Thursday, June 19, 2008

Improving the Usability: The new Extension Manager as an Example

I would like to introduce the new GUI of the Extension Manager.
The aim of this refining was to ease the use of this tool and giving it an appealing look.

The problem:
This dialog has formerly been rather overcrowded with all functions available at the same time and thus difficult to understand how to use.
The user was forced to consider too many steps before getting results, while beeing in the context of extensions which at that days were not in common use for every user.

The solution:
Which buttons need to be available all the time and which are only relevant for a selected extension? According that assignment the buttons got arranged and their visibility reduced, so that the user has certain functions only available if needed. That should help to keep the user's focus on the work flow.
We also reduced the number of further dialogs coming up on top of the Extension Manager at certain actions by integrating it within the UI.
Well, not many ways exist to arrange an appropriate UI for the purpose of handling extensions, the result shows similarity in the style of the well known Firefox.

Here are some pictures showing the old and new Extension Manager:

The old UI

The new UI: Adding an extension

The new UI: After adding an extension

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Monday, June 16, 2008

Quarterly Review is done – what is next?

Some Quarterly Reviews for OOo are still running and some (i.e. the review for Calc) have already been finished.

The report of such a review consists of different sections. One section lists issues the teams are already working on and another the most important issues (i.e. a Top 20 of the highest voted issues). So now the question is how to start working on these most important issues to get things done?

I want to start the discussion on those issues as early as possible. If we have a good proposal in place, the chance to get those issues done is much higher. Furthermore we have the chance to do it on a high quality level if we do not start thinking about an issue when we have resources in development.

Discussions held in issues are often nonproductive, so I want to call for proposals, a kind of one pager, at the OOo Wiki. The issue itself just contains links to proposals but the discussion starts on the mailing list. There could be more than one proposal for an issue, but in the end the UX team should recommend one proposal to development.

If the implementation of such an issue starts, the iTeam gets the supported proposal as a recommendation how to solve that issue. Maybe it is a good idea to have the original author(s) with that iTeam too.

Feedback welcome!

Best regards,


Monday, June 9, 2008

iPhone 2.0

At today's keynote, Steve Jobs presented the all new iPhone to the masses. No worries, this ain't gonna be another blog post about the product as such. Instead, I want to point out how Apple managed to really listen to the their customers and improve the iPhone exactly there where it failed to meet their needs. This company's ability to gather, interpret and appropriately use feedback is state of the art.

Read the whole keynote here.


PS: This is what Apple’s senior vice president of Software Engineering, Bertrand Serlet, said about Snow Leopard, the next version of Mac OS X "In our continued effort to deliver the best user experience, we hit the pause button on new features to focus on perfecting the world’s most advanced operating system."

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Introducing our new member: Jennifer Wright

Who is Jennifer? Have you ever heard of her? I think not, but I hope we will make her or one of her friends come to life, soon. What we're talking about is using Personas in our development process.

Say Hello to Personas!

”Personas are fictitious characters that are created to represent the different user types within a targeted demographic that might use a site or product. Personas are most often used as part of a user-centered design process [...]” (Source: Wikipedia)

Why should we use Personas? To get: “Focus! Focus! Focus!”. And finally, the best we all can create.

Personas can help to remain the focus in our developments. Starting with requirements engineering, Personas can help to identify the functionality with most room for improvement or weighting requests for completely new features. You may just “ask” Jennifer what supports her most. For the interaction design, Personas may have special preferences, knowledge or even disabilities which affect the possible solutions. Using Personas means going straightforward.

How to Create Personas?

When creating Personas, you basically start by gathering real data from your users and identify similarities. You select the most important user types, for which fictitious characters are made up. These character traits make the information more vivid, manageable and understandable for all the people involved in the development process. And the data which the Personas are based on will make them believable.

Understandability and authenticity make them so valuable: Personas can greatly improve the communication inside the development team. And – also very important – that should work across all our activities and help us to achieve consistent solutions.

If you get the impression that this may also be useful for the other projects, you're right. Even Marketing, Documentation, ... may benefit from this approach.

What's Good Today? And What's Just Wrong?

So everything is bad? No, since we have payed attention to our users for a long time... Some data gathered in usability tests helped to identify and prioritize issues. All larger development activities are backed up by members of the User Experience team. The developers bring in years of experience with the product. And, there is a well-defined specification and design process for

But looking more closely, you may discover small inconsistencies. Working in teams means that everybody wants to achieve the best for their users, but many have their own kind of “user prototype” in mind. Or, decisions are made up on very few requests and do not represent the needs of a larger user group. Or ... I think you got the point.

What we think can help is an improved common understanding. Guess what? Personas may help us to get there.

The Next Steps

So how to proceed? First we should avoid any rush, because this might be the only chance to introduce Personas. So what we might do is ...

  1. Answer the question, whether we think Personas are useful for

  2. Select one or two first user types and collect the available data.

  3. Make up the Persona characters.

  4. Start promoting the Personas in the community and select the first development activities to make use of it.

  5. Further improve the Personas as we gain more insight in our user base.

The Big Challenge!

Although the Persona approach may sound simple, the devil is in the details. One of them is to convince all involved people like software developers, documentation or QA that this will work. “Work”, that means that it will improve our decision making, reduce development effort and improve the outcome of our activities. Now, they may just think that it is ridiculous to “talk” with those unreal persons or base decisions on such “paper” data. We have to make clear that this is their user base and that we talk about real people. Our customers, our relatives and our friends.

So what to do now? Start discussing this idea on ux-discuss, please. We would like to hear your opinion on that and if you think that it helps to achieve the UX goals: usability, productivity and enjoyment.

Have a nice day!

Frank & Christoph

Source of the picture:

Friday, June 6, 2008

Even Japan is suffering "feature bloat"

I just read a posting on Wired Online that describes the situation of mobile phones in Japan. Even the feature-hungry Japanese seem to get tiered of the mass of functionality that is nowadays built-in their mobile devices. They got location tracking, mobile credit card payment and even live TV – Madness? No, just feature creep gone mad.

Read on at: