilio can change the UX landscape in the Oracle Cloud.”

Those are some great UX insights from David, and there are more to come. The OAUX team will be working with Twilio over the coming months, so stay tuned to your usual outreach and communications channels for news and events.

Twilio is also exhibiting at, and sponsoring, Oracle CloudWorld in Chicago on Thursday, April 17, 2014. Stop by the Twilio booth to learn more (or to just say, Hi!), and give the Usable Apps blog a shout-out.

Thursday Feb 13, 2014

Learning to Build a Wearables User Experience from Mickey Mouse

Using wearable technology in work is a hot topic, offering possibilities of increased productivity for businesses by augmenting and automating the tasks of the wearer. 

The Oracle Applications User Experience (OAUX) team recently ran a wearables design jam at Oracle’s HQ in Redwood Shores. This pilot event was for Oracle employees to learn how to design wearables for the enterprise and to develop an outreach program for customers and partners to share in the lessons learned in building such solutions.

Wearables at Work: Pebble Ideas Fuel Innovation at Oracle

Wearables at work: Use cases are emerging that add real business value 


Design jam teams were given an overview of the latest on wearables technologies and uses in the consumer and enterprise space. Cool apps already developed by OUAX for Google Glass heads-up display and the Pebble smart watch where demoed, live.

To power the teams understanding of wearables fundamentals and to inspire quick results, teams watched videos about the Disney Glow with the Show technology (yes, that's the Mickey Mouse angle) and about how rapid prototyping using household items lead to a game-changing, heads-up display device.

Currently popular wearables are built using different technologies, but use design concepts that work well across devices and make for productive building, such as the small screen card paradigm for information display.  Design jam teams were provided with UX guidelines that reflected enterprise build methodologies and usage requirements, a reminder that UX is now not just about how you wink; it’s about how you work. So, with this wearables learning in mind, the hands-on design began!


DIY Wearables Design Kit

You wear it well—design jam DIY toolkits being put to good use

The design jam was a non-coding event. Instead, teams were equipped with DIY toolboxes and given free reign to design a wearable that was as innovative or as “out there” as they wish with just two caveats. Firstly, it had to solve an identified enterprise problem and secondly, it had to be buildable with, or integrated with, Oracle technology. The result was amazing creativity quickly shown by teams, reflecting the diversity and talent of Oracle employees worldwide.

Team Air Glove Design Jam Wearable Creativity!

Oracle design jam team Air Glove solution featured heads-up display glasses, sensory gloves, and a special “Skunk Works” sensor (indicated by a WiFi-enabled skunk stencil). 

The design jam approach is a great way to learn about wearables and for newly hired employees to connect socially and professionally with co-workers in a fun way. And, there was a business focus too. Teams nuanced their wearable designs for the enterprise world, exploring how to integrate solutions with other applications and data in the cloud, for example. 

All designs were outstanding. After OAUX VP Jeremy Ashley gave an update on the latest wearables technology and opportunities, the team with the most promising design was rewarded by each member receiving an inexpensive, yet tasteful, wearable technology prize. 

The lessons from the wearables design jam and other user experience insight will be used refine our wearables enablement and expertise. That knowledge will be shared with our customers and partners to build wearables solutions too.

So, watch out for wearables enablement events coming your way! Stay tuned to the Usable Apps website and VOX blog, and follow @usableapps on Twitter.

Saturday Dec 21, 2013

Heads Up on Displays: Exploring Google Glass Globally

As a global Google Glass Explorer, I was drawn to the HuffPo's "Google Glass: Qué Guay!" article about reactions to Google Glass in Spain. I wondered about that Urban Dictionary entry (not safe for résumés) too, as I haven’t experienced such feedback. We have Explorers in Oracle, I thought it would be interesting to hear from some about what reactions they’d encountered the around the world.

London #throughglass

London pictured through Google Glass (pic: Ultan O'Broin) 

I’m indebted to co-workers Anthony Lai (@anthonyslai), Marta Rauch (@martarauch) and Noel Portugal (@noelportugal) for sharing their experiences. Not scientific in any way, this is 'after-the-fact' guerilla-style Glass user experience (UX) ethnography, is purely qualitative, and for fun, as we move towards the creation of Heads-Up Display (HUD) UX guidance.

Out and About with Glass

@noelportugal

Noel Portugal demos Fusion CRM App on Glass

Noel Portugal demos Oracle CRM app on Glass (pic: Ultan O'Broin)

Mexico

Most people do a quick stare but are hesitant to ask about Glass. Questions came from everyone, from taxi drivers to airport gate staff. They always include, "How much do they cost?" When showing someone how Glass works, others always gathered around to catch our conversation.

