Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Lotusphere 2008...Wrapup

(Editor's note...wrote this a few days ago...but as usual too busy to be timely!)

Wow...what an amazing week @ Lotusphere. I still can't believe there are naysayers out there regarding the work being done at Lotus and IBM. We'll be here for a long time and I'm certainly looking forward to being along for the ride! There are many, many great recaps of the week to be found on the internet already, so I won't rehash any of that. From the UI perspective, I am glad to hear that people are getting the message that Lotus is committed to repenting for UI sins of the past. The "OneUI" initiative is a great step forward and will arm us with the necessary ammunition to fight back when the critics decry the "ugliness" of Lotus applications. I've seen or been involved in many potential migration situations which basically came down to the fact that the decision makers thought that Notes was ugly and hard to use. I won't argue that point about older versions, but still many of the "problems" postulated by these decision makers were issues that could have been easily rectified through user training or minor template modifications. Why are so many companies still using these old versions of Notes and thus perpetuating this "pain and suffering" on their users? Because Lotus Notes is rock solid and it works. However, we need to convince these companies to move to Notes8 so that they can not only realize all the incredible advances from a technology standpoint, but so they can also see the gains to be made from the people side. Notes8 creates a compelling user experience and offers many productivity enhancements as well. When you move to Notes8, your users will be happier and more efficient and this in and of itself should help justify the upgrade, since the process is pretty trivial for most companies. We can thank Lotus Notes' long history of backward compatibility for that. I don't mean for this to turn into a commercial for Notes, but after this week's announcements at Lotusphere, Notes becomes even more compelling and hopefully we'll see even more of our friends upgrading now that the first point release (8.0.1) is almost available. Things like LiveText and widgets are going to make the exerience even that much better...I can't wait! Of course, the "OneUI" idea involves the other great Lotus products as well and I'm sure we can expect to see more improvement on this front as we move forward.

From a personal perspective, this was a different Lotusphere for me than in years past. For one, this was my first LS as an IBMer, so that meant some different activities during the day and in the evening. I participated in some customer meetings with Lotus executives and spent time with several customers at night. I was also busy prepping for and giving various presentations. Bruce and I got to deliver the UI Worst Practices session not once, but twice and I really enjoyed that one. A classic (and completely unplanned) moment occurred in the session that was being videotaped. Bruce was in the middle of talking about writing good error messages when the presentation came out of slide show mode and message popped up that his machine was now running on reserve power. Turns out he forgot to plug his Mac in and it was running out of juice! Luckily, Apple's error messages are pretty good, so this provided a perfect example to illustrate Bruce's point. It was also funny to see him fumbling with the cord as we tried to get back on track! :-) On Wednesday, Nathan and I got to provide back to back sessions on UI design and theory. The first session (BP216) was more about basics to keep in mind, while BP217 was a demo and show and tell bonanza. We spent almost the whole time in the Notes client or Designer. Unfortunately, we both *love* to talk about this stuff, so of course we needed more time. We actually had a 30 minute break in between sessions, but level set the audience at the beginning that we might just keep talking through the break and that people were free to talk, ask questions, get snacks, etc. We did end up pretty much talking the whole two and a half hours, which was great fun for me. I love introducing people to this ideas and seeing them run with it and I could have stayed up there the rest of the day. It's become pretty clear to me that this is the space I really want to be in...more as an evangelist and consultant around UI design and best practices. Now my goal is to figure out how to map out that path in my career plans...

For those of you looking for the slides, here are the final packs for BP214 and BP216 in both PowerPoint and ODS formats. We need a few more days to pull together the updated slides for BP217 as well as the downloadable demo database that has everything we showed, so please stand by for that.

BP214 - Yikes...It Looks Like That?! Powerpoint | ODF
BP216 - Interface Matters: Basics of UI Design Powerpoint | ODF

I hosted a Birds of a Feather session around designing the user experience on Monday night. That is definitely an unfortunate timeslot, as it's really hard to compete with free food and drinks and the Product Reception as well as various parties. We did end up with a group of about 8 people or so and exchanged some good ideas. If we do it again next year, I'll see if I can campaign for a better time/day.

It was great seeing old friends at Lotusphere as well as meeting new ones. I feel especially humbled by the kind comments of people who came up and introduced themselves as readers of this blog. For those of you who take the time to read here and those that came to my sessions, I just want to say thank you again. Your time is precious and the fact that you devoted an hour or two to listen to our presentation means a great deal to me. I love teaching and sharing new ideas with other people and nothing makes me happier than hearing about how you have been able to make things better at your job by the little tricks and techniques that my colleagues and I have shared. Thanks also for the great comments on the evaluations...you make me blush! ;-)

I'm going to take a few more days to distill specific product thoughts down into some posts that might be useful, as well as polish off the advanced UI slides, so don't forget to check back here or better still, add Interface Matters to your RSS feeds. :-)

Here's to Lotus, IBM and all of us. I think we're off to a fantastic 2008...Cheers!

Friday, January 18, 2008

Monday, January 14, 2008

Interface Sessions @ Lotusphere - What Would YOU Like To See?

Hi Folks...

If you are attending Lotusphere and don't already know about the incredible Lotusphere Sessions database that Ben Langhinrichs makes available every year, then you owe it to yourself to get over there and download it. It will make your Lotusphere experience immensely more productive and enjoyable. Thanks to Ben for making this available to the community! :-)

Recently, he added a really cool feature allowing attendees to ask questions or tell us what you would like to see before the session. This is what collaboration is all about, so please, if you have something you'd like to see in the sessions below, post it and we'll see what we can do to fit it in. If we can't, I'll make sure to follow up with you after Lotusphere.

Use the link to go to the web version of the Sessions database and then click the 'Ask A Question' button at the top of the screen

BP214: Yikes...It Looks Like That?! UI Worst Practices - Ask a Question
BP216: Interface Matters - Basics of UI Design - Ask a Question
BP2117: Interface Matters - Advanced UI Design Concepts - Ask a Question

Bleeding Yellow...The Return

Alan seems to enjoy teasing us about Lotusphere as we get closer and closer. His latest post should definitely get people wondering. Head on over and check it out and don't be afraid to comment in an attempt to guess what is going on.

I wrote a post last year entitled "Do You Bleed Yellow", but it's not my site...hmmm...

Friday, January 11, 2008

Designing For Flow

If you've been around here for awhile or seen any of my presentations, you've heard me speak a little on the concept know as flow. When building your interface, the absolute ideal that you should be striving for is helping your users achieve a flow state, that frame of mind in which everything else seems to fall away and you become completely immersed in your task, distractions are eliminated and time flys ("I've been doing this for 5 hours??? It seems like 5 minutes!"). There's a new article on A List Apart that describes this much more elegantly than I can, so you may want to head on over there and check it out.

A List Apart: Designing For Flow

Have a great weekend everyone! Only 8 more days until Lotusphere!!! :-)

Anyone using the Document Rating Idea?

It might have gotten lost in the holiday shuffle, but I'm curious if anyone has had a chance to use the document rating functionality in a real database. If so, any feedback?

Thursday, January 10, 2008

General Geekery

Interface Matters...Geek Style*Warning...this Friday post isn't about user interface design, Lotus Notes, Lotusphere or any of that stuff. Nope. There's more of that to come, but for now this post is just about being a geek. If you don't care or don't want to know more, stop reading now. You've been warned! :-)

It seems to me that now more than ever it is the golden age of geeks. Everywhere you look, so called "normals" are getting into technology, especially the latest gadgets and gizmos, home theater gear and video games. Heck...they're even going to superhero films. I never thought I'd see the day. While waiting to take a horse-drawn carriage ride over the Christmas break, I saw a very attractive girl wearing a shirt that exclaimed..."Geeks are hot". That's when I knew we made it.

It really is cool to be a geek. There are so many flavors of geeks too. It's not just the stereotypical image of the computer guy. No...there are music geeks, video game geeks, cooking geeks. The list goes on and on. Since I happily acknowledge my geekdom and recognize that being a geek has been central to who I am and how I've been successful in life, I just wanted to take a few minutes and share some things I'm currently geeking out about. This post is more for future posterity than anything, but if you are interested, please keep reading. I'd especially love to hear about the geek things you love. Post it on your blog or in the comments.

