Wednesday Jan 07, 2015

Fit for Work: A Team Experience of Wearable Technology

By Sandra Lee (@sandralee0415)

What happens when co-workers try out wearable technology? Misha Vaughan (@mishavaughan), Director of Oracle Applications Communications and Outreach, explored just that.

“Instead of a general perspective, I wanted the team to have a personal experience of wearable technology”, said Misha. So, she gave each member of her team a Fitbit Flex activity tracker to use. The exercise proved insightful, with team members providing useful personal and enterprise-related feedback on device usage.

Fitbit Flex Awaits

Your Fitbit Flex awaits [Photo: Sandra Lee]

Team Dynamic and Initial Reactions

It was a free choice for team members to wear the Fitbit device or not. Those that did were inspired and enjoyed comparing activities and goals. Shannon Whiteman, Communication Operations and Online Training Manager, loved the competitive aspect. “If I saw someone had 100 more steps than I did, I’d take the stairs and walk an extra 101 steps to beat them.” Kathy Miedema, Senior Market Research Analyst, noted that the Fitbit “really motivated and validated my personal fitness activity”.

Fitbit Dashboard for Ultan O'Broin

Example of recorded activity: Ultan O’Broin’s (@usableapps) Fitbit dashboard

The exercise also provided observations on team dynamics in the workplace. Some chose not to wear the device whether for personal reasons, set-up issues, or lack of time; a reminder that although fun to try, such devices are not for everyone, and that’s OK.

The Fashion Perspective

Sarahi Mireles, User Experience Developer in Mexico, tried the Fitbit, but it didn’t fit her lifestyle, saying that “the interest is there [for wearables in general], but the design attraction is lacking.” Sarahi feels the ideal fitness tracker for her world is one with interchangeable looks, so she can wear it to work and to dinner. This typical user need is where fashion designers like Tory Burch offer value to technology developers, in this case partnering with Fitbit to make devices look more like beautiful bracelets and necklaces.

Tory Burch bracelet for Fitbit

Tory Burch for Fitbit metal-hinged bracelet

The Enterprise Employee Investment

Fitness plays a role in work/life balance, and health, happiness, and productivity are intrinsically linked. Overall, wellness contributes to the bottom line in a big way. Oracle is focused on such solutions too, researching user experiences that best engage, promote and support employee wellness.

Oracle HCM Cloud Wellness Page Prototype

Oracle HCM Cloud: Employee Wellness page prototype

Externally, at HCM World for example, Oracle's interest in this space offered analysts and customers complimentary Fitbit Zip devices for a voluntary wellness competition; the winner receiving a donation to the American Cancer Society.

Karen Scipi (@karenscipi), Senior Usability Engineer, reflected that companies like Oracle, in facilitating the use of the fitness device, are placing importance on employee health and fitness as an “employee investment.” Healthier individuals are happier and therefore more productive employees.

Jeremy Ashley (@jrwashley), Vice President of Applications User Experience, already leads his team in embracing wellness within the workplace, participating in the American Heart Association Bay Walk, for example. He explained how encouraging and measuring activity during the working day, whether through walking meetings or using activity trackers, is a meaningful way to identify with the Oracle Applications Cloud User Experience strategy too.  

Jeremy described how sensors in activity trackersalong with smart watches, heads-up displays, smart phones, and beaconsare part of the Internet of Things: that ubiquitous connectivity of technology and the Cloud that realize daily experiences for today's enterprise users to empathize with.

Your Data and the Enterprise Bottom Line

From the business perspective, employee activity data gathered from corporate wellness programs could lead to negotiated discounts and rewards for users from health care companies, for example; one possible incentive to enterprise adoption. Gamification, the encouraging of team members to engage and interact in collaborative and productive ways in work using challenges and competitions, is another strategy for workplace wellness programs uptake.

Ultan O’Broin, Director of User Experience, who travels globally out of Ireland, noted that although he personally hasn’t experienced any negative reactions to wearable technology, the issue of privacy of the data gathered, especially in Europe, is a huge concern.  

Data accuracy, permitting employees to voluntarily opt in or out of fitness and wellness programs, privacy issues, and what to do with that data once its collected, all need to reassure users and customers alike. Having HR involved in tracking, storing and using employee activity data is an enterprise dimension being explored.

User Experience Trends

Smart watch usage is on the rise, combining ability to unobtrusively track activity with other glanceable UI capabilities. Analysts now predict a shift in usage patterns as smart watches begin to replace fitness bands, but time will tell in this fast-moving space.

Regardless of your wearable device of choice, and the fashion, personal privacy, employee data, and corporate deployment considerations we’ve explored, wearable technology and wellness programs are enterprise happenings that are here to stay. It’s time to get on board and think about how your business can benefit.

Perhaps your team could follow Misha’s great initiative and explore wearable technology user experience for yourselves? Let us know in the comments!

You can read more about Oracle Applications User Experience team’s innovation and exploration of wearable technology on the Usable Apps Storify social story.

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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