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 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: 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.