Looking back, I know I've always been a geek. Besides the fact that I walk funny (this bouncing step thing that is genetic...my brother does it too, even though his twin does not. Didn't make school easy), I've always been really fascinated by typical geek stuff. In my earliest memories, I was always reading comic books. Superman, Batman, Green Lantern, Spiderman...everything I could get my hands on. I was fortunate to have a grandfather who loved to spoil me, so I always had a great supply from the local convenience store. I used to spend a lot of weekends staying at my grandparents and I most looked forward to the Friday night ritual of eating Arthur Treacher's Fish and Chips and then watching Star Trek reruns and Space: 1999! Star Wars came out when I was seven and boy was that a life defining moment for a kid of that age. From that point on, I was a major Star Wars geek and at one time had collected every one of the Topps Star Wars trading cards. I still love Star Wars and comic books to this day, although at $3.00 a pop, the comic collecting thing is on hold indefinitely!

In junior high and high school, I certainly became something of a music and hi-fi geek. I can name where and when I bought most of the CD/albums in my collection. They were that important to me. I loved gathering as much data on each band as I could and tracking down hard to find items, a task that wasn't easy in the pre-internet days. I also geek out going to live shows and to date have logged over 16,000 miles traveling to shows, the longest being a trip to Gothenburg to watch one of my favorite bands, Evergrey, perform for their first DVD.

I was also a gamer geek. Although I loved video games, role-playing, war gaming and board games were the ones I enjoyed best. In high school, we had a regular AD&D group. I liked the DMing aspect of the game. Something about all the tables, charts and facts to keep track of, coupled with the story-telling aspect, was right up my alley. Magic: The Gathering came out when I was in college, so I really didn't have much time to get into that game. I have played a bit though, and I really enjoyed it.

Well...my incessant babbling gets me this far and I still haven't talked about the few things I started this post about! If you haven't unsubscribed from my blog yet, then feel free to keep reading. :-)

The whole thing that inspired this geek introspection in the first place is my new license plate. I purchased a new car recently and decided to go for some vanity plates. I went through many iterations, cleverly trying variations on some Lotus products (Quickr would have been cool, actually), names of bands I like, Star Wars and sci-fi themes, etc. In the end, I couldn't find one particular plate that I really loved.

As I was sitting there one night reading some blog feeds, it hit me. I'm a geek and a dad and those are really the two major things that define me. And, really...if you're going to have vanity plates, they might as well speak to who you are. Thus, a shiny new Geekdad plate now adorns my car! Of course, since I'm a geekdad, it had to be somewhat leet-ish :-)

Geekdad License Plate

Another thing that brought back some good geek memories are the various games the kids got for Christmas. Sure they received some cool video games for the Wii, but in my opinion the best thing we opened was a game called Heroscape.

Heroscape: The Battle For All Time is a miniature wargaming system manufactured by Hasbro. As I said, I always loved wargaming, but I never really gave Heroscape much of a look in the store since I figured such a game for the mass market would be watered down and boring. Boy was I wrong. This is a really great game! First of all, the build quality of the figures is pretty fantastic. Although they are plastic and not metal, the detail is excellent and they are fully painted. One of the unique features of the game is the set of tiles that make up the gaming battlefield. These hex tiles are made of plastic and slide together and stack on one another to create a 3-D battlemap. Just opening up the box was an impressive experience and my son and I had a lot of fun looking at the various figures included in the box. But the real test of a great game is whether the rules actually provide for a fun, immersive experience. This is where Heroscape really impressed me. The game has both Basic and Advanced rules. The Basic rules are really simple, taking up only 2 pages or so. The game is advertised for ages 8 and up, but I think kids even younger could grasp the general mechanics. We jumped right to the Advanced rules and started playing. It took only about 15 minutes to setup the first scenario and start a game. Although we had to refer back to the rules a few times, the beauty of the Heroscape system is that the Advanced rules are easy to learn but provide for many cool options such as flying, ranged weapons, etc. The game designers really hit a home run, because with the out of the box rules, you have all the fun of other wargames without getting mired down in complex details. They are also so well crafted that I can see creative house rules being added without disrupting the spirit of the game. The only unfortunate part of getting Heroscape is that I actually have a job and bills and all that boring real life stuff, so we didn't get to play nearly as much as we would have liked. Oh yeah...I almost forgot one of the other cool aspects of Heroscape. Unlike many other miniatures games, the "booster" figures aren't limited or scarce in any way, so the game is much more affordable. Plus, you don't really need to buy any additions, as you get plenty of figures and land in the basic set. Bottom line: Cool game, two thumbs up!

