Sunday May 13, 2012

Mobile Geolocation Check-in Apps Text Style Notes

My research notes on the language style used by mobile geolocation-based check-in 'n' challenge apps, foursquare, Google Latitude, SCVNGR, and Yelp are available for download. Based on my field usage of the apps, this technical communications research brain dump is for you to make of it what you will and go in peace.

foursquare, Yelp, SCVNGR

Left to right: foursquare, Yelp, and SCVNGR screens

It’s apparent from this little distraction that, with the notable exception of the active voice and references to “you”, most of the remaining styles would fail the checks in operation by enterprise applications QA teams.

For such an informal, casual, or conversational style to ‘work’ for apps users, the context of use (who, what, where, when, with) is critical. This style of language, with a little bit of common sense applied, is acceptable to a range of user profiles in the enterprise world performing mobile tasks in CRM, for example. Enterprise apps users now navigate their world of work with a user experience (UX) influenced by the demands of BYOD, Facebook-driven globalization, Globish, and the consumerization of information technology.

What is listed in my document require some nuance to be acceptable to a wider range of users, as personal appeal, energy and edge leverages users’ motivations and goals while delighting them during use. Some of the more outré messages and cultural references would need changing, sure, but there is nothing in the source that could not be customized or localized. Consider it another form of affective or "emotional" user assistance.

I had the opportunity to write some such text for a check-in and challenge app recently. It’s not easy. What did I learn?


  • Research language style and grammar in context (use the mobile apps yourself in a sort of self-reflecting ethnography similar to the "going native" work done by the Oracle Applications Mobile UX team). My research was done in the Starbucks on the streets and airport terminals of Atlanta, Dublin, Geneva, and London, using Google Nexus S and iPhone devices with multiple user accounts.
  • Design with real text and not lorem ipsum text placeholders. To begin, write something, anything, that reflects the required UX, and revise it after some review and testing. Read Getting Real about this (a thoroughly recommend book all over for web apps UX).
  • When writing text you need to have context, such as a description of the check-in, when it happens, and what happens around it (do you need to congratulate on this achievement and extort to the next one too?, for example), a visual of the check-in badge or challenge details, and so on. Access to design materials, wireframes, prototypes, or beta versions makes writing a lot easier and innovation cycles shorter.
  • Throw your existing style guide out the window. Write a user conversation instead.

Comments welcome.

Gamification, Schamification: Reality Isn't Broken. Your User Experience Is

Gamification. Dontcha hate that word! Along with controlled authoring and machine translation, gamification is a self-sabotaging handle ready-made to alienate stakeholders; a sure-fire inoculation against viral acceptance of the obvious, and another obstacle thrown in the way of winning over the masses.

Who wants to be 'gamed' in work? What CIO buys very expensive enterprise applications that overtly claim to do just that to its employees?

Gamification is immediately conflated with play and gaming concepts; problematic in the enterprise applications domain. From Game Design Elements to Gamefulness: Defining “Gamification” (Deterding et al 2011) explains the origin of gamification and proposes a new definition: “The use of game design elements in non-game contexts.”

In the applications user experience (UX) world, I'd prefer to think of gamification as matching how users think as they work with the best design that will achieve task goals and business objectives. It’s not about how users play games with applications. It's about knowing user roles, tasks, goals and giving users a self-motivating experience that takes engagement and participation to a higher level, making application usage more satisfying. Sounds familiar now, huh?

Deterding et al (2011) are on board with this:


It is not possible to determine whether a given empirical system ‘is’ a “gamified application” or a “game” without taking recourse to either the designer’s intentions or the user experiences and enactments.

Without this user centered insight, gamifying an existing flow or application with an already rubbish user experience is a case of putting lipstick on the pig of work, and guaranteed to redline the BS meter.

Could I come up with a definition for gamification? No, but I can't define an elephant either. I’d avoid using the term altogether where possible.

