Oracle and the new road to User Experience; launch of Alta UI – Oracle OpenWorld 2014

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One of the new announcements on OpenWorld 2014 is the generic Alta UI. The Oracle product teams have worked hard to apply this new UI to all their products. This new interface theme is the result of Oracles efforts towards a more usable and comprehensible User Experience by the Oracle Usability Labs.

The deliverables of the Oracle Usability Labs are applied to all new products. This is a major change in the UX strategy of Oracle. The strategy goes beyond the usage of new colors pallets and buttons. The new User Experience Design strategy is has a method, a vision, themes and practical guidelines. In this article I will explain these guidelines and give a brief overview of the highlights of this new direction. This blog is a short summary of the user experience directions of Oracle.

We came from a dark and distant place

The images below shows some of the user interfaces we created some years ago and I guess some of us are still building with these default Oracle templates. The principles behind this where very straightforward: show all data on the screen, hierarchical data in a master-detail and non-data related navigation (like search boxes or select lists) in a pop-up window. These guidelines were described in the BLAF guidelines (2002). BLAF stands for Browser Look And Feel (B does not stand for Better). This look and feel was a direct translation from the client-server Forms Application look and feel. With these template you are able to create a W3C compliant web application. In those days W3C only had technical compliancy guidelines and no visual ones.

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The new User Experience direction

The new user experience direction is based on 3 themes, 10 trends and a practical design guideline using context and usability. The method for developing the User Experience is based upon a frequent and fast feedback of real users. Below I will explain more about these subjects.

3 themes

The development of new user experiences are driven by tree major themes: simplicity, mobility, extensibility.

  • Simplicity :
    Easy and simple design with the focus on the essential information for a specific user in and specific role and situation.
  • Mobility :
    The new credo is “mobile first”. Design for mobile devices first and make sure these designs are also available for other kinds of devices.
  • Extensibility :
    Create applications users can customize or extend. To suit their business needs directly and tailor it to their processes and methods.

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User Experience instead of User Interface

The design of an application not only involves the look and feel of the product. During the design you must consider the application experience in the context of the user and test these concepts. The design experts frequently receive feedback from the real users. These users are working with their designs in their real day-to-day environment. This way the application design is much more effective and aligned with the real usage.

These findings are now implemented in some of the SAAS solutions of Oracle. They are also made available through design components, best practices and building blocks for developers. If you want to know more about this you can read more about this here.

Trends in usage of technology

Looking at the development of the perception and usage of technology the Oracle UX Team sees and acts upon the following trends in relation to user experience.

Connected

  • Ubiquitous computing: We expect to be connected 99 percent of the time.
  • Any device, any location: We expect our devices to work in any location.
  • Intelligent context: Because we are in a constantly connected state, more is known about us than ever before. For example, we expect our smartphone to know where we are on a map.

Devices

  • Multiple form factors: We know we can get work done regardless of the device we are using.
  • Convenient: The screens on our devices are high quality. The devices themselves are small, light, and easy to carry, and we can expect our power supply to last the entire day.
  • Consumer acceptance: Devices are commonplace and always at hand. Society accepts that this is normal. Generational change in device usage:
  • The laptop is no longer the Swiss Army knife it used to be. Now we use the device that best fits a particular task.

Interactions

  • What matters most: We want to see what’s essential immediately and understand what we need to do about it now.
  • Small, quick, casual interactions: We want information in digestible chunks, an overview. If something interests us, we don’t want to wade through hierarchies of navigation. We want to retrieve information the quickest way possible. And our devices need to support interactions that we perform naturally.
  • Multimodal input: There are many ways to enter data. We can take pictures, use our voices, and text while in a meeting.

Design Guidelines

The most important questions users have while using a system is “what’s going on?” and “What do I have to do?” People want to use a system where they can see important information in an instant. Important for them as a user, in their current role and in the current context. Users appreciate their applications when all important operations are accessible in 3 easy clicks. In the case of business the usage is linked to 3 steps; strategic, information and action. These 3 steps are described as Glace, Scan and Commit; representing 3 different forms:

  • Glance
    This is the form of the user interface showing a strategic overview of your work. This overview will let you decide if you need further interaction with the system. If you need further information you can select a specific information group and drill down to the next level.
  • Scan
    The next form is the scan. This is the visual form where you investigate further on a specific details of an item. You can review and analyses the cause of deviating numbers in one glance in this screen. This might be an employee who is over-performing or a specific supplier who is not delivering up to his promises. Based upon this analysis you can decide to take action. This is done in the third from.
  • Commit
    The commit phase is designed for you to act. Take actions and plan actions based upon the information from the previous phase. The user experience is showing all the necessary information to do this tasks.

 

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Use data and context

To make sure the application is simple and relevant to the user all data needs to be aware of the context of the user. Traditionally users need to provide their context; their systems-role, targets, location and other obvious information. The new paradigm in User Experience development leverages the context to the maximum to automate and simplify the interaction with the system. The context can be derived form 3 sources: you, where and how.

  • You
    This is the context that defines you as a person. What is important for you? What are your interests? What are your targets? What is your role? What is your search history? What are the things you like or hate? This context is used to serve the your information you need to excel in your role in the way you prefer to see it.
  • Where
    Almost every digital device is location aware. Combine this information with the calendar information and the devices in proximity of you and the system is able to anticipate on your current situation and present the information relevant to you at this moment.
  • How
    The system is able to learn from the interactions of the user and can anticipate on the user based upon past experience. Combined with relationship with other users and the network of the user it can predict the most ideal information or action for the user.

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Testing and feedback

All these guidelines and principles are not only preached. They are also tested in practice. In one of the Usability lab locations. These labs are located in 8 different places around the world. 

Picture of the Oracle Usability demo room at the Oracle HQ in Redwood. (including Jeremy Ashley, Vice president of the Oracle Applications User Experience group)

User Experience Oracle

 

Better User Experience in ADF with Alta UI.

And how do we link these usability components to real coding in Oracle ADF?

Since September 2014 Oracle has released Ata UI. This is a practical theme with usable components for Oracle ADF. This theme offers design patterns, components, best practices and reference implementations for the new user experience model. The links below guide you to the features and the getting started guide for Alta UI. I think this will make the development of practical and usable applications a lot easier. And more usable..

Links to more information:

About Author

Robbrecht van Amerongen is Head of IoT at Conclusion. He has a vast experience business development and software delivery. He is able to utilize new technologies and methodologies to valuable products and services for his customers. Keywords: innovation and business development, agile, internet of things, IoT, azure cloud, devops.Robbrecht is also an Agile coach and Certified Agile Master. He has experience in managing Agile projects with Scrum (first with DSDM) ranging back to 1999. Robbrecht is a strong proponent of the agile principles. Robbrecht is agile examiner for the agile foundation, practitioner and master certificate.

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