Saturday, 30 April 2011

Why should one go for iPad : iFAD?

In one of our team meetings recently, the topic jumped up again, "Why should one go for iPAD? Is it a Fad?"

There were mixed views for iPad. Some were of the view that iPad is a great product with advantages of being light and easy to carry. One can carry it along for presentations or on travel to read. Many others were of the view that a laptop can do much more than just presentations and reading. Finally, a general consensus was formed that probably "an iPad is a rich man's second laptop"!

Not long ago, we had termed laptops as "rich man's second computer", I didn't even realize when we moved ahead of that era, now I rarely see those big Personal Computers being purchased with as much vigor. Everyone seems to get Laptop or even better a Netbook. So, the confusion gets even worse.

Some more points to be pondered on.
  • The smartphones are becoming smarter. I think by the end of 2011 we will have smart phones with 3D projection capabilities, connectivity to all sort of networks and of course a processing power that can bring a laptop of today to shame!
  • Do we recall a device called "Pager"? It was a sort of "Twitter" on the go! Wasn't it revolutionary? Where did it go?
  • How many devices can a person carry without getting pissed off? One of my teachers once told me that a person can't manage more than 2 activities at a time: home and office, office and personal relationship, personal relationship and studies, studies and office. I think that time has been a proof for that statement, and I firmly believe in it. Extending the same theory, I am of the opinion that a person can't manage more than 2 devices successfully. Most of us must be having a laptop and a phone. If I bring in a iPad along, then one of the 2 former devices have to go! Either a laptop or the phone. 
  • It is unlikely that we will go away with a phone. What else can we put in our pockets, hold in our hands and talk for hours on? Surely not an ipad! Until and unless we have custom designed clothes to hold them :)

There is no conclusion to this post. Rather, I am still confused on where we are heading to. Conclusively, I can only say that out of Laptops, Netbooks, Leaptops, iPads, phones, smart phones, smarter phones, Kindles, Adams and ... we will have to choose only 2 devices at a time. Most of the devices will converge into others and new devices will evolve over time. More fads will come, some will stay some will  not even be mentioned in history.....

Monday, 25 April 2011

GIDS conference: My Experience

Great Indian Developer Summit (GIDS) was held on April 19 -22, 2011 at the green campus of IISc Bangalore. I attended the second day of conference, that was focused on Web trends and technologies. The sessions by Venkat and Harish were really good. The details of these and other sessions follow.

The conference began with “Building the next generation of experiences” by Arijit Chatterjee. Arijit is Engineering Manager for Platform Evangelism at Adobe Systems India. The trend of preferences for people is changing. Everyone wants to have better experiences, be it food, clothes or digital experiences. The experience has moved on from desktops, to laptops, to tablets and currently to smart phones. People want to have a meaningful, easy and engaging experience. There are essentially three areas of innovation in this:
1. Content authoring for the creators,
2. Customer experience management for businesses and
3. Online analytics and optimization to ensure the best value being delivered.

This session was followed by "Designing User Experiences for multi screen applications with Flash, HTML5 &CSS3" by Harish Sivaramakrishnan. Harish is a Platform Evangelist at Adobe Systems. He is also a UX design and usability expert. His talk highlighted the various devices available for communication, work etc today. The talk explored the possibility of designing the same user experience across all the different form factors i.e tablet, ipad, smart phones, desktop etc. Some practical ideas to be used by the developers to efficiently complete the coding , and the code that can be reused across all the different form factors, different screen resolutions using Adobe Flex, Flash, HTML 5 and CSS3. The programming tips and tricks were shared in these 3 platforms.

"HTML5 more than HTML5" was an interesting and thought provoking talk by Harish Vaidyanathan, who leads the evangelism efforts for Microsoft India. This session explored HTML5 and the session gave summary of HTML5 features. The session started with quick note of the logo design of HTML, and moved on to the features. Features include button curves, shadows, gradient can be done directly by coding. The button can have 4 different curve radii for 4 corners, button/ object can have shadow by placing lights .The best part is that while coding the screens can be checked by viewing in all the resolutions of different form factors. HTML5 combines the designer and developer skills and hence bridges the gap. Harish also gave aother session on "Unleashing a more beautiful web", some of the content was repetition of HTML and few features of IE 9.