Beyond the definition issue, of practical UX significance in Deterding et al (2011) is this table about levels of game design:

Levels of Game Design Elements table

Reproduced from Deterding et al (2011)

There is potential for a strong (UX) methodology there. Acknowledgement of the place of patterns, mechanics, heuristics, and so on, means UX professionals can construct reusable design solutions to common software problems. Such solutions are no different to what we have already published, for example, the Oracle Applications UX Oracle Business Intelligence Enterprise Edition design patterns or the Oracle Applications Development Framework (ADF) Rich Client User Interface guidance. These solutions readily leverage what is provided by Oracle ADF and Oracle Fusion Middleware to deliver scalable, easily developed out of the box, and extensible user experiences. Except that this time, those artefacts reflect the motivations of the user and how they think about themselves performing, engaging with, and participating in work.

By the way, to read more about gamification heuristics (albeit in the mobile space), I recommend Playability heuristics for mobile games (Korhonen and Koivisto 2006). However, it needs to be carefully nuanced for the enterprise applications world, especially the notion of “playability”.

So, if you’re done with all that literature, and want to play along, find the comments.

References

Deterding, S., Dixon D., Khaled, R., and Nacke, L. From game design elements to gamefulness: defining "gamification" (2011). Proceedings of the 15th International Academic MindTrek Conference: Envisioning Future Media Environments, ACM, New York.

Korhonen, H. and Koivisto, E, M. (2006). Playability heuristics for mobile games. MobileHCI '06 Proceedings of the 8th Conference on Human-Computer Interaction with Mobile Devices and Services, ACM, New York.

Friday Mar 09, 2012

What Are Design Patterns? Proven, Reusable Usability Solutions

Just back from speaking about cross-platform design patterns at the Oracle Applications User Experience (Applications-UX) training event in Munich, Germany (March 6 and 7, 2012). The Oracle EMEA sales audience (yes, the UX Samba is worldwide) heard all about how Applications-UX research and design expertise created these building blocks for a new standard in enterprise applications user experience, how they are used by Oracle's developers, and what they mean for Oracle applications users, customers, and partners too.

What Are Design Patterns?

Design patterns are reusable user experience solutions to common problems or tasks in enterprise software. Using design patterns means our internal developers have proven, easy-to-follow design guidance implemented with Oracle Application Development Framework (ADF) and Fusion Middleware (FMW) components. The development process can scale, and the result is highly usable and consistent user experiences in our apps.

We can also make those patterns available to customers and partners who take Oracle applications usability even further by creating new usable solutions when they tailor our apps. Check out these Oracle Business Intelligence Enterprise Edition 10g and 11g design patterns, for example.

Design Patterns Explained

When speaking to non-UX audiences, it’s important to grab their attention early, speak in plain language, and use examples that they can relate to. In the case of design patterns, I could have told them about Christopher Alexander and A Pattern Language: Towns, Buildings, Construction (1977) and how design patterns became popular in software and web development. But they might not remember that or know how to apply it!

A sales audience wants to know about a competitive message about how design patterns help apps users navigate a virtual world easily, and how this knowledge can be used by to develop and extend usable apps. Using everyday examples that we are all familiar with, and adding in local flavors, gets the message across.

Item in Amazon.de shopping cart before signing in

Searching for and adding items to Amazon shopping cart before signing in.

Bahn.de web site date picker

Using a DBahn date picker to automatically selects a date in the right format.

Google maps typeahead feature in search fields

Typing add in Google Maps is faster that selecting options from a list of values or waiting for search results.

So, to help illustrate, I used the “lazy registration” (that is, you can do your shopping and sign in or create an account later) on Amazon.de, the date picker on the Deutsche Bahn web site, the typeahead feature in Google Maps destination search, and a few other well-worn patterns that we now use on the web without even thinking!

Looking forward to the next opportunity to tell the Applications-UX design pattern story and to finding local examples that work for the audience too.

Wednesday Feb 22, 2012

Books for Fusion Apps Implementors and Administrators: Total Fusion Apps Experience

With Oracle Fusion Applications available, it's time for enterprises to think about business requirements and implementation plans. That means understanding how Fusion apps is developed and best managed.

Fusion apps is new, so what better way for implementors to deliver a successful project than to rely on the insight of those respected, in-demand, experts who can explain in straightforward language, and show in easy steps, how Fusion apps technology works together. Three books that do just that: Managing Oracle Fusion Applications by Richard Bingham, Quick Start Guide to Oracle Fusion Development: Oracle JDeveloper and Oracle ADF by Grant Ronald, and Oracle ADF Enterprise Application Development—Made Simple by Sten Vesterli.

