Monday Jul 22, 2013

Researching UX in Favorite Places: Consumer Tech's in Business

I’ve been out and about doing usability research in the wild (or ethnography, to give it the posh UX name) in some favorite places: in coffee shops and on fishing boats. Both are places of work on the go or remote working (there are some very successful strategies out there to get the best out of these types of workers too, as Apple's example shows). I wanted to discover more about the applications side, what devices were used, what other tools were used, what tasks are being done, and how what was going on around all the users affected things. In other words, I was exploring the context of use side of user requirements gathering.


Half Moon Bay, California: Fishing Boat captain using Square on iPhone for mobile payments

I’ve written about the concept of the "coffice" elsewhere, but it's worth bearing in mind, as pointed out by Lucy Kellaway in the Financial Times out that this "trend" of working from coffee shops (or houses) is 350 years old, originating (probably) in London in the 1650’s when coffee shops became places of trade for ship insurance, sugar, human hair even, and so on. The energy has changed now with today's patrons staring silently into laptop and tablet devices, where previously there was much human conservation. That is not to say that collaboration and exchange between users doesn’t exist though. It clearly does, but technology has changed its nature, as text and tech replaces talk, though there is some evidence that a certain level of background ambient noise does enable productivity! The data exchanged and tasks in evidence or course, pivot through the cloud, and happen across other devices and locations too. So, "work" can happen as and when needed.

As for fishing boats, well come early morning you can now see mobile payment solutions such as Square in action with captains taking payments on the spot with their iPhones, checking the latest Yelp check-ins about their vessel, and sending Instagrammed pictures of catches to their customers using their smart phones from the deck. Again, CRM in action, notably with a reliance on wireless data exchange that didn’t always work ,with lost connections from deep within vessel hulls and when out at sea. Offline versions anyone? And I wonder if they should invest in waterproof phones too!

My kind of research! Watch this space for more places and events. The consumerization of information technology influences our working lives all the time, and UX needs to research user requirements and design accordingly. We're all UX designers now...

This is what I love so much about being a UX pro. You can see it in action all around you, and have fun observing and thinking about how new solutions to problems might be. Besides, I could never let a creative challenge from Misha Vaughan to use my other passions as part of the UX story go by!

Sunday May 12, 2013

Unsaved Changes: Oracle ADF Functional Patterns and Best Practices Shout-out

One UX question that seems comes up now and then with ADF apps is how to handle when users navigate away from an application page that has unsaved or uncommitted changes on it. This might happen when users decide to navigate to another location to look something up without opening a new tab, or when they use the browser back button to try go back to a previous step in a task.

Now, it is not an unreasonable these days that users would want to navigate using the back button. But this consumerized IT expectation is not something that our ADF apps can accommodate. A combined productivity hit and the high value of enterprise data means that users need to be warned of the implications of navigating using the browser back button or loading a new page, if they continue.

There is another UX implication should users choose to use the back button. Because of how our task flows are constructed they will be taken back to the last URL, which is not necessarily the last step in their task flow if the URL hasn't changed within the flow. So there is an unpredictable outcome to where users will be taken within the application.

Using the backspace key can have the same result as using the browser back button, because it most browsers the backspace key is mapped to the back button.

One handy way to warn users about unsaved and uncommitted changes on navigating away from their page is to use the af:document tag's uncommittedDataWarning property. This is explained, along with use cases, and other great patterns on on the Oracle Application Development Framework Functional UI Patterns & Best Practices website.

Shay Shmeltzer also has a great video of how the unsaved or uncommitted changes warning is implemented on his blog.



What ADF is providing here is a hook into a warning message which comes from the browser, not from ADF itself, so the phrasing of the message in the dialog box is not something developers can control. So, although users can informed of about unsaved changes being lost should they continue, the unexpectation navigation issue is not mentioned (this is something being worked on by Applications UX).

Check out the implementation of the unsaved and uncommitted data warning and the other ADF functional patterns and best practices on the site too. This is a great resource for productive development used along with the ADF Faces Rich Client User Interface Guidelines and Oracle Fusion Applications UX design patterns.

Friday Nov 02, 2012

Feeling Old? Before Middleware, Gamification, and MacBook Airs

Think we're done with green screens in the enterprise apps world?

