Wednesday Mar 27, 2013

Don’t Sweat Them UIs: Cloud Makes Them All Part of the Service

For me, the most powerful UX pivot point that the cloud platform offers developers is flexibility and scalability to build optimized and contextual solutions, reflecting how users' roles, tasks, goals, environments, and devices--their context of use, if you like--can vary. With Platform as a Service (PaaS) or cloud development, the old client-server assumptive days of developers writing UIs on top of each operating system and then making calls to static and dynamic link libraries are gone. Instead, with the cloud, developers use services and APIs, Lego-like, and use such integrations to assemble contextual applications. This difference is explained far more eloquently, and expanded on, in this Engine Yard Cloud Out Loud podcast.

So, what do we mean by optimized and contextual UIs? Well, think about how you might use LinkedIn, for example. A power update to your LinkedIn profile such as adding abstracts for latest publications or completing your profile might be done on your PC using the LinkedIn website. Browsing through your contacts, groups or news features might be done with swipe gestures on the LinkedIn app on your tablet. Accepting a LinkedIn invitation to connect via email can be done on your smart phone with a few taps and you can see updates at a glance too.

Different UIs, different context of use

LinkedIn Different UIs, different context of use. All optimized. (photo: Ultan O'Broin)

We don’t have to think about these different LinkedIn usage scenarios devices. We just do it because the interactions have been understood and designed for. We know they all rotate around our profile's details as the source of truth. We perform the different tasks on different devices intuitively, as our context demands. That's the whole point of a great UX, I guess, commonsense ways of ensuring users don't have to think! Same principle applies to enterprise applications, really.

For developers, this offers great opportunities too to enable great UX from the Cloud by relying on APIs and service oriented architecture. By using integrated UI services and leveraging design guidance such as UX design patterns and guidelines and not sweating about writing new UIs from scratch for every device, developers and partners can spend more time on issues such as security, performance, integration, scalability, speed, all the stuff that's critical to business, while anticipating changes in UX that will come for sure. For customers, such cloud-based enablement means continued ROIs by using existing data while extending the UX of existing apps and providing new experiences too to make users even more productive.

Credit for LinkedIn analogy to Jeffrey Pease.

Lightweight Simplicity Gets You Hooked: Fishing and Fusion

I’m a fishing nut. Started in the mid-70s using very light tackle, I immediately caught lots of fish from the rocks at the end of my street in Dublin. I’ve been hooked ever since, and fished all over the world, and bought far more angling equipment than I needed or used (making me a “tackle tart”, as we call it). I loved that little rod, 5 foot long, fiber glass them days, with a cork handle. I still have it.

So, I’m delighted to see LRF (or Light Rock Fishing) emerge as a genre in its own right in the last few years. Influenced by fishing from kayaks, the sporting and environmental values of catch and release policies, U.S. bassing, and the technology and aesthetics of Japanese and French spinning and baitcasting rod design, LRF with its shorter, ultra lightweight rods (carbon these days), braided lines, funky colorful lures, and the marvels of small-scale precision reel engineering, has really taken off in Europe. Some of the Japanese LRF rods in particular, are really beautiful, total Ninja stuff. LRF gives you one hell of a bigger kick out of catching the same species fish that you did before. But the kit is more deadly, yet powerful too. Some huge fish have been landed on LRF gear.

Fishing from the rocks at Hook Head, Ireland

Dawn LRFing it at Hook Head, County Wexford, Ireland. (photo: Ultan O'Broin)

Like with LRF, there’s an emotional pull in just wanting to use great and simple tools and technology that can be hard to explain. We’re inspired by something beyond functionality that aligns with positive feelings. How many of us, of a certain age, feel that we did our best writing on the Apple Mac Plus or 512K in college, for example? We come across outstanding examples of really great user experiences in the most unlikely of places too. A recent encounter with Emirates ICE inflight entertainment system had me so engaged that I interrupted the movies a few times to explore the system itself a bit more!

ICE Inflight system UI

ICE Inflight system UI on the Dubai-Dublin Emirates flight. (photo: Ultan O'Broin)

For me, this pull is all about smart design aimed at solving different levels of needs. It lets you meet the immediate little challenge by focusing on the essence of what you really need to do intuitively and intelligently, sure. But it’s also the invitation to do more, to a world of discoverability, to explore how you can make something really work for you in a satisfying, yet surprising way. You can push it, and yourself. And yet, you know that there is some awesome physics and thought behind the design that will let you accomplish out of the ordinary stuff if you need to.

That FUSE is the new face of Oracle Fusion Applications fits into this paradigm perfectly. Beautiful design, intuitive, intelligent, the lightweight FUSE UI is optimized for navigation and action, and guess what? It's also integrated with other optimized Fusion Applications experiences too, pivoting through the cloud. So when the whale of a task comes along there’s the power of the Fusion desktop UI version at hand to land that biggie, for example.

The new face of Fusion Applications on MacBook Air

The new face of Oracle Fusion Applications on Apple MacBook Air.

I’m all LRF now. It's a return to simple basics, to the excitement and discovery of being a kid fishing again. I’m done with the swinging of an 8oz weight off the end of a 13-foot beach casting rod so that it lands 150 yards away, though I’ll keep the big gun rods stored safely for when the fishing situation suits. I’m all FUSE now too, but I know another optimized experience is at my fingertips too should continuing my work need it.

About

Oracle applications user experience (UX) assistance. UX and development outreach of all sorts to the apps community, helping to design and deliver usable apps.

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Ultan Ó Broin. Director, Global Applications User Experience, Oracle Corporation. On Twitter: @ultan

See my other Oracle blog about product globalization too: Not Lost in Translation

Interests: User experience (UX), user centered design, design patterns, tailoring, BYOD, dev relations, language quality, mobile apps, Oracle FMW and ADF, and a lot more.

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