What's In 'Em, Then?

Highly recommended publications for Fusion apps IT professionals, the content is of a technical nature sure, but it pivots on the role of user experience. Together, these books bring to life the concept of consumerization of IT for enterprise applications by telling you how:


  • Fusion apps offers a new standard in user experience. Based on the Applications Development Framework (ADF) and Fusion Middleware (FMW) platform, a cutting edge, action-oriented AJAX Web 2.0 UI delivers higher levels of usability for users that can be taken even further though personalization, customization and extensibility capability (aka tailoring).
  • Implementation doesn’t need new hires or expertise to work with the technology. Fusion apps is built on open standards, leveraging access to Java and XML developers.
  • Fusion apps provides scalability in use and deployment. The FMW platform, SOA, metadata services (MDS), the ADF MVC framework, and reusable UI components and design guidance, enables implementors to flexibly tailor an experience for their enterprise's needs, provide for integrations, and maintain and future-proof the investment.
  • Fusion apps really is an enterprise experience ecosystem. Implementing Fusion apps you gives you access to a whole range of Oracle management tools that integrate with a top-notch support organization. Dashboards are not just for end users.

Book by Book, Exploring Further...

Richard Bingham is an Oracle Senior Principal Technical Support Engineer and a major pacesetter when it comes to customer service. (@richardbingham) Richard tells you how to keep Fusion apps end users, decision makers, and other stakeholders happy after implementation using next generation Fusion apps manageability, a key business enabler. Richard explains the Fusion apps product and technical architecture, and covers the central roles of the business process model and the role of user experience in design (user assistance is included; more about that at UKOUG Ireland).

Setting Fusion Apps diagnostic logging verbosity level UI

Setting the Fusion Apps diagnostic logging verbosity level in the troubleshooting UI.

An ever changing dynamic, the open nature of the Fusion apps technology, SOA, flexible business process execution, and a Web 2.0 UI means that apps users and managers will have high expectations so tools are vital. So, a powerful Fusion applications life cycle model based on goals of application reliability, availability, performance, optimization, and governance is introduced by Richard and a toolbox for each area explored. These toolboxes, based on Oracle standard platform tools and the Fusion apps supportability features, can be used by existing teams and resources available to them from Oracle. Richard's checklist for the Oracle enterprise application manager and list of resources gets you going on the road to keeping all apps stakeholders sweet.

Grant Ronald is an Oracle ACE and a senior product management executive in Oracle's Application Development Tools division. His book enables you to quickly understand and create a Fusion app using the ADF and the Oracle JDeveloper IDE . Grant makes it simple for you to grasp the Fusion origins, the Java EE, SOA, and Web 2.0 technology pillars, and the MVC framework concepts behind ADF. A JDev walkthrough and you’re ready to build an ADF app, from handling data with ADF business components to using ADF DVT and other advanced UI techniques. Super, no-nonsense stuff that I tried at home and built a Fusion app in a few hours. Tip: Read the book from start to finish first; don't start by designing a UI.

Sten Vesterli (@stenvesterli) is a Fusion User Experience Advocate (FXA) and Ace Director. His book gets you going with ADF and JDev to create enterprise apps in a methodological way that makes sense for development teams. With his “let’s do it” approach, Sten tells you how to make projects successful through planning and resourcing, a proof of concept phase, and takes you through the entire development process of putting a highly usable app into the hands of users. As an FXA, Sten knows all about the Fusion Apps user experience, and this book talks about the importance of design and usability expertise. A chapter on ADF skinning tells you how to create professional look and feel to your apps along with flexibility in deploying for different audiences and another chapter on ADF localization features enables you to take your app worldwide. More information about the usefulness of this book is here.

In Conclusion...

A great set of publications of tremendous value to implementers in going about making the best decisions in how to deliver successful implementations and to show ROI. A killer combination for the Fusion apps implementor and administrator's resource library.

Thursday Jan 12, 2012

Oracle ADF Enterprise Application Development--Made Simple: Review and Opportunity

The holidays are a great time to catch up on required reading. I’ve just finished reading Sten Vesterli’s (@stenvesterli) book Oracle ADF Enterprise Application Development--Made Simple.

