Thursday, 18 November 2010

Experience Sense of Touch Through Haptics

Human Computer Interaction (HCI) is considered to be the intersection of computer science, cognitive science, design and several other fields of study, and is a multidisciplinary field centered on people’s interactions with computers in various respects. Practitioners and researchers endeavor to understand people’s behaviors and actions in order to make computers more usable and receptive to people’s needs. People interact with machines using their physical senses including sight, hearing, taste, smell and touch. Wikipedia notes, “Senses are the physiological capacities within organisms that provide inputs for perception” [1]

The importance of touch in HCI
One way of interacting with a device is by using the sense of touch. “The touching is not limited to feeling, but it allows interactivity in real-time with virtual objects” [1]. In HCI, Haptics is a field that allows people to interact with computers. A haptic device gives people a sense of touch with computer generated environments, so when virtual objects are touched, they seem real and tangible [2]. Haptic devices are capable of measuring bulk or reactive forces that are applied by the user; it should not be confused with touch or tactile sensors that measure the pressure or force exerted by the user to the interface.

“Haptic technology, or haptics, can be defined as feedback technology that takes advantage of a user's sense of touch by applying forces, vibrations, and/or motions to the user” [1]. Haptics are implemented through different types of interactions. These interactions can be categorized into the different types of touch sensations a user can receive—force feedback, tactile feedback, and proprioception (or kinesthesia) [3]. For instance, you can change a conventional mouse into a haptic mouse by adding force feedback capability, or, in other words, a haptic mouse reacts to responses for users to make a decision.

Examples of where it is used and who benefits from haptic device
In recent years we have seen how the sense of touch has become an integral part of how we experience things, both physically and emotionally [2]. Haptic devices can be used in different applications including computers, video games, mobile consumer technologies, research, medicine, and robotics.

Most of us are familiar in using touch screen technology on cell phones; a person can interact with electronic visual display using the sense of touch. It is said to be a haptic touch screen when it provides users with true tactile feedback that supports a multitude of touch and gesture effects [4].

Haptic devices provide greater potential for people who are visually challenged. Haptic technology can assist a blind person in making right decisions while interacting with technology using the feedback provided to them. A recent study conducted at “VI Fit” [5] provides evidence for how a haptic device can benefit blind users.

Product Designers can benefit from free form modeling on products. Three-dimensional detailed shapes can be formed for manufacturing if input devices that give touch feedback relating to the "surface" they are modeling allowing faster and more natural workflow than with traditional methods [5]. These technologies could help designers creating video games with rich rendered Three-Dimensional environments that can be hard to navigate on a two-dimensional screen.

An experienced designer can create interfaces through which the end user can feel the product before purchasing the product. Designers can provide a greater experience for end user allowing them to feel the product with their own hands, for example, when an end user wants to buy a luxury watch such as Breguet. Haptics is an emerging field in HCI and many researchers around the globe are working on providing a physical experience for virtual objects.

Thanks to Vinay Dixit for reviewing


Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Using Patterns Around Us as Inspiration

Last Design Friday, we had a session on using 'Patterns' we see around us as an 'Inspirational' source book into our design, mainly to help define UI Patterns.

The objective was to use these patterns (from our surroundings) to solve some of the design problems in the UI.

Below are few pictures from that session:
Collage of patterns folks captured from their surroundings -

Participants in the workshop -

Presentation by attendees...

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Rapid prototyping for tangible user interface designs

As designers we apply participatory approaches of engaging users and stakeholder in the design process for better design outcomes. Using white board, affinitive mapping, brainstorming, wire-framing, prototyping etc. in order to arrive at functional specifications are common practices required in product development. These activities not only serve the purpose of design but also to communicate ideas and concepts to various stakeholders.

The idea is to understand if conventional design techniques would stand complexities around designing Tangible User Interfaces (TUI). Let’s explore in detail. TUI is a user interface, where a user interacts with digital information through physical representation.  Designing for TUI brings various challenges to designers primarily due to physical representation of digital information and variety of complex interactions available. Watch this video for a better understanding. 

For designing a TUI system, a designer needs to consider physical objects, physical actions, interactions and physical environment because everything is an interface that interacts. More than just complexities around TUI itself, there are challenges with respect to effective communication of design concepts to stakeholders for their buy in. This leads to a few questions to our use of conventional design approach. How effective our conventional design approached would be for TUI designs?  Should we adapt to rapid prototyping technique? Would rapid prototyping help designers conceptualize and communicate ideas better.

Consider a brainstorming session; we bring a mix of designers, developers, implementers, managers, stakeholders and users. Brainstorming brings ideas to the table in order to solve a design problem.  During such sessions, the effectiveness of communication is maintained by making use of whiteboards, post-its, paper and pen. Mostly the systems we design are for two-dimensional space. But when it comes to design for three-dimensional spaces, we should be using three-dimensional objects. We know it is important for people to express their views and have effective communication to develop innovative ideas. Rapid prototyping with three-dimensional object would be major drive to bring people into action.

In designing for TUI, it seems important for designers to use three-dimensional objects for prototyping. By introducing such dimensions communication and engagement of groups can be increased. This could help designers to visualize the space that they are designing for. And in addition, designers can investigate on affordance and metaphors used of the group to formulate the thought process. This approach can produce positive outputs during discovering phase of a product development lifecycle and to frame them during definition phase.

Special Thanks to
Vinay for editorial hands
Tangible Bits for sharing the video

Monday, 18 October 2010

Is Crowdsourcing firing Designers?

Recently when customers rejected the new redesigned GAP logo, GAP decided to crowdsource the redesign exercise to help define their brand.
The entire GAP redesign exercise emphasized that if designers do not do their job well and management do not make wise decisions, the customers reject it (after all the customer is the king). And they will also suggest a redesign of the brand for you!

There may be many reasons why the design exercise could have gone wrong - like management making all the design decisions or underestimating design or their customers (thinking they would blindly accept their chosen logo). The management have realized that their decisions are not final, even when it comes to logo redesign. And the outpouring on the social media on this topic suggests customers do care for products they have been buying over the years.

As the blame is now on the design firm who came up with this logo and GAP having decided to crowdsource instead, how do the rest of us (designers) ensure we do not fall into such situations? And how do we ensure crowdsourcing does not fire us and instead we work hand in hand. Moreover, what will our role be henceforth?

If you look back, from the time digital media entered the lives of designers (in 90's), designers needed to had these basic skills:
  • Idea generator, Creative, at times think out of the box
  • Understands problems, users and provides appropriate solutions
  • Produce aesthetically pleasing designs – have good knowledge in color theory, typography, layout, etc.
  • Apply usability/ ergonomic principles
  • Be proficient in all design softwares (esp. Adobe products)
  • Work with team

With the explosion of the internet since late 90s, where anyone can access basic tutorials on Graphic design and opensource tools like GIMP, consumers are now taking a shot in designing, just like photography. And companies are trying to capitalize on this through ‘crowdsourcing’, just like what GAP is doing now, as it turns out much cheaper than hiring a design firm! Added to this, the design is created directly by the end user and their needs are being stated through design.

An amateur designer can have all the points mentioned earlier to a certain extent. S/he may be creative, have ideas, execute solutions in an amateur manner using the design tools. There will be more tools in future which will auto-suggest color combination, layout (just like what templates have already begin to do now)

However, crowdsourcing will also generate enormous individualistic data and management will still need to pick the right design which will reflect everyone's perception of the brand or idea. This is where we designers can capitalize.

Our roles in future will mainly be to –

Engage users
We will need to draw ideas from everyone, while allowing everyone to express themselves, which in turn makes customers feel they are being engaged in the entire exercise. We collect their inputs (data) for our design process and to further validate our design to the client with the populist data. We can also revalidate our design again through crowdsourcing and when the design is finally out in the market, the users will be proud of the outcome!

