Wednesday Jan 08, 2014

Designing the Language Experience of the User Interface

When you think about any user interface (UI) guideline and you hear “language of the user,” what do you think?

  • I should be able to understand the words I see on the UI.
  • The words I see on the UI should be meaningful to the work that I do.
  • The words I see on the UI should be translatable and localizable.

The usability of business applications has evolved, and business applications have become more consumer-focused. The average user’s understanding of business applications has evolved as well. Technology and know-how now allow us to build contextual user experiences into applications and to design language experiences for the UI—with style, tone, terms, words, and phrases—that resonate with real users and their real, every day work experiences in the real world, across the globe.

For example, on the Oracle Human Capital Management Cloud My Details page, notice how the sections are organized, how they use real-world terms in headings and field labels, and how they use real content, such as personal and biographical details instead of placeholder text, which cannot be evaluated for its meaning or translation or localization needs.

Oracle Human Capital Management Cloud My Details page

Choosing which terms, words, and phrases to include on the UI is as important as choosing the right terms to use in code. In code and on the UI, the terms and words should be accurate in context and enable the successful completion of a task in context, whether the context is the processing of an event in the code or the user adding information to a contact record on a form in the UI.

37signals book, Getting Real, dedicates a short essay, Copywriting is Interface Design, to the importance of copywriting in UI design and how important every single word choice on is for the UI.

There are also numerous resources that support that choosing terms, words, and phrases for the UI that accurately represent real-world concepts in their source language often enables the translation and localization experiences. For examples, see Ultan Ó Broin’s Blogos entry Working Out Context in the Enterprise: Localize That! and Verónica González de la Rosa and Antoine Lefeuvre’s slideshare ‘Translation is UX’ Manifesto.

So how do we design a rich, context-aware UI language experience for today’s user?

  • We use accurate terms to represent concepts that are well-established in the real world by real users. These are the terms that users use frequently, terms such as team or shopping cart.
  • We use terms consistently to represent the same concepts across applications. We wouldn’t use location in one place and party site in another to represent the same concept, or save and submit to represent the same concept.
  • When we need to use these terms in context of phrases on the UI, we do so with a style and tone that resonates with users and yet is still translatable and localizable. This means that we don’t introduce nonsensical words or instant messaging-speak. We offer phrasing that is simple and clear: Add a new customer record.
  • We stop surfacing the language of the application on the UI, for example, code-specific terms. When we use a term like worker in the code as an abstraction or a superclass to represent the concept that a person can assume the role of “employee” or “contractor” in the system, this use makes sense in context of where and how it is used in code. When we surface the term worker on the UI to represent either or both roles, we introduce a context-independent use of this concept and one that when tested, we learn is not necessarily translatable or localizable in such a context.

Jakob Nielsen in his 1995 article 10 Usability Heuristics for User Interface Design identified a need for this practice of using language choices that resonate with real users: “The system should speak the users' language, with words, phrases and concepts familiar to the user, rather than system-oriented terms. Follow real-world conventions, making information appear in a natural and logical order.”

A simplified UI is simple to build, simple to extend, and simple to use. Use and context awareness require us to build applications that focus equally on code, visual design, and language (UI) design. Every page that we surface to the user should make sense to the user in context of his work and the real world. The practice of designing the language that is used on the UI offers us an extraordinary opportunity to evolve how we communicate with users to enable their work everywhere.

Wednesday Jul 24, 2013

Resources for Building Oracle ADF Applications

Interested in building a compelling, consistent, and flexible user experience with a user interface to support simple, intuitive interactions but not sure where to start? 

This entry lists the best resources to use to get started building great applications using the Oracle Applications Development Framework (ADF) technology. However, if you’re already an ADF developer, you can fast-track your learning curve by checking out our top 10 reads: Top 10 Things to Read If You’re a Fusion Applications Developer.

List of Oracle Fusion Applications resources

List of Oracle Fusion Applications resources 

The following table highlights the four key resources that we use when building ADF components and pages for Oracle Fusion Applications and offers examples for when to apply the information in each of these resources.

I’m building an ADF table, and I need to . . . Resource Use when . . .
Identify components and guidelines that I will need Oracle ADF Component Specifications You want to see examples and demonstrations of components, validators, converters, and miscellaneous tags, along with a property editor to see how attribute values affect a component.
Determine information design and  elements Oracle ADF Rich Client User Interface Guidelines

Your focus is data visualization, rich web user experience, visual development.

For example, if you were building a table, you would find guidelines for table design and table elements. Specific design and element guidelines include:

  • Layout
  • Row banding
  • Column formatting
  • Row height
  • Vertical and horizontal scrolling
  • Read-only or editable data

Add specific core and task-dependent features and interactions Oracle Fusion Applications Usage Guidelines

You’re looking for Oracle Fusion Applications-specific features and interactions that enable a cohesive user experience through the consistent placement and behavior of user interface elements.

Examples include:

  • Common and special icon types
  • Tasks pane
  • UI Shell

Apply  common and proven design and interaction patterns that align with industry best practices Oracle Fusion Applications Design Patterns  You want to apply common design patterns. Design patterns comprise common page designs that are built to accommodate common requirements that have been identified by the industry as best practices and have been proven by real users in our usability labs. Generally, our design patterns are delivered through JDeveloper as composite components, or they offer instructions on how to use ADF components.

Interested in learning more? 