Oracle ADF Enterprise Application Development--Made Simple

This is a super book about the Oracle Application Developer Framework (ADF) using with the (recommended) Oracle JDeveloper IDE, communicated in plain language and easy-to-read style. Suitable for novice and experts with web development or Oracle Forms background, the book is written very much from the “let’s see great software running now” perspective.

All the essentials are there: the concepts behind ADF, the nuts and bolts of the components, and great how-to technical execution stuff. This is blended with valuable process insights and best practices right across the application development lifecycle, such as a proof of concept phase, planning, estimating effort, assembling a team, testing, deployment, and so on. Sten also includes information on how Oracle used ADF to create Oracle Fusion Applications. Take a look inside the book.

Of special note is a chapter on internationalization (i18n) and localization (L10n), something I am always relieved--if not delighted--to see, given my technology globalization interests. The market for Oracle applications is global and ADF has superb baked-in i18n and L10n capabilities: BiDi-enabled components using Start and End properties (instead of left and right), externalized text in resource bundles, hard-coding checks, XLIFF support, and so on.

Sten also brings usability into the application development process, with information on the importance of design (see the YouTube video below about the ADF Faces Rich Client Visio stencils provided by Oracle) and adding usability expertise to the team. This is a critical aspect to the success of any developed product or implementation (ADF-based, or otherwise). We (Oracle, working with partners and customers) continually up the Oracle apps community’s level of usability awareness and know-how that leads to successful outcomes for system implementors and consulting teams. We also curate customer and partner insights and experiences for the benefit of others too, notably through the Oracle Usability Advisory Board (OUAB).



UX Direct

Getting the benefits of apps usability to developers and implementors is what our UX Direct consulting service (featured at the October 2011 OUAB meeting) is about.

UX Direct

UX Direct take the superb out of the box functionality and flexibility offered by Oracle’s apps, matches it with Oracle UX expertise, and enables customers to accelerate their apps usage to the next level of user performance. You really don’t need special resources or teams to do it (but if you have them it’ll work too!), just UX Direct’s service and resources explaining usability benefits to implementors, showing how to find end users, gather their requirements and keep them engaged throughout the implementation process, what usability best practices and design resources to use, how to measure the results, and demonstrate ROI.

Using the UX Direct service's know-how and examples about Oracle apps tailoring opportunities (personalization, customization, extensibility, localization, and so on) delivers benefits of improved adoption rates, increased user productivity, lower training and support demands, and the satisfaction of knowing employees end their day happy with the app.

Develop Those Usable Apps Now

Watch out for more about the UX Direct service offerings from Oracle soon. In the meantime, I’d encourage you to read Sten’s book and take your apps to the next level of usability by using his work along with the Oracle ADF Rich Client User Interface Guidelines.

Incidentally, some folks asked me where the Browser Look and Feel (BLAF) guidelines used with the Oracle Applications Framework (OAF) for EBS are? They’re available on OTN here.

And, if you’re seriously interested in enterprise application development, then ask to join the ADF Enterprise Methodology Group (EMG) (@adf_emg) at http://groups.google.com/group/adf-methodology.

Find the comments if you’ve anything to share.

Wednesday Nov 16, 2011

Where Have All the Ugly Forms Gone? Users and ADF Took Care Of It

Sometimes I hear that our application demos are a bit too "cutsey" and that we never talk about with any user roles that have lots of data entry as a requirement. Some (no names) consider those old clunker forms, with the myriad rows of fields, to be super-productive for data clerks.

We do have such roles covered in Oracle Fusion Applications for sure. But consider what is really the issue here: productivity. Check out how the Oracle Fusion Financials Applications User Experience team went about designing for productivity when receiving and entering invoice data, for example. See how Fusion Financials caters so well for input and control of data? Central to all this is knowing the users and how they work: what tasks do they need to perform, and when. Read more about Fusion Financials productivity in the white paper, Get It Done Fast, Get It Done Right: The Oracle Fusion Financials User Experience.

Now and then, I see forms that weren't designed for end user activity at all. Instead, they were designed by developers or by the IT department around the database schema. Forms with literally dozens of fields on the same page, sometimes. Forms that give the impression there was only task involved, when there may have been several. At times, completing one of these huge forms accurately became so tedious that, under pressure, it made more sense for the user to complete it quickly as possible and then let somebody else check it for accuracy and fill in the gaps from data emailed along in spreadsheet form. Data accuracy is critical in our business. Not good. Not efficient. Not productive.

