Archives For Usability

Check out Design GalleRIA- A design gallery and showcase of the best Rich Internet Applications. I add a couple of new ones each week. Please comment with your favorite RIAs (Ajax, Flex, Silverlight, Laszlo…). My goal is 100+ by the end of 2009!

New featured article on InsideRIA, 50 Most Usable RIAs.

Excerpt

Bill and I have reviewed hundreds of rich Internet applications, RIAs, while compiling examples for our book and subsequent presentations and articles.

We recently realized that we had amassed quite a list of applications. Thinking other designers and developers might be interested in these resources, we applied two simple criteria to identify the top fifty:

Number 1: Does it adhere to the 10 basic usability principles?
Number 2: Is it really rich? Developing a product with Ajax, Flex, or Silverlight doesn’t inherently make it rich. A usable RIA will embody these six principles: Make it Direct, Keep it Lightweight, Stay on the Page, Provide Invitations, Use Transitions, React Immediately. For more detailed descriptions of each principle, see the Explore the Book section of this site.

10 of the 50

Aviary

aviary1

Balsamiq Mockups

balsamiq_mockups

CrazyEgg

crazyegg

Mint

mint_small

Picnik

picnik

SlideRocket

sliderocket_small

Spatial Key

spatialkey_layers

Tumblr

tumblr

Whitestone Cheese

whitestone

Wufoo

wufoo

Fluency and Rosenfeld Media sponsored the first DelveUI, A 2 Day Masterclass on Designing User (Web) Interfaces last week at the NYU Poly Campus in Brooklyn.

I had an opportunity to speak about my favorite topic: design patterns and principles for rich applications. The talk is titled Designing Rich Applications- and illustrates the need for richness at four levels:

  • application structure
  • screen layout
  • selecting rich UI controls
  • interactions


I’m working on a nifty little flip book that has all of the application patterns, screen patterns, rich UI controls and interaction patterns. All the patterns are on index cards and you can carry it into design sessions- and flip through it for inspiration- or to find a certain pattern. tangible-ria-patterns

ria-flip-book1

Let me know if you think this would be useful.

Since our new book focuses on rich interactions, I want to spend some time on Adobe Flex/AIR.

These tips are based on the best Flex resources I have found, and how you can use them to craft a great user experience. This is part 5 of 6:

* Play With It: 10 Explorers & Galleries
* Learn From the Best: 10 Great Flex Apps
* Learn From the Rest: 10 Great RIAs
* Stock Your Toolbox: 40+ Custom Flex Controls
* Review Usability Best Practices
* Avoid Common Mistakes: 10 Anti-Patterns

Review Usability Best Practices

Don’t forget the usability basics. Jakob Nielsen’s Ten Usability Heuristics are as relevant now as they were in 1999. I stress this because I looked at the Flex showcase recently, and it looks like many of the applications are not built with these best practices in mind.

1. Visibility of system status (Feedback)

The system should always keep users informed about what is going on, through appropriate feedback within reasonable time.
feedback_button
1.0 BaseCamp by 37signals
The upload button is enabled, until clicked. Then it is replaced with a progress indicator until the file has finished uploading

feedback_progress
1.1 Picnik
Progress message and indicator shows while the application loads

feedback_message
1.2 Tick
A feedback message is displayed when an action is performed

feedback_inline
1.3 Windows Live Account
Password strength is shown as the password is entered

2. Match between system and the real world (METAPHOR)

The system should speak the users’ language, with words, phrases and concepts familiar to the user, rather than system-oriented terms. Follow real-world conventions, making information appear in a natural and logical order.
metaphor_library
2.0 iTunes
Organized as a library that contains your media library: music, movies, shows, audibooks. Beneath the Library is the Store where you can buy more media to put in your Library.

metaphor_mindmap
2.1 Mindomo
The branches and hierarchy of a mind map can be easily reorganized visually in a non-linear manner. An outline would never work, but this matches the paradigm exactly.

3. User control and freedom (NAVIGATION)

Users often choose system functions by mistake and will need a clearly marked “emergency exit” to leave the unwanted state without having to go through an extended dialogue. Supports undo and redo and a clear way to navigate.
navigation_search
3.0 CollabFinder
Search is easy to open, enter info, execute or cancel.

navigation_selected
3.1 Wufoo
Clearly marks where the person is and where they can go by showing the selection in each menu

navigation_cell_editor
3.2 Pages (Apple’s Word Processing Product)
Cell editing shows row and column ids, and the cells used in the equation. The equation can be saved or canceled.

navigation_undo_redo
3.3 Balsamiq
Undo and Redo buttons are available in the toolbar, and can also be accessed with the standard keyboard shortcuts

4. Consistency and standards (CONSISTENCY)

Users should not have to wonder whether different words, situations, or actions mean the same thing. Follow platform conventions.

consistency_naming
4.0 Gmail
When Gmail was designed, they based the organizational folders on the same ones used in client email applications: Inbox, Drafts, Sent Mail.

consistency_toolbars
4.1 Microsoft Office
Word, Excel, and PowerPoint all use the same style toolbar with the same primary menu options: Home, Insert, Page Layout… Consistency results in efficiency and perceived intuitiveness.

5. Error prevention (PREVENTION)

Even better than good error messages is a careful design, which prevents a problem from occurring in the first place.

prevention_disable
5.0 Yammer
Disables the update button after it is clicked, so the person cannot update the post twice by accident

prevention_buttons
5.1 Example from “Web form Design:Filling in the Blanks” by Luke W.
Make the primary action prominent with a larger click area. Cancel and secondary actions are just shown as links

prevention_auto_suggest
5.2 Google Auto Recommend
The auto recommend feature cuts down on spelling errors

prevention_focus
5.2 Wikpedia
Auto focus on input prevents a common source of frustration, typing only to realize nothing is displayed because the field did not have focus

6. Recognition rather than recall (MEMORY)

Minimize the user’s memory load. Make objects, actions, and options visible. The user should not have to remember information from one part of the dialogue to another. Instructions for use of the system should be visible or easily retrievable whenever appropriate.

memory_type_ahead
6.0 Quanta IDE
Type ahead for coding in a development environment

memory_font
6.1 Keynote
Previews the fonts you can pick from, instead of just the font name

7. Flexibility and efficiency of use (EFFICIENCY)

Accelerators — unseen by the novice user — may often speed up the interaction for the expert user such that the system can cater to both inexperienced and experienced users. Allow users to tailor frequent actions.

efficiency_shortcuts
7.0 OmniFocus
List of keyboard shortcuts and accelerators

efficiency_preview
7.1 Numbers- Apple’s Spreadsheet product
Previews common function results on the left when a column is selected, more efficient that clicking on an action in the toolbar

8. Aesthetic and minimalist design (DESIGN)

Dialogues should not contain information, which is irrelevant or rarely needed. Every extra unit of information in a dialogue competes with the relevant units of information and diminishes their relative visibility. Visual layout should respect the principles of contrast, repetition, alignment, and proximity.

design_c_r_a_p
8.0 Kontain
Kontain’ search menu exemplifies the four principles of visual design:
Contrast: bold text is used for the two labels in the search
Repetition: the orange, blue, and green text match the media types
Alignment : strong left alignment of text, right aligned drop down
Proximity: a light rule is used to separate tags from the other options

design_alignment
8.1 Harvest
Sufficient padding and spacing keep this timesheet from being a visual nightmare. Header and footer rows, as well as the summary column use subtly different colors to indicate they are distinct from the content

9. Help users recognize, diagnose, and recover from errors (RECOVERY)

Error messages should be expressed in plain language (no codes), precisely indicate the problem, and constructively suggest a solution.

error_message
9.0 Digg
Provides immediate feedback with specific instructions

error_page
9.1 Humorous ‘ Page Not Found’ Error
Uses a funny image and copy, but provides viable alternatives (article listings and blog link) and a course of action (report it)

10. Help and documentation (Help)

Even though it is better if the system can be used without documentation, it may be necessary to provide help and documentation. Any such information should be easy to search, focused on the user’s task, list concrete steps to be carried out, and not be too large.

help_contextual
10.0 Picnik
Contextual help (this is an example of help in the ‘Collages’ module) tips in Picnik are clear and easy to navigate

help_video
10.1 GoodBarry
Embedded videos can be used to showcase features as well as get people started using the product

help_tip
10.2 Zenoss
Help tips are displayed on hover, answering the most likely questions about a field or instructions

help_button
10.3 BaseCamp by 37signals
Help opens a new browser window/tab with a full set of help resources: search, FAQ, video tutorials, customer forums

Since our new book focuses on rich interactions, I want to spend some time on Adobe Flex/AIR.

These tips are based on the best Flex resources I have found, and how you can use them to craft a great user experience. This is part 3 of 6:

Learn from the Rest: 10 Great RIAs

Take a look at some of the best RIAs on the web. How did I decide these are the best? I reviewed numerous applications, basing the evaluations on Jakob Nielsen’s 10 Principles for User Interface Design:

Feedback — Metaphor — Navigation — Consistency — Prevention — Recognition — Efficiency — Design — Recovery — Help

I realize these guidelines are a bit old (from 1990!)- but all applications should meet these guidelines at a minimum. The applications listed below also embody our 6 Principles for Rich Interaction:

Make it Direct — Keep it Lightweight — Stay on the Page — Provide an Invitation — Use Transitions — React Immediately

01. CrazyEgg

crazyeggcrazyegg_confetti

Fantastic application which adheres to every one of the principles. At first, I thought the confetti feature was going to ruin the evaluation, but it is a perfect balance of innovation and usability. Look at how they use common checkboxes for selection, and wiggle the confetti when a source is added- very rich, very nice.

Interactive demo is available

02. Mint

mintmint_saver

Mint’s user experience only gets better and better. You may want more features in the product (money market support…), but the features they offer are perfectly executed. Primarily developed with HTML, CSS, JS and Ajax, they chose to incorporate Flex in the Trends section.

The new Ways to Save section is completely dynamic, updating as you adjust amounts, scores and preferences.

Free registration is available

03. Wufoo

wufoowufoostatistics

Wufoo is an extremely well designed tool that has more than meets the eyes. Play with the templates and report creator for inspiration in keeping it simple, and look at they way they use Blank Slate and Help Tips to keep you moving towards your goal. It is almost even fun!

A nice product tour and free plan is available

04. 280 Slides

280slides280slides_toolbar

One word- slick. If only all of my projects could be this perfect. Yes, it seems like Keynote (or PowerPoint) on the web, but take a closer look at some of the features. Instead of the maddening Inspector and Format menu, the common formatting functions are in the toolbar. Everything is there when I need it, they even incorporated Adobe Kuler in the color palette!

Free trial available

05. Action Method

actionmethodactionmethod_dialog

Another very well implemented product. It is easy to get started with the Blank Slate screens providing tips and directions, and even easier to get comfortable using the product because it uses a standard screen patterns and common controls.

Every detail has been accounted for. Notice the visual design that makes it clear that the tasks can be dragged around and reordered.

Trial version available

06. Fidelity Labs

fidelitymyplanfidelitylabs_mortage

In 2006 Fidelity Labs started cranking out some very nice RIAs, one of them being Fidelity MyPlan. The Mortgage Search and Homes Sold were also very nice, but have been retired. Unfortunately, their newest 3D Portfolio Analyzer, is not up to par with their earlier beta products.

The direct interactions and what-if scenarios in MyPlan seem to have inspired Discovers Paydown Planner and other direct manipulation financial planning tools.

Fidelity MyPlan is publicly available

07. Pandora

pandorapandora_tip

Pandora has been around since 2005 and has finally gained popularity. It has a very simple, intuitive interface, which makes it easy to get started. The menu offers direct interaction for rating the song ‘up’ or ‘down’, while also providing advanced options such as “don’t play this song again for a month”. And the help tips, shown at just the right time in the workflow, provide a glimpse into advanced features.

Pandora is publicly available

08. Wave Maker

wavemakerwavemaker_model

Wavemaker is a great example of how a complicated product with many features can be clarified with good interface design. They use a logical page flow from left to right- matching the developer workflow of adding a control to the canvas (LEFT) , physically manipulating it (CENTER), then entering tweaking the details in the properties and style panel (RIGHT).

A Cloud Edition is available

09. SugarSync

sugarsync_grid

sugarsync

Another great product that relies upon standard screen patterns and common controls to create an intuitive efficient experience. Awarded Top 10 User Interfaces of 2008 by Jakob Nielsen. Report available for purchase.

A 45 day trial is available

10. clickshirt

clickshirtclick_hoverclick_click

clickshirt keeps it simple and fun with integrated demos and lively interactions. Event the checkout is rich, hover to see more details about the t-shirt type, click to specify the size and quantity. No gratuitous paging in this application.

clickshirt is publicly available

More Good RIAs

These products have good examples of rich usable components, although they may not have met the 10 basic principles for usability throughout the whole application.

NetVibes

netvibes1

Trulia Snapshot

truiasnapshot1

37signals products like Highrise

highrise

Wesabe

wesabe

Keep an Eye on These

iWork.com Publishing Tool

iworkcom-comments

Atlas

atlas

Bespin

bespin

OtherInbox

otherinbox

Comment with your favorite RIA

I realize I have only skimmed the surface here, please comment with a link to the best RIA you use.

Thanks to Rob Jones and Greg Leppert for helping me pull together this list.

Since our book focuses on rich interactions, I want to spend some time on Adobe Flex/AIR.

These tips are based on the best Flex resources I have found, and how you can use them to craft a great user experience. This is part 2 of 6:

  • Play With It: 10 Explorers & Galleries
  • Learn From the Best: 10 Great Flex Apps
  • Learn From the Rest: 10 Great RIAs
  • Stock Your Toolbox: The Essential Controls
  • Review Best Practices for Designing a RIA
  • Avoid Common Mistakes: 10 Anti-Patterns

Learn from the Best: 10 Great Flex Apps

Take a look at some of the best Flex applications on the market. How did I decide these are the best? I reviewed numerous applications, basing the evaluations on Jakob Nielsen’s 10 Principles for User Interface Design:

Feedback — Metaphor — Navigation — Consistency — Prevention — Recognition — Efficiency — Design — Recovery — Help

I realize these guidelines are a bit old (from 1990!)- but all applications should meet these guidelines at a minimum. The applications listed below also embody our 6 Principles for Rich Interaction:

Make it Direct — Keep it Lightweight — Stay on the Page — Provide an Invitation — Use Transitions — React Immediately

01. Picnik

picnik
Free version available

02. Balsamiq

balsamiq
Trial version available

03. Sprout Builder

sproutbuilder
Demo version available.

04. Campaign Monitor by eyeblaster

campaignmonitor
Commercial application- no demo available. Awarded Top 10 User Interfaces of 2008 by Jakob Nielsen. Report available for purchase.

05. ConceptShare

conceptshare
Free account available.

06. Weight Watchers eTools

weight_watchers
Commercial application- no demo available.

07. Small Worlds

smallworlds
Free account available

08. Buzzword

adobebuzzword
Free account available

09. Whitestone Cheese

whitestone
Publicly available at www.whitestonecheese.co.nz

10. Kuler

kuler
Publicly available at kuler.adobe.com

11. SumoPaint

sumopaint-screen
Free account available

Close Contenders

These apps were really close, but missed a couple of key principles, or are still maturing.

Klok

klok_fullscreenklok_time_entries
Free personal download available

Nice time tracking product in AIR- nailed the metaphor, but haven’t Made it Direct enough (yet). I instinctively want to click in my calendar to start logging my time against a certain project. Instead I have to navigate to Project View, then into Time Entries. And spinners for entering start and stop times are inefficient.

I must say I love the Weekly Time Sheet though, and the fact I can drag it to my desktop! I think this product will mature very nicely.

Tour Tracker

tour_tracker_fullscreen
tourtracker_allcaps
Up for a limited time at Amgen Tour of California.

Looks amazing. The metaphor is perfect- big map showing the course and stages- but lost points on some basic principles. Specifically Feedback- I click and click to “watch a rider” on the home page, nothing happens, so I keep clicking. And Design- a black background might demo well, but white and blue tex, all caps, sure is hard on the eyes.

Google Finance Dashboard

googlefinance
Publicly available at BrightPoint Consulting

This is a really nice dashboard showing what can be done with Flex & Degrafa. I can’t wait to see how they finish it out. Also check out Tom Gonzale’s blog for more amazing data visualizations with Flex and Degrafa.

htmlText Editor 2008

htmltexteditor1
Publicly available at www.theflexguy.com

This is a neat little one screen application that absolutely Stays in the Page and Makes it Direct. However, the Filter Tags feature is non-standard in more than one way: “If you remove tags and see that they really were needed, you can just uncheck the box and press Filter tags again.” I know the space is limited but Undo and Redo buttons would make more sense.

Agile Agenda

agileagendaagile_agenda_clicks
Free trial download available

Project management tool in AIR. Missed the Keep it Direct, and Stay in the Page principles. Too many dialogs where simple inline editing would have sufficed. Need better icons, or text with the icons. Usability aside, the product’s functionality seems to be quite robust and well worth the price.

Comment with your favorite Flex applications

I realize I have only skimmed the surface here, please comment with a link to the best Flex UIs you know of.

Since our new book focuses on rich interactions, I wanted to spend some time on Adobe Flex/AIR.

After designing several large enterprise applications for diverse clients and industries, I’ve noticed some barriers to crafting a great experience in Flex. I think these barriers arise from the relative newness of the technology (and RIAs in general), the initial focus on development over design, and the confidence that Flex can provide a great UX out of the box. But it takes a bit more to make a Flex app really shine. Fortunately, the Flex community is chock full of talented and motivated developers who contribute amazing resources.

These tips are based on the best Flex resources I have found, and how you can use them to craft a great Flex UX. This is part 1 of 6:

  • Play With It: 10 Flex Explorers
  • Learn From the Best: 10 Great Flex Apps
  • Learn From the Rest: 10 Great RIAs
  • Stock Your Toolbox: The Essential Controls
  • Review Best Practices for Designing a RIA
  • Avoid Common Mistakes: 10 Anti-Patterns

Play With It: 10 Flex Explorers

I can’t think of a better way to get your feet wet than to play with these explorers.

01. Tour de Flex

tourdeflex

02. Component Explorer

flexcomponentexplorer

03. Style Explorer

flexstyleexplorer

04. Regular Expression Explorer

regularexpressionexplorer
By Ryan Swanson

05. Charts Explorer

chartexplorer
By Ely Greenfield

06. Efflex Effects Explorer

effectsexplorer
By Stephen Downs

07. Filter Explorer

filterexplorer

08. Primitive Objects Explorer

primitiveexplorer

09. Data Visualization Explorer

quvisexplorer

10. Button Skin Explorer

buttonskinexplorer

Comment with your favorite Flex explorer

I realize I have only skimmed the surface here, please comment with a link to your favorite explorer or gallery for Flex 3.