United Kingdom

Again, people were hesitant to ask. On the London train I immediately felt the gaze of passengers and overheard some guys saying, "It’s Google Glass!” Finally, one approached and I demoed Glass.

In Mexico, and the UK, I was asked if Glass was going to "take off”. My response was classic UX - “it depends” - especially, if the price comes down. If Google enhances it further, I see a future with a lot of Glass around me.

@anthonyslai

Anthony S Lai

Anthony Lai (pic: Misha Vaughan)

San Francisco Bay Area

Most people know about Glass, but not a lot of details. They’re genuinely interested, and this is increasing as more Explorers appear. There’s a small amount of negative reaction to Glass (I had one bad experience), but I’d say this is because others haven’t had personal experience of Glass (yet) and privacy concerns.

China

In Beijing, people were interested when they saw Glass, but very few knew about its existence. On the street, people would gaze at you for a second, but then look away to avoid embarrassment (a cultural thing). One man in his 60s knew about Glass and asked me if I liked it or not. There was only one other occasion when I was asked on the street.

I had similar experiences in Hong Kong as in Beijing.

@martarauch

Marta Rauch

Marta Rauch (pic courtesy: Marta Rauch) 

California

Everyone who tried on Glass thought it amazing. The most common response was “Cool!”, asking when and where they could get their own, and of course, how much it cost. The current high price is an issue for many.

At live events and conferences, the audience wants to try Glass and to be photographed wearing it. People are impressed by the Glassware apps available already (including the Oracle apps). They like the features and enjoy exploring by themselves. Typically, they’ll try a Google search and take pictures and videos. Some will even try a “Google Glass-bomb” by asking Glass something they think it won’t be able to answer, but Glass does pretty well with correct responses.

I am also asked when prescription lenses will be available, and if Glass is compatible with iPhones.

At Yosemite National Park, I wore Glass to take videos of the mountains, and tourists and rangers noticed and asked to try it. I also wore Glass to a NASA moon launch at NASA Ames Research Center to get some Glass images of the event. I was so surrounded by inquisitive geeks that I had to take Glass off and get the video with my mobile phone!

@ultan

Ultan O'Broin Selfie

Ultan O'Broin (pic: Selfie) 

Ireland

In Dublin stores, staff all wanted to try my Glass. They would first ask what it was and when I offered if they wanted to try, all accepted. Shopping therefore took a while, but everyone was knocked out by the experience. They wanted their own - until they heard about the price. Everyone got the hang of using the Glass gestures, but a few were confused and wondered why Glass needed gestures as well as voice input. Nobody had any privacy concerns. Many were quick to take pictures without asking the subjects (making me very nervous). Again, the prescription lenses questions came up.

Few adults knew the name Glass. They had a vague awareness of its existence, but they’d call it Google Glasses or even The Google Eye. However, kids all knew the correct name, and what Glass could do. I didn’t allow kids to try it, nervous about getting parental consent. I had a hard enough time getting Glass back off my nine-year old to continue “digital native” research, he loved it! College students knew what Glass was, approached me, trying it out with a “wow!” reaction.

I showed Glass in my local computer store and the owner identified a use case for working remotely on a service request (for hands-free location and directions to a site and knowledge lookup). In another store, someone said it would be ideal for hyper local ads about special offers nearby.

UK

Similar experiences in London as Dublin, even in big departmental stores. Sales assistants were ready with questions and eager to try Glass. I breezed into one famous store normally very leery of camera-toting tourists, but without problems. More questions came about prescription lenses, availability, and price.

I wore Glass on the Tube. In the close quarters of a packed train, I overheard passengers whispering “Google Glass”, but nobody asked me anything. I did hear that using Glass must be a cool way to watch music videos when stuck on the Underground!

In Manchester, I didn’t turn a single head.

San Francisco Bay Area

Lots of people identified Glass and asked questions. My favorite approach was “Excuse me, Sir, but I'm from Louisiana, and I have never seen a thing before like that on your head….”.  

In San Francisco, on Black Friday, I saw the twinkle of about a dozen Glass displays on Explorers as darkness fell. In a sunglasses store, I was their third Explorer that day. The staff was ready with “no, we don’t make lenses for it!”(They tried on my Glass anyway).