Heroscape Rocks

Finally, a geek plan a couple years in the making is finally coming to fruition. I have a small home theater in my basement and I occasionally host movie marathons for some of my friends. We get together and watch a series of movies, have some food and just enjoy hanging out together. After the final Lord of the Rings movie came out on DVD, I knew it was time for a LoTR marathon. The problem with this, if you are familiar with the movies, is that they clock in at over 12 hours total if you watch the extended editions. Yikes! This is obviously not a marathon for the weak willed, and I knew we had to make it special beyond just watching the movies. Thus, I decided on actually serving all of the Hobbit meals during the marathon. We'll start at 8 AM with First Breakfast, and throughout the day have Second Breakfast, Elevensies, Lunch, Afternoon Tea, Dinner and Supper. We haven't finalized the menu yet, but it will be simple stuff like eggs, stew, etc. I'm sure some ale will be involved as well. ;-) When all is said and done, we should finish right around midnight!

I've had to put this off last year and the year before due to the fact that there's always too much going on, but this year I am going to really try and make it happen. My birthday is in the beginning of February, so I'm shooting for that first weekend. If we make it out alive, I'll make sure to post the highlights here. How about you guys...anyone done all three Special Editions in one sitting?

Here's the invitation I sent out. There's still some seats available if you want to come to Cleveland...we'd love to have you. It's lovely here in February - really.

Lord of the Rings Movie Marathon

Yep...Looking back and looking forward, I think it's a great time to be a geek.

SnTT: Canceling an Embedded Editor Transaction

If you use embedded editors in your design, you may have run across this issue. The user starts to edit a document, only to decide that they want to select another one from the view or cancel edit mode. Unfortunately, this isn't handled very elegantly by Notes. What you get is the error message shown below.

Basically, once you start editing a document in an embedded editor control, Notes expects you to save the document. Since this is the case, we can use this fact to make a simple addition to our embedded editor. Here's my approach.

Create a new action (via a button, link, whatever makes sense) to allow the user to cancel the edit transaction. Since Notes needs the document to be saved, add some computed for display (CFD) fields on the embedded editor form to hold the initial values of the fields you are exposing for editing. Set the value of the fields like this:

@If(@IsDocBeingLoaded; field_1; @ThisValue)
@If(@IsDocBeingLoaded; field_2; @ThisValue)
@If(@IsDocBeingLoaded; field_3; @ThisValue)

When the doc is opened in the embedded editor, these CFD fields will get set to the starting values of their corresponding fields. If you want to cancel the edit transaction, you just need to set the fields back to their initial values, then save the doc. Something like this:

@SetField("field_1"; field_1_OnOpen);
@SetField("field_2"; field_2_OnOpen);
@SetField("field_3"; field_3_OnOpen);

This is an elegant way to handle a fairly common scenario when using embedded editors.

Happy Birthday, Haleigh!

Happy Birthday to my little girl! I hope your birthday is awesome and that you have a lot of fun eating those cool Hanna Montana cupcakes I got for your class! :-)

Hey Friends...It's my daughter Haleigh's birthday today. She's autistic but is a big computer whiz and often loves to look over my shoulder as I write my blog. I know she'd get a kick out of seeing some birthday wishes from all over the place, so if you have a minute to leave a birthday comment and say where you are from, that would be really, really cool. Thanks!

And check out these cupcakes! Yum!!!

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Hey...Get Some Free (inter)Face Time

As mentioned by Chris and Mary Beth today, the UX lab is doing something very cool and very unique at Lotusphere this year. Read on for details...

The Lotus UX Lab is going to offer a one-time opportunity for our customers at Lotusphere 2008 - "The 15-minute Usability and Design Evaluation" - in the User Experience Lab, Rm. Asia 4. We'll only be doing this from 1-5 pm on Monday afternoon.