"Towards a humane interface, aesthetic and usability" by Venkat Subramaniam. Venkat is the founder of Agile Developer,Inc. He has significant experience in design, architecture and development of software applications. The session gave an insight about usability in everyday interactions. Usability is more than just a “WOW” factor, it is more about making an application easier and intuitive to use. A successful application has to focus on three dimensions: business, design and usability. He gave few hilarious examples of User experience gone wrong in various products that he has come across. A spicejet check-in kiosk, Honda car to a programming language. The examples drawing to a very crucial point about Keep it Simple Stupid (KISS) rule. This was a fantastic simple session and will be sharing the presentation to MT UX community once i get my hands on it.

The conference gave insights on the changing technology and its usage. A better world of tomorrow for designers and developers .

Thanks Ankush for reviewing the draft.

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

What Game Designers Do That Interface Designer Don’t

At many occasions stakeholders ask designers to design experiences that are simple yet immersive and engaging for commercial Web applications. They leave it completely to the designers to think of ideas to achieve such designs. But, commercial Web application designers are always busy designing applications that are a function of

(Over simplification of Web application design)

They make sure all the business rules are incorporated, the right system response is in place, the right set and amount of information is presented so the right decisions are taken and so on and so forth. I would also go ahead saying that there is nothing grossly wrong with that approach. And while the results are not always great designs, they are not bad either.

But there are traits of game designs that an enterprise application designer can experiment with and design experiences that are memorable and desirable for people who use them. Theoretically, game design is not all that different and designers from other fields are perfectly capable of doing much of what game designers do.

[A gross oversimplification of game design (Stephen Anderson’s way)]

Instant Gratification vs. Slow Response Time
In most commercial software interfaces response time management is completely overlooked. The rule is “faster is always better,” and Google has almost mastered it. Search results displayed are shown with how many milliseconds it took for Google to process the results. However, game designers don’t think likewise and they defy the concept of instant gratification by making a good use of response time. It is like one driving to a hill station on a vacation with friends and family where en-route experiences are equally important as reaching the destination is. Slow response time also allows users to think of their next move.

Closure to Completion Effect
Gamers become more aggressive, thrilled, and impatient when they come very close to completion of a level, task, or an activity in a game. But game designers design these activities to be highly unpredictable and vulnerable, to take the gamers' excitement to the peak (for example, a game of Jigsaw Puzzle or Sudoku at the verge of completion). Similarly, Web application designers can start thinking of ideas to make the last piece of a task or an activity more engaging and exciting.

Learn To Become More Efficient In Future
Gamers become more efficient as they play and eventually become experts at it. Game designers leave cues that gamers use as tricks and keys to reach the expert level. The vast majority of software user interfaces have no consideration for how users can be taught by experience with the system to improve their performance. It is about finding those hidden patterns in the way people interact and manipulate the system. It is an applied learning that a user gains and reuses in different conditions to get faster results.

Short-term Memory Management
People love gaming because it challenges their reflexes, thinking, intuition, and dedication as they make progress on higher levels with increased amount of complexity. Short-term memory management is a great tool for game designers to increase or reduced the complexity of the game. Interface designers are trained not to rely on user’s short-term memory (for example, showing a piece of information and expecting the user to remember it to reenter the same somewhere else in the system).

However, game designers use it quite often in forms of locations, maps, symbols, and passwords which the gamers need to remember to clear a level or to reach a place. For example, arcade games use word codes that are displayed when the level is completed. These codes are supposed to be remembered by the player to reenter to reach that level directly from beginning else he or she will have to pass through all the previous levels to get there. Similarly, the famous AngryBird game shows the cage structure once to the player and leaves it to the player’s imagination to strike in the right area.

Building Mystery
Game designers carefully design interactions that in a way expand the player's mind and force him or her to think what’s happening. It is the mild confusion created with just enough context to consume the player’s cognition in subtle and compelling ways.

Enterprise Web application designers think of making interaction highly intuitive and transparent at all times. They think of giving surprises by making the application learn users patterns and start intelligently predicting their next move and automate it.