Analyze and draw insights
We will need to use crowdsourcing for design research to get insights to our design. The data collected from users through crowdsourcing (eg: pictures of their daily routine, etc.) will ultimately help create better products.

Induce design thinking
A designer will need to induce design thinking in the organization or team, and drive the design exercise, with team members, stakeholders and customers, getting their hands dirty in design implementation. A designer’s role will be to facilitate and bring out the best ideas from everyone and manage the entire design exercise! And use ‘Crowdsourcing’ as one of the methods from user research to design implementation.

And how do we designers achieve this - We will however need to focus more on design strategy and behavioral aspects. The technical aspects like layout, typography, usability heuristics will be automated in future. We will need to think cross-disciplinary rather than specialize in individual fields like graphic, fashion or industrial design in future.

The client/ management will also need to understand the importance of design, branding and be more involved in the design exercise while giving powers to the designer to make strategic decisions.

Thanks to Vinay and Anshuman for their inputs on the role of a designer in future.

Thursday, 7 October 2010

'Change by Experience Design' Approach

All disciplines change continuously, be it management, engineering, medical science, or design. Change is critical and, at the same time, dynamic. It needs to be managed gradually by people in practice. Quality that was once a differentiating factor and a competitive advantage is now a factor of hygiene and is rather expected by default. Similarly, practices such as TQM and Six Sigma that were once central to businesses are still of value but are unable to provide the next big boost.

Businesses have the tendency to think inside-out even when they consider external forces such as market demand and competition. The focus is more on ‘How’ can we better what we are doing in current business practices. Mostly this ‘how’ thinking leads to small refinements and incremental changes only.

We as designers (user experience designers in this case) argue that design is fundamentally different, both by thinking and execution. A design approach needs to impact the ‘how’ thinking of businesses. Design needs to become the centripetal force of an organization to make it think more of ‘What?’ than ‘How’.

Focus on customer needs, not products – Instead of getting into the race to bring new product features to market, companies need to refocus on the needs of their customers. Some of them may want fewer features and yet simple and intelligent stuff.

Understand people and context, not just 'users’ – When we talk about customers, they are more than just 'users’ of a system – users that are defined by segment, roles, knowledge, skills, demographics, etc. We need to see beyond their learned behaviors, mental models, mindset, tasks orientation, etc. and must start looking at other dimensions that can provide a complete picture of a person. This means we must understand that our customers are people with natural behavior and desires affected by beliefs, attitude, expectations, personality, prior knowledge, experiences, and emotions, and more.

Look beyond tasks and explore ‘activities’ – Activities can be task or goal agnostic. For example, entertainment-oriented experience such as watching television is a passive way of consuming content without really a goal-focused task. Unilever ice cream truck can be another such example. This means, designers need to understand the motivations behind activities rather than looking only at the tasks performed. The motivations behind an activity could be social, monetary, emotional, and/or ideological.

Reinforce brand with every interaction, not just by communication – Traditional brand messaging is losing its power to influence consumers and therefore there is a need to expand branding efforts beyond marketing communications, to define how customers should be treated and engaged. This is the reason why some of the traditional creative and branding agencies are either transforming into digital agencies or are losing ground. Brands need to continuously innovate and find newer ways to translate their brand attributes and promises into interactive experiences for their customers.

Customer experience design and delivery is a competence, not a function – Designing great experiences is ain't a designer’s job alone – strategists, technology geeks, subject matter experts, and customers are equally responsible and participative in the entire process. Similarly, delivering great customer experiences cannot be achieved only by a small group of people, rather everyone in the organization needs to be fully engaged in the effort as the impact needs to be made at all levels in an organization, including its core value system.

Monday, 4 October 2010

Playful children and creative thinking

Children are a great source of creativity when it comes to games and entertainment. Children are interesting to be learned and studied. Kids seem to be ignorant, but they are very creative than most adults are. They can turn anything into a game. Here you can see the pictures of children playing. I found them pretty interesting, I observed them playing some sort of a game for a while and it gave me insights on the creativity of design.

Setting up the rules                 
They played this game for about an hour or so. To my amazement, I found that they were following some protocols or rules for this game. It seemed to me that players played the game with predefined game rules. This game consisted of two teams, one on one side and two boys and on the other side. And a baby girl was accompanying them, but did not participate in the game. As I think, the girl is about 18 or 19 months old and probably can’t participate. The players are trying to hit the other player with the sack as seen in the picture. And there was some kind of point system based on the hitting other team. They have made boxes for each team; a team member is not allowed to step outside the square. And if you step outside of the square, if so you lose some points.

If I were to design the game, I will probably relate to the pillow fight that I had with my brother in my childhood. Well, I do not know, how these children made this entertaining game for them. What kind of strategic planning they did? Did they relate to some other game? What is the metaphor they used here? Are there any similar games available? Are they following some framework? Many questions cross my mind.

Creativity with fewer resources
These children are not receiving healthy food, medical facility, not even having proper sanitation facilities, and not having proper shelter. I would doubt that they would have ever played with a toy. They lack the resources that we have in our daily lives. But they do not lack in creativity. I felt that they are amazing designers. They made a game with fewer resources they got.

We also work with fewer resources such as time and money. Our client creates our world wherein we are set to deliver them enjoyment based on the resources they have provided. A designer’s puts on creative hat to provide innovative solutions. We perform strategic planning to determine how we go about doing our activities. We further set rules on how a system should look, what kind of functionality it should possess, how it should behave, we try to determine user goals, usability goals and many more. We provide creative designs to our customer and provide them greater satisfaction and better experience.

Children may not be thinking any of these things that we think about. All that they want is to enjoy the time that they have. As these children, we should thrive to produce creative product in a new way, or invent something that does not exist or reapply an existing process or product into a new or different domain. Hence, creating better experience and happiness to our customers as well for us.

Thanks to Vinay for the reviewing of this post. 

Thursday, 23 September 2010

Cooking the Engaging Experience Iteratively

Iterative design is like preparing the popular sweet of West and South India – Puran Poli (in Marathi) or Holige’ / Obbattu (in Kannada).

Traditionally, the entire process of making Puran Poli was very social, where women gathered around and would discuss their problems or share their joys while preparing the dish.

In the design process, we can start with brainstorming sessions and interactive workshops which ‘engage’ the stakeholders, team members and end users to make the product create the ‘engaging experience’. We can also collectively derive at ‘Scenarios’ to capture the ‘social’ aspect of the product being designed.

A scenario talks about the user, situation and user’s goal. Let’s assume we are designing a mixer grinder (blender), one of our scenario can be ‘Mrs. Joshi and her friends want to make a traditional sweet dish for Ganesh Chathurthi. She needs the blender to help her prepare the sweet while talking to her friends’. Mrs. Joshi will then need a mixer which does not disturb the conversation with her friends. If so, then it needs to make very little noise so that it does not drive her friends away from the blender or disrupts the ‘engaging experience’.

Engaging experience can be built iteratively by thinking on 'what features to have', 'how to implement' and 'when to implement'. Iterative design involves building the core essence of the product first and later building over and around the core essence in several sprints. Just like the puran poli where the ‘core’ is jaggery and channa dal, which gives the dish its taste.

The process of preparing the ‘core’ (Hoorna or Puran) begins with the right mixture of jaggery, channa dal and cardamom. This mixture can be eaten as is and is the bare minimum to be considered a sweet by itself. This is similar to KANO’s model of ‘Must haves’ in a product. So in the above scenario, the ‘Must haves’ of the blender is built around the features supporting the ‘quiet performance’.

Once the goals and scenarios to achieve the goals have been established, the next process is to divide these into iterations, on how to achieve the must-haves (core), the extended features and the delighters.
While making Puran poli, the next stage will be to use the core (Puran or Hoorna) as a filling. This is similar to the extended features the product will have around to enhance the ‘core’ or goal.

Here, we can re-validate our features which go around the product. Can it still be packaged as puran poli or if suddenly realize there are no right ingredients, can it be packaged as something else like Kadabhu (Karjai). Either ways, the core (jaggery+ channa dal) still remains the same.

In iterative design process the requirements may change over course of time, however the ‘goal’ of the user still remains the same. Eg: The blender instead of just being table top can now be combined with a micro-wave oven, so that it cooks while blending. Or, an application to help users get live traffic update can change from being a web application to a mobile application to better help users while driving. In both examples, the goal – ‘to provide quiet performance’ or ‘to get live traffic update’ remains the same as the ‘core’ filling of Puran poli or Kadabu.

Once the decision has been made, the next level of preparation begins. The Puran poli is fried and the product is ready to be packaged.

Finally, packaging the product is similar to serving Puran poli with ghee on top or serving it with milk on a banana leaf. The aroma creates the aspect of ‘delight’. Just like how products need to have ‘delighters’ or pleasant surprises which helps go beyond the basic necessities.

The core of the Puran poli can also be extended to other dishes. Usually the left-over hoorna is used for making a special rasam - Kattina saaru (in Kannada) or Kaatachi Aamti (in Marathi). The experience is extended as it is had after eating the sweet dish. Or, even if someone does not have the puran poli itself. This is similar to extending a product’s brand to other mediums. Eg: creating a section on Facebook or Twitter to market the product.

Throughout the entire process of preparing Puran Poli - from planning, cooking, to serving, and even eating it, is very interactive, spontaneous and social. These are the qualities we designers need to incorporate to make our design process more ‘engaging’ apart from providing an engaging experience to the end users. We need to ensure we engage our stakeholders and team members in all stages of our design process to decide on ‘what the product will have’ and ‘how to implement the product’.

Few methods a designer can use - User stories are helpful to begin and also draw boundary for conversation between team members. Creating story maps based on scenarios along with other team members can help decide how to iteratively develop the product. Interactive quick sketches by inviting other team members to sketch (if they wish) their ideas on top of our sketches or critique your sketches also leads the team to engage in your design and encourages to be expressive as well.

Thanks to Swapna for sharing these awesome pictures on preparing the Puran poli. Recipes to make other delicious dishes can be found on her blog -

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Design considerations for touch screens – Part2

Pros and Cons of Touchscreens
The following overview lists advantages and disadvantages of touchscreens and summarizes their characteristics.

Touchscreen Pros
Direct: Direct pointing to objects, direct relationship between hand and cursor movement (distance, speed and direction), because the hand is moving on the same surface that the cursor is moving, manipulating objects on the screen is similar to manipulating them in the manual world

Fast (but less precise without pen)

Finger is usable, any pen is usable (usually no cable needed

No keyboard necessary for applications that need menu selections only -> saves desk space

Suited to: novices, applications for information retrieval, high-use environments

Touchscreen Cons
Low precision (finger): Imprecise positioning, possible problems with eye parallaxis (with pen, too),
the finger may be too large for accurate pointing with small objects -> a pen is more accurate.

Hand movements (if used with keyboard): Requires that users move the hand away from the keyboard; a stylus requires also hand movements to take up the pen.

Fatigue: Straining the arm muscles under heavy use (especially if the screen is placed vertically).

Sitting/Standing position: The user has to sit/stand close to the screen.

Dirt: The screen gets dirty from finger prints.

Screen coverage: The user's hand, the finger or the pen may obscure parts of the screen.

Activation: Usually direct activation of the selected function, when the screen is touched; there is no special "activation" button as with a light pen or a mouse.

This post is contributed by Mallikarjun

Monday, 23 August 2010

Design considerations for touch screens – Part1

Touchscreens - The Future
Touchscreens are operated as city guides, in museums, at POS (point-of-sale)stations or as kiosks(standalone advertising booths with user interaction) and now in the recent have made way into homes in the form of DPFs and Multimedia phones. Interaction has to be simple and fast as Users are often untrained. This calls for a screen and interaction design, which is considerably different from normal user
interface design.