Fusion User Experience Advocate Debra Lilley (@debralilley) drew my attention to this super retro iPad terminal emulator app being used by a colleague to connect to JDE. Yes, before Middleware, this is how you did it. Surely the ultimate in hipster retro coexistence? Mind you, I've had to explain to lots of people I showed this to just what Telnet and IBM AS/400 are (or were).


TN5250 Telnet iPad App

MochaSoft TN5250 Terminal Emulator iPad App

This OG way of connecting to apps is a timely reminder not to forget all those legacy apps out there and the UX aspect to adoption and change. If a solution already works well and there's an emotional attachment to it, then the path to upgrade needs to be very clear and have valuable and demonstrable ROI for users and decision makers, a path that spans emotion and business benefits. On a pure usability front, that old school charm of the character-based green glow look 'n' feel could be easily done as a skin, personalizing an application for the user so that they feel comfortable with it. Fun too particularly in the mobile and BYOD space!

In fact, there is a thriving retro apps market out there as illustrated by this spiffy lunar lander app (hat tip: John Cartan), part of a whole set of Atari's greatest hits available for iOS.


Lunar Lander App

Lunar Lander App

And of course, there's the iOS version of Pong.

Check out this retro Apple Mac SE/30 too. I actually remember using one of these. I have an Apple Mac Plus somewhere in my parents' house. I tried it out recently, and it actually booted, although all it was good for was playing the onboard games.

Looking at all these olde worlde things makes me feel very old, but kinda warm inside too. The latter is a key part of today's applications user experience too.

Sunday Jul 29, 2012

BYOD: Ultimate Work Device Personalization. What Does It Mean for Oracle Apps?

Bring Your Own Device (known as BYOD) is an increasingly popular information and communications technology (ICT) strategy where users are allowed by their employers to use whatever device they prefer to do their jobs and to integrate these devices with other services and data. Devices are personally owned by the user or may be funded by the employer.


The future help desk in the BYOD world?

Yep, BYOD is on the uptake and a hot topic in user experience (UX). Driving forces are many: the influence of what users are doing in their personal lives, powerful emotional attachments to brands and delightful web and mobile-based user experiences, exposure to many more device options, working a company with a strong acquisitions record, and so on. Major technology players are reacting strategically.

With BYOD comes the advantages of superior, personalized user experience, flexibility of working, increased productivity at work, less training needed, and so on. The good is nuanced by issues of corporate liability, security of devices and data from loss or virus attack, integrating a multiplicity of solutions, maintaining versions, scaling the device support offered, questions about control over assets, and other concerns. For some, BYOD is a Bring Your Own Disaster waiting to happen. But, evidence of accelerating BYOD uptake is strong as explained, along with the top pros and cons, in this super infographic.

BYOD may be considered as part of what we call the consumerization of information technology (COIT) in the workplace, where expectations about applications and device UX in work are set by those familiar consumer apps and websites used in an employee’s personal capacity. For me, BYOD is the ultimate strategic expression of device personalization in work. There are plenty of applications UX research areas to explore.

For example, we could investigate how productive are users of apps on different devices. Or, what are the user experience expectations influencing apps? How can apps design be responsive (or neutral), depending on what the user wants to use or do? What are the integration, security, or performance aspects of apps on all these different devices? How can a range of apps perform effectively, efficiently and satisfy a wide audience’s requirements as new devices rapidly appear? How important is consistency of look and feel, and interaction, across devices (ever compared gestures on different mobile devices)? What about user frustration or confusion with so many choices and self-reliance? How can support organizations react? You get the idea...

So, what does BYOD mean for apps in the world of work? Well, for example, in the CRM space, users may use a range of official and personal tools, everything from Microsoft Outlook to RIM BlackBerry smart phones, Apple iPads, Microsoft Excel, Google Search, Facebook, LinkedIn, and so on. The data for all these devices and apps is centrally managed in a database and processed by business intelligence software (and shown using cool visual analytics such as those in our dashboard design patterns), integrating with solutions on–premise or in the cloud. This all makes sense. CRM sales users generally hate the idea of using enterprise apps. It’s all about sales for those guys and gals, so accommodating their context of use through personal device choice is critical.