Here's the deal: you can bring in one application, working, and with data ideally, (Notes, Web, Sametime, Portal, Quickr, Connections, Expeditor, any Lotus product) and we'll have someone look at it and make suggestions for 15 minutes. The benefits to you are threefold:
1. You can get some quick feedback with practical suggestions from our expert user experience design team.
2. You can take away a handy list of "things to look for" in the form of a guide with some knowledge about how to apply them at home.
3. While you are in the lab, you can sign up to provide US with feedback about many of our products.

Now, to be honest, there's only so much you can do in 15 minutes, so don't expect a complete re-design! However, our aim is to set you on the right path by showing you how to approach the process of creating satisfying user experiences in your applications. The best thing to do is to be ready to show us your app in less than 5 minutes and keep an open mind. If it's a large application, then you might want to narrow down the area that is giving you a particular problem.

What: The 15-minute Usability and Design Evaluation
When: Monday, Jan 21, 1 - 5 pm. First come, first served. Time strictly enforced.
Where: Dolphin, Asia 4 - Lotusphere 2008
Why: Take home some quick tips to make your users happy and productive.

Since I'm not a designer, I'm going to be on hand as the resident tech weenie. That means I'm the killjoy who says "Nope...can't do that in Notes". ;-D Just kidding...I'll really be there to help confirm that it CAN be done in Notes or offer suggestions from the technical side of things. Should be fun and a great opportunity for you to meet with the folks with the real talent, the UX team.

Thanks to Chris for asking me to participate and my manager Gary for letting me get out of some sessions! ;-)

Our Hairy Friend and Inattentional Blindness

So...some interesting results from the last post. I think that more people counted 14 passes than anything, although I think it is really 15. There's one hand off that's a bit hard to see. In any case, the number of passes really doesn't matter. What does matter is the fact that a lot of you didn't even see the gorilla walk through the video while you were intent on your task of counting passes of the basketball.

(If at this point you are saying, "What Gorilla???!!!", go ahead and watch the video again, not focusing on anything in particular this time, and be amazed. :-)

So, why did so many of us not even recognize the fact that a guy in a gorilla costume walked through the middle of the clip and beat his chest? The answer lies in how our brain works. In particular, it demonstrates a phenomenon called inattentional blindness...not being able to see things that are actually there.

There's a lot of good information available on the internet and in books on this subject, so I won't rehash it here. What I do want to point out is that you can use your knowledge of this phenomenon when you are thinking about the design of your applications.

Doug hit the nail on the head in the comments when he said "Or in Notes-land; What do you mean, you didn't see that grey button on the grey background sitting right there in front of your face at the top of the screen mixed in with all of that color and action on the rest of the form? You know the one that says 'HELP'? Weren't you LOOKING????"

I have found on numerous occasions where a user missed an important interface element due to innattentional blindness. In every case, the UI was so cluttered and complex that they really had to concentrate on accomplishing the task at hand. When they needed a certain function (that big button in the middle of the screen flashing "Click Me...Click Me"!), they completely overlooked it because their focus was elsewhere.

Being that I'm operating on only a few hours of sleep over the last couple of days, I'll cut to the chase. This experiment that you just went through should help reiterate the fact that your interface needs to be fine tuned so that the users can see and find the elements they need when they need them. For me, I'm a big fan of the concept of "less is more". As I'm working on a prototype, I make elements fight for their lives to get on the page. I attempt to keep things as basic and streamlined as possible. When you can get rid of a lot of the visual noise and concentrate on designing the flow of the form so that it guides the user where they should go, amazing things happen.

Keep this video in mind as you work on future designs so that your users will clearly see the "monkey in the middle". And if you want to hear more of this UI mumbo jumbo, make sure you come to BP214, BP216 and BP217 at the 'sphere!

P.S. If you have an app that needs some help, bring it to Lotusphere and maybe someone can help get you started down the right path. Details in the next post.

Monday, January 07, 2008

A Cool Experiment

Hi Folks...this is related to the user experience, so bear with me.

Check out the following video and while watching make sure you count the number of times that the white team (wearing the white shirts) passes the basketball. This is important, so make sure you count every change of hands. When finished, come back here and record your answer in the comments.

View the video here...Remember: Count the number of times the white team passes the ball

Don't look at the comments until you've watched the video...


Thursday, January 03, 2008

Lotusphere 2008...I'm A Returning Alumn

For the second year in a row, I have the honor of speaking at Lotusphere and in this case, presenting with two excellent gentlemen. If you find some time in your schedule, please join me and Bruce in:

or me and Nathan in:

Sharp-eyed readers will note that the Interface Matters sessions are back to back. That's right...2 whole hours of UI goodness! :-) Nathan and I are getting the old team back together. We've reprised some info from last year and will be showing several new techniques and ideas.

BP214 with Bruce is new and of course based on the venerable "Worst Practices" sessions introduced by Messrs. Buchan and Mooney. I can't promise we'll be nearly as funny ('cause let's face it...their accents just rock), but Bruce is a great presenter and I'll learn a lot from him. The session is chock full of good information about what *not* to do when designing your interface, so I hope you can stop by.

As I mentioned last year, if you catch me in the hall or sitting in the lobby or something, please stop by and say hello. I love talking about all aspects of Notes development (as well as all other sorts of geekery), so don't be shy.

17 days to go. I can't wait! :-)

Update: Whoops...forgot that the BoF from last year is back again too. Hopefully Nathan and Bruce will join me in co-moderating.

A New Year and Some Thank You's

Hello and Happy New Year! It seems like all the cool kids are doing the obligatory end of year review, but I'll spare you from that. :-) Suffice it to say that 2007 was great, the highlights being the times I got to spend interacting with all of you...the people of the Lotus community. I was fortunate enough to speak at Lotusphere, ILUG 2007 and the VIEW conferences in both Boston and Barcelona, and I got to hang out with a lot of really great folks.

The main purpose of this post is just to say Thank You. Thank you to those of you that read this site or come to my sessions at said conferences. In this very hectic world, the gift of attention is one of the greatest things you can give another person and I am extremely grateful that you choose to spend a little bit of your time here. While I'll be learning a lot of new things in my job at IBM and not necessarily be doing development nearly as much, I am still going to try and keep things alive and kicking here.

Looking back on my career in the Lotus Notes world, it's funny to think I'm here now, as I tried to escape several times early on in the first couple of years. I saw a lot of value in the platform, but I wasn't sure if I really wanted to be a developer. I was always more interested in the systems and administration side of things in the beginning and in fact had planned to become an MCSE and leave the Lotus technologies altogether (yikes...that would have been a mistake!). Thankfully, fate stepped in and made sure that I was developing good solutions for my customers, so that every time I tried to pull a Houdini, something conspired to suck me back into Notes! :-) Of course, I've been a true blue yellow believer for many a year now and I don't see that ever changing. One day, I realized there was no other platform on earth that was going to allow me to build the innovative solutions my customers required in such a short time or with such flexibility. Thanks to Steve Birchfield at Automation Centre for throwing me into this Notes stuff! :-)

I love teaching and often think about being a trainer or better even would be a personal technology consultant. Always looking for an outlet to express myself, I actually started a blog shortly after Jake opened Codestore, using a homemade database that was pretty sweet (if I do say so myself ;-) and although I wrote several posts, I never actually put it on the internet. At the time, I guess I still wasn't sure that anyone would be interested in what I had to say, so I threw it on the shelf. A few years later I got the idea of focusing (almost) exclusively on UI topics, since a focus on the interface is what helped me be so successful in my career. And that is how Interface Matters was born.

OK...so that ended up being longer than I wanted it to be. See, I can't shut up once I get going. One other special Thank You I want to give is to those of you who nominated me for the LotusUserGroup.org Best Blogger award. I was quite surprised by this and really think it is deserved by many others out there besides myself. Reading the few representative comments made me blush and feel very honored. Thanks so much for taking the time to write in and nominate this blog!!! If you are a member of LotusUserGroup.org, you can go there and vote and while I'd be thrilled to "win", I don't pretend to be at the same level as the rest of those guys. Of course, if there's a cash prize involved, then by all means vote for me! :-D

Here's to 2008...I wish all of you a happy and successful year!