Touchscreens are operated with a finger or stylus. Therefore, they provide a very direct interaction - the most direct interaction that is possible on computers today. Touchscreens may be operated very fast for certain operations and require little or no training, if applications are designed adequately. For these reasons touchscreens have many uses, especially for untrained users. Many people believe that
touchscreens will replace keyboard and mouse in the future.

The Ultimate Judge is the User!
These preliminary design guidelines for touchscreens take the characteristics of touchscreens, their advantages and disadvantages, into account. Of course, these guidelines will be refined, as our experience with touchscreens grows. The ultimate judge, however, is the user. As ELO Touch Systems quote in their guidelines:

·Testing a touchscreen application on focus groups will disclose the areas that need improvement.
·If anyone pauses in confusion for even a moment, think how to improve the application.

Summary of Touchscreen Characteristics
·Speed: high
·Accuracy: low (finger), high (pen)
·Speed control: yes
·Continuous movement: yes
·Directness: direction, distance, speed
·Fatigue: high
·Footprint: no
·Best uses: point, select

Uses for Touchscreens
Best Suited to Applications Where...
·Opportunity for training is low
·Frequency of use is low
·Accurate positioning is not required
·Little or no text or numerical input is required
·Desk space is at a premium
·The environment may be chemically or otherwise "aggressive"

Not Suited to Applications...
·Requiring training/trained users
·With high-frequency use
·Requiring accuracy
·Requiring a lot of typing

Typical Touchscreen Systems
·Public information systems: Museums, city guides
·Kiosk systems: Advertising, product information
·Systems requiring pointing and selection only

Golden Rules
Speed: Make your application run fast. Speedy systems also reduce vandalism.
Intutiveness: Try to make the application intuitive.
Choices: Limit choices.
Guidance: Guide the user as much as possible.
Testing: Testing a touchscreen application on focus groups will disclose the areas that need improvement. If anyone pauses in confusion for even a moment, think how to improve the application.

This post is contributed by Mallikarjun

Friday, 13 August 2010

Applying Principles of Salsa Dancing into UX Design

Salsa, a popular Latin American dance, and UX design have a lot of elements in common . And designers can apply some of these principles into their process.

The most important aspect in salsa (or even ballroom dance) is getting the connection right between the dancers. Similarly, for a design to succeed, the designer has to connect with the end user- understand their mental models, predict how the user would navigate, consider the user’s likes and dislikes , and design appropriately. The designer cannot design a product just because s/he finds it cool or creative.

Good dance has well synchronized sequences. This is similar to the sequence of tasks a user does. Designers usually define scenarios to define how the product will be used. The smoother the sequence is, the better the end user experience.

Movements are building blocks to any dance, which define a sequence. Similarly, every interaction in a design defines how well the task can be completed.

Patterns of foot work, swivels and turns help be a better lead and a receptive follower. The designer also needs to understand patterns in usage of elements, problems faced by users and design in a way which would be well-received by user. Patterns in rhythm and beats set the overall mood on the dance floor. Similarly, the designer needs to consider current trends or ‘mood’ to create the appropriate designs.

Space and path (floor path) are important factors which defines how the dancers will traverse and the direction (such as forward, backward, sideways). Similarly, in a design users would traverse across the interface, and the designers need to make sure that the users traverse as smootly and elegantly as possible and complete their tasks easily. On the visual front, the designer needs to take care of both positive and negative spaces for the interface to work well.

Time (or tempo) in dance defines the speed of the dancer. Dance, music (unlike other forms of art like painting) incorporates linear time pattern, which means it moves through time and space. This is an important factor for designers too. Can the user complete a task in a short time? How long do I display a notification when the user receives a mail? And, how quickly should it fade away?

In Salsa , whether dancing with a partner or in a group, there’s always a lead. The lead always aims to provide concise lead with accuracy. The other/s follow the lead; yet they have their own style and movements. If the lead is difficult to follow, the partner stops partnering him. Hence, the lead must adapt to the partner’s skills (based on whether the partner is a novice or an intermediate dancer or an expert), the available space on the dance floor and change the lead appropriately. The designer is like this lead who leads users to perform a certain desired task by understanding the user’s strengths.

Finally, one would always love to dance again with the same person if they had a good experience dancing with him/her. Just like how we designers need to ensure we have repeat users for our products!
So ensure a good ‘dance’ for your users!

Thanks to Afshan and Sannidhya for putting on their editorial hats and reviewing the draft.

Thursday, 29 July 2010

How will it splash in future?

When we start an application, we are greeted by a splash screen. The splash screen lets us know the software we are about to open – it’s name, version, copyright information, the people involved in developing the software, loading status, etc.
The splash screens have undergone tremendous changes in terms of graphic design. A classic example is Photoshop, a tool we designers use often. Below are some examples of it's changes over the years.

The earliest splash screen - single color, single font.

As the resolution of screens increased, so did their graphics. The splash screens introduced color and visualized the product’s features.

The rectangular splash screen changed to free-form shape, going beyond the rectangle box.

However, the information displayed in splash screens over the years has undergone very minimal change. The splash screens were ideal when computers were slow and took time to start an application. But with faster computers, which take less than 5 seconds to start an application, how will user be able to view this information in future? Or do users ever read this information everytime?

Few softwares introduced the startup (welcome) screen, which helped user to pick the task he wanted to do easily, immediately after the splash screen disappeared (as shown below).

In this scenario, do we need splash screens at all? Can splash screens do more than just displaying copyright, license information, loading progress?

With applications increasingly becoming suggestive, it’s more appropriate to merge splash screens with the startup screens. Merging them can help user to decide the task s/he wants to perform in few seconds as well as display the information about the software. While the application is loading in the background, user can decide and click on the selected option (eg: decide to open a new template) and begin their tasks right away after the application has loaded.

The splash screen can also me made social wherein it can have the following:

  • RSS feeds
  • Link to social networking tools like facebook on what others are talking about the software or share a new technique or tips
  • Ratings on software's features
  • Appropriate links for collaborative work, where two persons can edit the file at the same time

Ideally, the splash screen can have the information as shown below:

Images of Photoshop splash screens:

Thanks to:

Danny Aldo, Vinay Dixit, Afshan Kirmani & Anshuman Singh for reviewing my draft work and providing relevant suggestions

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Communication Design for Business Intelligence

Users feel that reports are generally overloaded with information. Our understanding on the users’ behavior and mental models helps to reduce the information load and display the information in a reporting tool with optimized presentation.

The following are the usability aspects that need to be taken into account while designing information for a Business Intelligence tool.

1. Efficient & Effective Search Functionality
There could be myriad reports and data to be accessed frequently by the users and the navigation through menus, sub-menus or links could be cumbersome. For faster retrieval of reports the search functionality should be effective and efficient with the following features:

Natural Language Search:

The search component should be able to recognize the regular spoken language typed in by users in addition to keywords. This will give a human touch to the business intelligence tool. An example is shown below:

Auto Suggest:
‘Auto Suggest’ can be used in Search functionality to provide a rich user experience while searching for specific information with a keyword. A sample illustration is provided below.

Categorization in Search Results:
The search results should be clearly categorized for the users to differentiate the kind the data from images, reports etc.

Basic and Advanced Search:
The users should have the ability to use the search as per their convenience. Users who frequently access the business intelligence for reports can have options to view on a daily or weekly basis. Those users, who use the system less frequently, have advanced search options to narrow down their search results to an old report.
Basic Search:

Advanced Search

Save Search Criteria:
For users who use a search criteria frequently an option to save that search criteria will be useful by removing the reoccurring task of working on the fields.