BYOD interest has been really driven by mobile phone and apps in the workplace with employees using their personal devices to make business calls, installing corporate business apps to perform their work tasks, or integrate with social media or other consumer apps from app stores to help them get their jobs done quickly and easily. However, BYOD goes much further than mobile or the security issues that seem to dominate right the discussion right now. Examples of, or BYOD in the UX area, might include:


  • Using personally purchased laptops that are not available through the corporate procurement policy on the corporate network. For example, users connecting their Apple Mac Book Airs to a network in an organization where only Microsoft Windows-based PCs and desktops are officially distributed.

  • Being allowed to pick and purchase any device preferred and expensing the cost to the employer who then supports the device officially.

  • Using personal tablets (iPad, Nexus 7, Kindle Fire, and so on) in the field loaded with business and personal apps, while traveling, visiting or working at remote locations.

  • Catching up on the latest press releases and other docs using an eReader powered by a Raspberry Pi processor just before leaving the hotel to go to that business meeting, or maybe refreshing your mind about the latest release notes while servicing a solution at a customer site.

  • Connecting home PCs or smart televisions to a corporate intranet to use work email or collaboration tools.

  • Help desks and support solutions providing a range of user friendly, walk-in, or concierge solutions for any device, such as the Apple Genius Bar approach. The final nail in the coffin of the “contact your sys admin” error message!

  • Using gaming consoles, gesture-based, augmented reality or even wearable devices available to consumers, to run business applications or process information. For example, a CRM user might use Google Glass specs to visualize Google Maps or Analytics for sales leads, and then use Google Translate about multilingual opportunities while on the move.

  • Using their devices to connect a knowledge-based mobile service solution to a 3-D printer and print a replacement part or prototype for review at a customer site.

  • Using Microsoft Kinect or a Leap Motion system to move market opportunities around a large scale map by gesture, modeling different territories sales scenarios, and so on.

  • Turning to the Oracle Fusion Middleware toolkit to integrate open source GPS tracking devices with Oracle Fusion Supply Chain Management to manage deliveries in real time.

  • Or, how about using a Nintendo DS to approve your team’s expense or vacation notifications with some sly working during a family holiday?

Phew!

So, watch out for more BYOD research from me in the coming months, and if you’re a partner or customer, stay tuned to the Oracle Usability Advisory Board events.

Comments welcome!

Sunday Jul 15, 2012

Dublin Mini Maker Faire

Volunteered at the first Dublin Mini Maker Faire held in Trinity College Dublin (TCD).

Fionn advertising in the Science Gallery

My son, Fionn, advertising the event in the Science Gallery

A great fun and free platform for ideation, innovation, inspiration, and learning for creatives, hackers, hobbyists, innovators, techies, thinkers, and generally makers of all ages and types.

I was blown away by the energy of the participants and volunteers, reminding me of the mega Maker Faire in San Mateo earlier this year. I guess five thousand plus (but don't take my word for "Garda estimate") eager kids and adults turned up at stands and sessions on the TCD Physics Lawn and in the Science Gallery. Kudos to the Dublin Mini Maker folks and the Science Gallery magic makers. All the more astounding as three weeks ago I didn't even know about the event, they managed to make the sun come out too!

After a bit of pre-event online video content curation, on the day I had one of the volunteer assignments of helping signage the event around the college and channelling folks to the right end of the campus, reminding me of working in TCD ENTS crews at the Trinity Ball years ago. A lot of fun, when done with volunteering I went to fetch my young son and show him around what all the makers were up to.

We were especially engaged by the 3D printers, the Fuinneamh ("energy" in Irish) big drum, Kinect2Scratch software interaction (reminded me of the Java Zone at the San Mateo Maker Faire), the Underwater ROV, PCB layout sessions and the Scalexercise.

Ultimaker 3D Printer

Ultimaker 3D Printer

Fuinneamh Big Drum

The Fuinneamh Big Drum

Printer Circuit Board Layout Activity

Printer Circuit Board Layout Activity

Kinnect2Scratch

Kinnect2Scratch

Oracle didn't have an official presence at the Dublin event this time, but I would love to get something going there if (if? when) it happens again, something interactive, and for kids, for sure.

From a learning perspective, I was there not only a maker wanting to help out but to observe and learn more about how we might organize smaller, more nimble innovation and dev jam events aimed at makers of apps of all sorts on all devices, how such communities work, what motivates attendees, and to build some new local relationships local for future events. Definitely worthwhile!

Stay tuned. Many thanks to the Dublin Mini Maker and Science Gallery peeps for bringing this one to life for so many people.

On to the Manchester Mini Maker Faire in two weeks time...

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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