General Tips on Sharing the Glass Goodness

Our Explorers all liked and used the Android-only (at time of writing) MyGlass app’s screencast features for demoing Glass to others. Screen casting saves on passing Glass around to everyone and encourages participation as the crowd gathers. If someone asks about your Glass, then it’s polite and professional to answer, and offer if they’d like to try, when possible. Get their views, and thank them. Check with guardians first if kids approach and ask about trying Glass.

Cultural and Language Dimensions

Analysis of cultural dimensions to information and communications technology usually draws on the work of Geert Hofstede and Edward T Hall. That’s for later, and perhaps we can even construct new models. In addition to the ways our Explorers noticed how people approached around the world, here’s a few other global considerations.

In China and Mexico, we noticed that the Glass English-accented voice could present issues for non-native English speakers when communicating using voice commands. Also, anyone speaking in softer tones, Chinese women for example, may not be heard that easily by Glass. Ambient or background noise doesn’t help.

When demoing, Explorers were also asked whether you could change the Glass UI language to Spanish or another language (not right now).

The voice-to-text audio seemed to mangle non-English names (in Irish for example), but impressively, Glass learned how to get them right after repeated attempts. Acronyms could also confuse Glass initially, especially domain-specific ones (Saying UX first being shown as “You X”, but then pronounced correctly).

Keep an Eye  on the Enterprise

The word is out about Glass. HUDs will take off in a bigger way in 2014, and although Glass is the most well-known HUD in the U.S., and becoming so in Europe, there are others out there. Consumer expectations will influence the enterprise UX of HUDs longer term, but enterprise use cases have been identified that make sense to build now.

More Explorers Immiment

More Glass Explorers are coming, so expect more interest and use cases (Pic: Ultan O'Broin) 

Enterprise UX is all about context and stakeholders, so exploring reactions of more than just end users is valuable. Although this was a “fun” exercise, our Explorers’ insights will help inform methodologies for more scientific UX research and practical guidance to enable enterprise users to work more efficiently with HUDs.

So, Oracle customers and partners, stay tuned to the VOX blog and Twitter (@usableapps) for UX information and outreach about the HUD trend. You can participate in the building of wearable solutions to make businesses more productive.

More Information

Monday Dec 16, 2013

Designing the Oracle Voice User Experience: Oracle Shares the Lessons

Brent White, User Experience Architect in the Oracle Mobile Applications User Experience team, explains how voice technology has become popular for mobile users and how Oracle has met this opportunity to make enterprise users more productive too. By combining user experience insight and technologies, Oracle Voice has come to life for Oracle Sales Cloud customers. Brent now shares the lessons of designing voice-based task flows in the enterprise.

Voice technologies have now gained steam for mobile users, and growing numbers of consumers are becoming comfortable talking to machines. Some of us already regularly dictate a note, execute a call, or make a search by voice, but this is just the tip of the iceberg. Voice has become a hands-free interface that goes well beyond a simple input mechanism and offers solutions to real design problems in the enterprise, as well as the consumer space.

Oracle’s Mobile User Experience (UX) team has been exploring voice technologies as they evolved. Our interest intensified with the release of Siri intelligent voice assistant on the Apple iPhone in 2011. By converging several technologies, Oracle has designed a mobile voice solution for our Oracle Sales Cloud customers, Oracle Voice.  And, more is to come!


Oracle Voice enables users to talk to the Oracle Sales Cloud; speaking naturally to view, edit, and add notes to customer opportunities. Whereas Siri enables users to interact with personal data on their phones such as contacts, settings and calendar, the focus of Oracle Voice is to enable users to interact with their enterprise sales data as part of an overall task flow.

Oracle Voice UI

Oracle Voice user interface. A clear UI and underlying technology that recognizes the names of important objects in the task flow are some of Oracle's shared UX design insights.

The UX team invested in technology and user research over the last two years to refine the product, testing it internally with the Oracle salesforce, and externally too with sales reps as they perform real tasks in real situations. Along the way, the team identified key guidelines for the optimal usage of voice in the enterprise. Here are some of the things learned:
  1. More and more sales reps are using voice technologies to get their work done productively. Expect enterprise use cases to increase.
  2. Voice to text is only part of the technical solution. Natural language processing (or NLP) and understanding users’ context are important related technologies that we had to develop in order to provide a voice solution. 
  3. Understand what enterprise users do, the when and the where, of being mobile. Support only such users most frequent and basic tasks. Voice is not for everything. 
  4. Make voice usage a hands-free operation. And don’t forget any legal requirements, for example when driving.
  5. Voice recognition must understand user data, such as the names of important objects in their task flows and the relationships between the objects. For example, voice must recognize the input of proper names, such as customer names, that are part of the sales cloud. 
  6. Users will want to use voice-based search to find key information. For instance, users will want to just say the name of a customer in order to see opportunity details returned. Provide for fast search and a way to integrate the results.
  7. Make the UI clear so that users know what task flow is being completed. Misrecognitions of voice inputs do happen, so provide an ability to correct misrecognitions easily and to continue. 
  8. Keep voice interaction flows short. Remember, a human is talking to a machine that understands enterprise data but hardly anything else, until it learns it. It is not a normal human conversation (yet!) so flows must be as succinct and efficient as possible. 
  9. Although some users may have had only basic experiences with voice recognition in the past, most users that we bring into our usability labs are now surprised at how well the current-state of the-art technology works and helps them to complete simple activities much more quickly (such as when dictating by voice rather than typing a note). With voice recognition accuracy improving steadily, be positioned to respond to more new scenarios of use by having your voice UX roadmap ready.
  10. Add some personality to the voice interaction. Experiment with sounds for the microphone interaction and the opportunities offered by the many natural-to-machine type voice outputs now available. You can even ask Oracle Voice to tell you a joke! 
We’re sharing these insights so that partners and customers can further appreciate and also explore further how Oracle Voice can make their users more productive and how it can be integrated across enterprise applications and data in the cloud. 

We’d like to hear your voice on the use of Oracle Voice and related technology and its usage in the enterprise. Please send us your comments, because we’re listening

Wednesday Oct 02, 2013

Oracle Publishes PeopleSoft User Experience Guidelines

Mrudula Sreekanth, Oracle Applications User Experience, tells us about sharing the latest PeopleSoft User Experience guidance.

The PeopleSoft Applications User Experience team is excited to announce the release of the PeopleSoft User Experience (UX) Guidelines. These UX Guidelines contain information about using key PeopleSoft components to create highly usable, efficient, and productive experiences for Oracle customers.

Oracle Applications User Experience PeopleSoft UX Guidelines

PeopleSoft UX Guidelines and Principles to Create a Great User Experience 

Several PeopleSoft customers participated in a survey in December 2012, which helped us identify the following topics, all covered in the first release of the guidelines.

Why Do We Need UX Guidelines?

With PeopleTools 8.53 and PeopleSoft Applications 9.2, you see more modern and visually appealing features being delivered by PeopleSoft. With the help of these UX guidelines, customers and partners can not only design and tailor their own user experience but also ensure consistency with the features designed by PeopleSoft. 

The UX guidelines explain each topic in detail, display relevant images, and provide usage guidelines. 

UX Guidelines Examples

The following image explains what a WorkCenter is and the advantages of using it.

WorkCenter image

UX How's and Why's of PeopleSoft WorkCenter 

The image below shows a train with sub-steps which takes users through complex tasks, one step at a time.

Train (Guided Process) Image

Train Steps Covered in the Guided Process Guideline

The next image shows the usage guidelines for Pivot Grids. Relevant usage guidelines have been provided for all the other topics as well.  

Pivot Grids Image

Pivot Grid Usage Explained   

The PeopleSoft UX Guidelines enable customers to design and tailor the ultimate user experience for their organization. Following the guidelines ensures consistency across applications. The guidelines also help in choosing the right pattern for any scenario.

Send any feedback and suggestions on the PeopleSoft UX guidelines directly to the PeopleSoft UX team using the comments feature below, your input will be forwarded to Mrudula.

Wednesday Jul 17, 2013

Wireframing | Blueprinting Usable Applications Concepts

By Karen Scipi and Ultan O’Broin, Oracle Applications User Experience

How do users' stories inspire user experience innovation and end up as well-loved, simple productivity features in your favorite mobile or desktop application? The process starts simply . . . with a drawing or sketch.

Building an application that is modern and compelling means framing the task scenario for the worker in context of the application features and then communicating the agreed result. Using a low-fidelity drawing to wireframe the proposed solution is a productive and efficient way explore, validate, and garner agreement on a design before it moves on to the prototyping stage of the build process.

Practice for building an Oracle applications user experience

Wireframing is integral to the user experience process of building great Oracle applications

Wireframing as part of the user experience process

A wireframe represents a story of how applications pages are used by real workers to do real work. Wireframing is a low-fidelity drawing on paper or electronic format that starts to close the gap between the intent of the concept and the action of the worker, which eventually comes to life as an application living in the cloud or in your computer room.

Wireframe example of a trouble ticket in CRM


Wireframe of a trouble ticket in CRM that shows how design patterns and guidelines are applied to  build consistency and productivity into a flow (click for full version in PDF)

Wireframing offers big wins for applications builders. We’ve learned that wireframing shortens the innovation cycle, exposes problems early, increases productivity of application builders, and eliminates costly surprises late in the build cycle. Customers and partners have learned this, too, when designing and tailoring applications. We use wireframes to apply usability heuristics, and we apply our user experience design patterns to the wireframe before a single line of code is written. Using wireframes, we can iterate quickly and evaluate alternatives in a cost- and time-efficient way. Partners and customers have learned this, too, and more, when designing and tailoring applications.

Which best practices do we apply when wireframing? 

Wireframing practices vary. We follow a few best practices consistently, including: 
  • Focus on the intent of a wireframe. 
Understand the difference between a wireframe, prototype, and testable application code. Garner buy-in from the right stakeholders, not just end users, but also other interested parties, such as other workers or developers or support people, managers, and decision-makers so that you can void the "but all I wanted was" syndrome after the development is complete. And do remember this is a process. Some things cannot be wireframed
  • Manage your wireframing practice. 
Plan and control wireframing by assigning an owner, applying file naming and priority conventions, managing version control, adding arrows and annotations, and so on. 

Think about this: The great sketching master Leonardo da Vinci organized his sketches in a codex or library—principles that are well founded to this day.
  • Use suitable tools. 
Paper and pencil can be used as basic wireframing tools, but they are not scalable and persistent. Software tools, such as Balsamiq Mockups (widely used in Oracle), Microsoft Visio (a favorite of Oracle Fusion Applications internally, also used by the Oracle Application Development Framework team), Microsoft PowerPoint, and mobile options, for smart phones or tablets are better alternatives for building enterprise applications. Considerations for wireframing tools that we've found most useful include ease of use, speed of iteration, portability, ease of collaboration, cost of the software, and ability to avoid lock-in between partners.
  • Establish a few process best practices. 
Wireframing is about iterating until agreement is reached. Provide alternative drawings for evaluation by stakeholders. Create widgets, templates, and stencils for wireframing in your tool of choice and then reuse them. Matching wireframe flows to the reusable solutions provided by user experience design patterns also cuts design and development time and improves developer productivity.
  • Learn from others. 
Stay tuned to Misha Vaughn's Voice of User Experience (VoX) blog and your customer and partner channels so that you can learn about workshops that focus on building great-looking usable applications, A Day in the Life of UX wireframing activities, and other upcoming outreach opportunities that explore wireframing as part of the overall user experience process.

Interested in learning more? 

See:

Tuesday Jan 29, 2013

Sticky Notes, Burritos, and Building the Oracle Fusion Applications User Experience

At the Building Great-looking Usable Apps workshop, Misha Vaughan explained how observing even little things makes for building a great application user experience (UX): sticky notes*, for example. I caught up with the flame-haired Texan Applications UX messaging maven at home to find out about those very successful UX outreach programs to the Oracle Application Development Framework (ADF) community and what makes her tick as a UX mensch.

Misha teaches apps developers to build killer UIs

Misha Vaughan teaching apps developers about building a great UI at the UK workshop (photo: Ultan O’Broin) 

Ultan O’Broin: You see sticky notes on a screen. A UX “crime scene” or “opportunity?”

Misha Vaughan: An "Aha!" UX opportunity! Applications users rely on a support infrastructure to do their jobs. The sticky notes tell me there’s something missing from that system. That’s why it’s important to watch users at work. You see everything workers do in context: the extra little inputs they make, switching into email, chatting with colleagues, the real interruptions, what happens when workers are at the close of a transaction, and what “you’re done” means. This aspect really informs the user experience. It can’t be captured in a service request.

Sticky notes are still a powerful reminder, even in the mobile apps age.

Sticky notes: Still holding their own (Photos and Polar opinion poll: Ultan O’Broin)

UO: Developers value what Grant Ronald of ADF calls “Feng Shui of UX” anecdotes. How do sticky notes inform the Fusion UX?

MV: Simple things like sticky notes offer a good example of why UX doesn't stop at the UI. When we observed real users at work, we saw a common phenomenon: sticky notes on computer monitors whose job it was to remember. To remember an account number that had to be passed from one system to another, to remember a procurement item that needed to be tracked, to remember a budget code, and so on. What users wanted was a way to pass this kind of context from one part of their system to another. 

Oracle Fusion Middleware (FMW) enabled the kinds of contextual UX that we wanted users to have in Oracle Fusion Applications. Those accounts, items, budgets, and the context of what users are doing with those objects gets passed by Fusion middleware sensors into Oracle Metadata Services (MDS). Users can now easily search for and tag items, monitor budgets, manage account exceptions, track progress, and see and share information about their transaction easily. 

What’s next for sticky notes and UX? How about light overlays? (Lamps Sketch 06: Interfaces on Things video)

UO: Context seems central to UX. So “context over consistency” as 37 Signals would say?

MV: What may make sense here may not make sense there. Consistency has a place in UX, but it can be the enemy of productivity. Each experience must be contextual: for that user, their device, and their task. Enforcing a common UX means context becomes impossible. Think about how task flows are different for the mobile or desktop user, the difference in the UI when using amazon.com on a smart phone or PC, the responsive web design approach.

UO: How do you get the Apps UX messaging right? For example, squaring a noob ADF developer’s needs with those of a senior solution consultant?

MV: We learned the hard way (laughs). Know your users! We usability test our messages. UX can be too academic, so we stepped back. We communicate in plain language, making no assumptions about what the audience needs to know. Then we deliver our message in non-UX technical language through events and experiences that get to the heart of solving the real problems faced by the audience.

UO: What usability inspires you personally in your work and personal life?

MV: The stuff designed for kids. If they can use it, then it’s simple; it’s straightforward. Look at kids’ games and how they learn to use them. Somebody who cannot read is not going to look up a manual. I love the iPad games for my five- and seven-year-olds. Seniors, too. My mom can reboot an Apple router now just by plugging it in and out. She doesn’t know she’s “rebooting.” So, make it easy, transparent.

UO: You told me that you read Computers as Theatre. How did this influence you?

MV: I read Brenda Laurel’s book for my dissertation. The Internet is full of information. It’s a whole wellspring of genres. It was interesting to me how people didn't think of the Internet as “work” and how this informed their computer expectations. Today we can see that work and personal genres are blurred: games, consumerization, content, information, and entertainment are fused together.

UO: Developers really love Steve Krug’s Don’t Make Me Think approach to common sense usability. But can anyone be a UX champ? How can they start?

MV: IT implementers and developers don’t have the money or time to be UX pros, but they can still do it! I’m inspired by one IT manager we know from the City of Las Vegas, a UX evangelist there. He showed the way: Sit and observe your users. Take a piece of paper and pencil. Ask: “Show me how you start?” Don’t begin with what they do on-screen, start with that pile of papers on their desks or that incoming email. Then ask: “Tell me what do you next?” Explore further with “tell me more about that” and keep saying it until you get to the “you’re done” bit. Ask: “How do you know you’re done?” Tremendous insight.

You have to follow those user conversations thoroughly. Back to your sticky notes. Don’t start with the notes themselves, but find out what happens when users get the first message to act. Do they Google it? Look up the sender in LinkedIn? What’s the path of people, and how do they connect to each other? What’s a full day of work really like? What are the bits? Then design to enable users to work, not click, better.

UO: On to real user experiences. Austin or San Francisco: which has the best food?

MV: Austin! The cheapest, the best chefs. I’ll challenge anyone on that. The best burritos by far!

UO: Diversity in technology is a hot developer topic: Any thoughts on attracting wider audiences into the UX ecosystem? Women? Seniors?

MV: Start early, in school. Teach coding expertise in simple, meaningful ways. Move the Turtle Programming for Kids on the iPad, for example. Teach with Legos. Use games. Definitely, it’s about teaching fundamental programming skills to the community.

UO: OK, then, crystal ball time: Your top three UX trends for 2013?

MV: I see:

One, continued gamification, simplification, and BYOD. Take FUSE (the New Face of Fusion Applications) for example, an immersive, cross-devices concept taking in all those things. Enterprises have to embrace these things and really they need it for retention of staff, productive employees, and other business benefits.

Two, new emerging device paradigms gaining traction. Look at the adoption of contextual natural language voice avatars in the enterprise, Google Glass, the work as entertainment trend, too.

Three, cheaper RFID, GPS technology, and so on, enabled through device features and hot-pluggable middleware, that passes context across apps will start to solve real enterprise problems. Just watch this space!

UO: Finally, what’s your “call to action” for ADF and FMW developers to get on board the Misha UX train?

MV: Stay connected! Here’s how:

And keep coming back here. There’s some real cool stuff comin’ your way! 

* Sticky Note is a registered trademark of Société Bic.  

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