So here are a few basics on forms design for data entry-type user roles. A great place for developers to start exploring what is possible with forms layout is the Rich Client User Interface (RCUI) guidance on Form Layout, using ADF components.

JDeveloper Form Design View


User-Centered Forms Design Considerations


The starting point--something you must always keep in mind with your own design--is design for the end user. Find a representative end user, and keep that user engaged throughout the design, deployment, and test process. Consider these points in user testing those forms:


  • Are there automated or technical solutions to entering the data that avoid manual input in the first place? For example, imports, uploads, OCR, whatever. Some day we will be able to tell Siri to do it, but leave that for now.
  • Design your form to reflect the task involved (i.e., the business process) and not the database schema.
  • On the form, group like fields together, logically.
  • Eliminate duplicate data entry or prepopulate from previous data entry.
  • Allow users to complete fields in the order they wish (i.e., no interdependency).
  • Allow for tabbing between fields (keyboard is faster than mouse), so know how the browser supports this (see that RCUX guideline).
  • Allow for final validation at the page level not at field-level entry. Way better for heads-down users. For example, ADF messages allow you to see a list of all validation errors on a page on a final submit or navigation action and to easily navigate to the point of error.
  • Better still, be error tolerant. Allow users to enter data in formats they comfortable with. Bind any relevant user preference setting to the input format allowed (for example, the locale date format). Explore what data entry conversion can do for you automatically too (see the ADF converter demos, convenience patterns can also be written).
  • Only ask for data input when it's needed. Get rid of, or hide optional fields.
  • Cut down on the number of mandatory fields, and mark them clearly (use a *).
  • Clearly label the fields in plain language.

I am sure you may have a few more tips on forms design for data entry users. Remember the user before finding the comments.

Tuesday Nov 15, 2011

Games at Work Part 1: Introduction to Gamification and Applications

Games Are Everywhere

How many of you (will admit to) remember playing Pong? OK then, do you play Angry Birds on your phone during work hours? Thought about why we keep playing online, video, and mobile games and what this "gamification" business we're hearing about means for the enterprise applications user experience?

Pong, image available as WikiMedia Commons

In Reality Is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World, Jane McGonigal says that playing computer and online games now provides more rewards for people than their real lives do. Games offer intrinsic rewards and happiness to the players as they pursue more satisfying work and the success, social connection, and meaning that goes with it.

Yep, Gran Turismo, Dungeons & Dragons, Guitar Hero, Mario Kart, Wii Boxing, and the rest are all forms of work it seems. Games are, in fact, work taken so seriously that governments now move to limit the impact of virtual gaming currencies on the real financial system.

Anyone who spends hours harvesting crops on FarmVille realizes it’s hard work too. Yet games evoke a positive emotion in players who voluntarily stay engaged with games for hours, day after day. Some 183 million active gamers in the United States play on average 13 hours per week. Weekly, 5 million of those gamers play for longer than a working week (45 hours). So why not harness the work put into games to solve real-world problems? Or, in the case of our applications users, real-world work problems?

What’s a Game?

Jane explains that all games have four defining traits: a goal, rules, a feedback system, and voluntary participation. We need to look at what motivational ideas behind the dynamics of the game—what we call gamification—are appropriate for our users. Typically, these motivators are achievement, altruism, competition, reward, self-expression, and status). Common game techniques for leveraging these motivations include:


  • Badging and avatars
  • Points and awards
  • Leader boards
  • Progress charts
  • Virtual currencies or goods
  • Gifting and giving
  • Challenges and quests

Some technology commentators argue for a game layer on top of everything, but this layer is already part of our daily lives in many instances.

OTN Discussion Forums: E-Business Suite leader board

We see gamification working around us already: the badging and kudos offered on My Oracle Support or other Oracle community forums, becoming a Dragon Slayer implementor of Atlassian applications, being made duke of your favorite coffee shop on Yelp, sharing your workout details with Nike+, or donating to Japanese earthquake relief through FarmVille, for example.

And what does all this mean for the applications that you use in your work? Read on in part two...

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.

Profile

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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