See:

Wednesday Jul 10, 2013

Visual Design for Any Enterprise User Interface (Art School in a Box)

By Karen Scipi and Katy Massucco, Oracle Applications User Experience

"What color is Facebook?" Without thinking, you know it's blue. This isn’t by accident. So, what is the science behind visual design in enterprise user interfaces? 

Visual design is an essential part of the user experience. A well-designed user interface starts to become invisible to the user. It's naturally pleasing, and it doesn't create tension or roadblocks. It starts to feel like a comfortable shirt; you don't notice it. A poorly designed user interface feels like an ill-fitting shirt with a scratchy tag on the neck; you're going to notice it, and it's going to annoy you.

We've all seen visual designs that have made us cringe. And we've all seen visual designs that have made us feel good. Have you ever thought about what the differences are between these types of experiences, or why one resonates with you more than the other?

Any number of key elements affect visual design and users' responses to the design. We offer one that we consider key to users wanting to use an application or website that goes beyond usability and appeals to their emotional side: branding. Of course, you should also consider other aspects when designing a user interface for an enterprise application. All of these elements add up to helping "delight and excite" users, which results in productivity—for them and their businesses. 

Why branding? Because branding is the "hook." A well-considered brand gets noticed, so does consistency across a user interface. Branding is more than a logo. Branding represents the overall "personality" or impression of the design, and it is supported by these next few key design elements.

Color 

Color impacts the brain. A user draws conclusions from the ways that color is applied.  Color can work to your advantage if you understand how color works and is perceived by users. However, applying colors that violate this understanding can work to your disadvantage. For example, a color may have different meanings in different parts of the world. A good practice for controlling colors is applying a product coding strategy.

Examples of color usages

Examples of color usages

Contrast

Contrast is the difference between two adjacent colors. In our user interface designs, we consider these points:
  • Good contrast is central to the legibility of text. 
  • The highest contrast is black text on a white background, such as those used in books, newspapers, and dense online text.
  • Poor contrast can cause eye strain for users, even for those users with good vision.
  • Poor contrast can render a page illegible, especially for users with compromised vision.
  • Accessibility standards require a minimum level of contrast.

Examples of text on color contrasts

Examples of text on color contrasts

Layout

Layout focuses on how components and content are arranged on a page. A layout should optimize the natural way that content is read and scanned by a user. A page layout should consider and complement the reading order of a language (left-to-right or right-to-left). The content should be grouped and arranged logically and should establish relationships among objects that appear on that page.

Eye tracking enables user experience designers to determine where users' visual attention is focused. The data that we collect from our eye-tracking usability studies helps inform layout and other design aspects that we've proven might better accommodate users' natural reading tendencies.  

You might wonder why even small changes in layout and where you position components and content on a page are important. Changes can be interpreted as swimming upstream: you are fighting the natural order of things when you don't conform to established and proven practices, such as reading order. Even tiny spurts of lost user productivity can turn into death-by-a-thousand-cuts for an enterprise, as proven by Oracle Applications User Experience and industry science

Examples of left-to-right and right-to-left language reading order

Examples of left-to-right and right-to-left language reading order

Spacing

Spacing, such as white space and padding, is a powerful design element. When used deliberately, blank areas on a page can be used to break up the density of content on the page and to give the eye a place to rest or focus.

Examples that show how padding creates resting places for the eyes

Examples that show how padding creates resting places for the eyes

Font

Font choice reflects the personality of the site, for example, the brand. Conservative fonts, such as sans serif ones, are generally more easily read. Eclectic fonts, such as serif fonts or script, offer a trendier impression.

Font color and text styles also enhance (or not) the readability of the text, so they should be used deliberately. Consider that:
  • A color change within a block of text draws the eye to it and makes the user think that the text is different in some way, for example, a link, which is set in a different color from the text that surrounds it.
  • Bold text draws the eye to it and should be used to emphasize a word or a block of text. 
  • Italic text can be difficult to read online. It becomes either blurry or jagged, depending on the quality of the font and users' screens.

Examples of sans serif and serif fonts

Examples of sans serif and serif fonts

Icons

Icons are small images that powerfully impact comprehension. The eye is drawn immediately to an icon on a page rather than to a text button that contains the same information. When used, icons should differ enough in shape and color so that the user can identify the differences by simply scanning the page. 

The frequency of use should consider that the average user can process and understand a limited number of icons, their meanings, and their relationships among other icons—for example, status icons—at any one time. Our research yields that the average user can hold five icons in their thoughts at any one time. When the number of icons increases above five, our research yields that users' comprehension becomes compromised because there are simply too many meanings and relationships to consider and understand. 

Icons draw the eye to them, so they should be used judiciously. Too many icons on a page can add a lot of visual noise. When overused, users' eyes will bounce around the page from icon to icon. 

Devices

As we've moved into a more device-agnostic era, we've had to think about how to build enterprise applications for use across different devices. To control the overall visual design across devices and to ensure consistency and promote reuse across pages, we've centralized our style classes in a cascading style sheet (CSS). We also:
  • Use fallback fonts to control the appearance of the user interface if the device uses different system fonts. 
  • Test our CSS in different browsers and on different operating systems.
  • Avoid relying on images to colorize elements or add curves or gradients because they require manual image editing to revise.

The visual design aspect of any enterprise application can be quite complex. While we didn't cover every aspect of visual design in this blog entry, we hope you walk away with an understanding of what we consider the key element of visual design to be as well as its supporting visual elements for our enterprise applications. 

Interested in learning more? 

See:


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