2. Faceted Organizing
Instead of forcing one way to retrieve reports, faceted organizing allows users to view or find a report in any way they want, with more flexible and dynamic categorization schemes. This helps in the following:

Directory Navigation:
In each step the number of categories is reduced by one

Faceted Search:

Instead of searching by a keyword, the users narrow down the search results matching the characteristics of reports. An illustration depicting faceted search is shown below:

3. Information Design & Graphical Representation
Providing visual cues will help users understand most complex data with ease and with an experience of having fun at work. There should not be a feeling that the task displayed is some agenda that is being thrust upon.

4. Inverted Pyramid Content Design
The best practice of inverted pyramid writing technique can be used for reports with a slight variation. The most important information needs to be provided at the top lines to the user. This will reduce the time taken for a user in going through the entire content of information as opposed to getting the crux of the report with a cursory look.

5. Progressive Disclosure
Progressive disclosure is a trick used by the information architects to design the information architecture in such a manner where additional content is revealed only on an action by the user. An example is shown below where the detailed information of deployable are shown in Level 2

6. Personalization & Prioritization
Everyone’s need for information varies and depend on his/her interests. Thus it is difficult to determine what a user wants from the sea of information that is out there in the business intelligence tool. Information overflow and spamming are definitely unappreciated.
Ability to personalize and prioritize the user interface, inform of dashboard or the user’s secured home page will allow the user to modify the screen based on his/her requirement and need.

7. Derivation of Action
The use of dashboard and reports are not only to display information but also to proactively inform or initiate an action which requires immediate attention. Example: Alerts

8. Exploratory User Interface
To help users to learn by doing, an exploratory approach should be used to design the Business Intelligence tool. This also helps in rectifying the need for help documentation, demos and FAQs and ensures a zero learning curve.

9. Accessibility
It’s also important to make the information accessible for everyone by adhering to accessibility guidelines. MindTree will test the tool for accessibility aiming to analyze the content, layout, navigation, graphics, etc. to ensure that the interface can be used by:
The differently abled
The visually impaired
The Aged

10. Business Intelligence As A Social Tool

We respect users’ privacy but at the same time, we are users’ are becoming more social. The business intelligence tool can now move from just searching reports, displaying dashboards to creating relationships, storytelling, creating and sharing opinions that has influenced decision making practices in general.
Reviews: Peer reviews are greatly influencing learning and decision making in users’ daily lives.
Mobile Access:
Portables can be accessed on different mediums, anywhere.
Communication: Interacting and sharing through various mediums or multi-channels.
Collaboration: Allow users to collaborate in report generation and in creating a single document.

On Faceted Navigation

Thanks to:
Anshuman Singh & Afshan Kirmani for reviewing my draft work
Madheswaran Periasamy for sharing the illustration used for Auto Suggest
Hetna Naik for pointers to Social Tool, Personalization & Prioritization
Baizal Jacob for his thoughts on Derivation of Action

Thursday, 20 May 2010

Swipe To Type

Swype is a patented technology that provides a faster and an intuitive way to input text on touchscreen devices. With one continuous finger or stylus motion across the keyboard users can enter text at over 30-40 words per minute. The technology can run on small screen mobile devices as well as large multi-touch LCD panels.


In the image above, the word “quick” was generated by tracing the path that roughly aims to pass through the letters of the word.

The user need not be very accurate with motion in order to get right text entry. In fact, the spacebar is made redundant while Swype automatically appends space before each word. The software is equipped with fairly advanced input path analyzer and a word matching search engine along with a 65,000 words learning dictionary. Swype is aiming at supporting multiple languages to penetrate deeper into the international market.

While all this is exciting, some reviews suggest that users are unable to connect with the new data entry pattern intuitively. In case of typing repeat words, users try to remember the exact path. This is even more difficult in case of long words. Existing thumbpad pattern of data entry seems to work better because of its high affordance.

It is indeed a paradigm shift in computing and data entry methods that are in use since computer’s inception. Therefore, one will have to wait to see how the technology can bridge the learning curve and gain user and social acceptance when it makes a commercial entry into the mainstream touchscreen device market.