Thursday, February 28, 2008

Building A Widget Dashboard

For me (and obviously a lot of other people based on the number of searches on Planet Lotus), widgets are one of the most compelling new features of 8.0.1. Version 8 is all about embracing the idea of performing tasks within the context of your work and the concept of widgets and Live Text is going to allow us to take this idea to a whole new level.

I've seen some good initial references on creating widgets and actually created a quick primer myself for one of my customers. What I haven't seen yet is someone show another really cool feature: the ability to generate a widget dashboard.

Let's say you've configured some widgets that all use the same identifier. For example, I've wired widgets for Google, Wikipedia and Hoovers to "Organization", which is one of the built in Content Types that Notes recognizes for Live Text. Whenever I open a message and a company name is recognized (such as "IBM"), it is highlighted by Live Text and I can click on the name to invoke my default widget or right click to see my list of widget options. Here's what it looks like:

So this is a screen shot from my signature and you can see that Live Text has recognized my name, my company, and my phone number. When I right-click on the company name, the context menu shows me the three actions that I have wired to this content type, "Company Information from Hoover's", "Wikipedia" and "Google". Also notice that a forth option appears underneath all of these. This option, "Build a Dashboard...", allows me to see the results of more than one of the widgets all at once. If you select this option, you are prompted for the Actions you want to use in building the dashboard.

In this example, I'll select all three. Once I click OK, the dashboard is displayed as you see below. This is all built in...there's nothing else you need to do. Très Chic!

Another way you can create a Widget Dashboard is to select multiple widgets in the "My Widgets" panel then right-click on one of them and select "Open in a Dashboard". This will create a multi-widget dashboard window for you. Once in the dashboard, you can manipulate the positions of the widgets, resize them, etc.

The Widget Dashboard is another very useful feature of widgets and allows me to be even more productive in the work I do. In my next post, I'll explain how I wire multiple actions using the Widget Management panel.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Simplicity Sells

You've heard me talk about simplicity quite a bit on this blog and in my presentations. It's really one of the most important things I stress to designers. The easier you can make your software to use, the happier your users will be.

For a bit of fun and some insight into the art of simplicity (and some enjoyable Microsoft bashing as well ;-), check out this great TED Talk featuring David Pogue, tech writer for the New York Times.

David Pogue: When it comes to tech, simplicity sells

(Thanks to Jane Griscti for the link)

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Sample Database From Lotusphere 2008

I've been remiss in posting here lately since I'm still working on getting up to speed in my new job. Next week, I'll be in Chicago for a few days working on a Dashboard Frameworks project. This is a really cool tool and I hope I get to both use some Domino data in building the dashboard as well as expose it for consumption in Notes 8. We'll see how that goes.

Since I've been absent, I forgot to point you to the sample database from the Interface Matters Advanced session at Lotusphere. Hopefully you already found it on Nathan's site, but if not, you can get the database here.

Thanks again to all who attended and sorry for the long delay. Some new posts coming (soon, I hope).

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

This came in the mail today...

...and made Chris a very happy boy! :-)

If you are a fan, you *NEED* to buy this!!!

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Book Review: "Don't Make Me Think"

One of the must have books on my reference shelf is "Don't Make Me Think, A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability" by Steve Krug. I've recommended this book to many people, so I thought it was about time to give it a proper review.

One of the things that first drew me to this book when it first appeared was the subtitle. I've said it again and again, but it bears repeating...much of the "science" of good UI design is just common sense. This begs the question as to why some people find it so hard, and I think the answer lies in the idea of common sense in our society. We are so busy being busy that oftentimes we don't slow down enough to really *think* about a problem and thus the common sense solution eludes us. A book like "Don't Make Me Think" is a great way to make you put on the brakes a little and examine the fundamental principles of usability. For those of you that aren't web developers, don't be scared off. Although the focus of Mr. Krug's book is web design, most of the concepts are equally extensible to other design work, such as building a UI in the Lotus Notes client.

If you've not read any books on interface design or usability before, this book provides the perfect intro into that world. As he mentions in the forward, this book is for those people or companies that don't have a usability professional on board or can't hire one for some reason or another. If you're like most Notes shops, you probably have a small budget since we can do so much with so little. By taking the ideas introduced in "Don't Make Me Think" you can be on your way to doing this work yourself very quickly.

The author's writing style is both casual and witty and he follows the advice of his title when explaining new concepts, breaking it down so you can understand the underlying psychology without getting bogged down in terminology or theory. Chapter 1 begins with an introduction to what the author calls "Krug's First Law of Usability": "Don't Make Me Think". Simply put, this means that your ultimate goal is to design your interface so that when you look at it, it is immediately evident what you can do and how you go about doing it. In this chapter, Krug explores some of the elements of design that put more cognitive load on us than is necessary and then demonstrates ways to reduce this load. This is done through both the narrative as well as excellent graphics which simply but elegantly display his point.

Chapters 2 through 5 begin the exploration of how we really go about using an interface and set forth the guiding principles we need to be thinking about when designing. First, Krug talks about the difference in what we design for (reading, more reading and even more reading in a set pattern) vs. the reality of how people scan through an interface in a seemingly chaotic way. He then extends on the lessons learned here by helping you understand the techniques you can use to design interfaces for scanning rather than reading. He addresses five important things you can do to achieve the goal of capturing user eyeballs as much as possible: creating a clear visual hierarchy, breaking pages into clearly defined areas, minimizing ui noise, making clickable elements obviously clickable and taking advantage of established UI conventions. This first section wraps up with a discussion of why we like "mindless" choices and the importance of good copywriting and how you need to omit all but the essential words in your design.

Chapters 6 and 7 focus on the elements that Krug believes you must get right in your design. Chapter 6 is concerned with laying out the fundamentals behind good navigation. Since this is an area I call a lot of bad designs out on, it's one that I really enjoyed. Krug discusses some of the basic concepts of navigation and why navigation is so important to a user. He deconstructs various navigation conventions and explains why they work or don't work effectively. He also addresses the good use of search, page names, breadcrumbs, and the tab metaphor. Chapter 6 ends with a number of great graphics which show several sites as they were designed and the author's analysis of what was wrong. He then shows a revised version based on what he would do and in some cases also shows the company's own effort at making some improvements. As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words, so it would be good for the reader to spend some time pouring over these excellent examples. Chapter 7 is devoted to the design of the homepage and how to best design that important first impression. As in Chapter 6, there are a lot of great "before and after" examples to round out the theory.

The next two chapters of "Don't Make Me Think" are concerned with how you make sure you did the right things in your design. That is, they focus on one of my favorite topics, the idea of usability testing. In particular, Krug wants the user to walk away after reading these chapters realizing that usability testing is within reach of every single developer out there. Sure, in the ideal world we'd all have a department of usability experts that are there to critique our designs and help us craft the most user-friendly interfaces possible, but we all know that our day to day jobs are far from the ideal world. Still, Krug argues, you can find value in any amount of testing you can do. Krug espouses some common sense thoughts about usability testing, such as the idea that it is an iterative process, that you should test early and often and that testing even one user is better than testing none. Once he convinces you of the importance of usability testing, he presents some simple to follow instructions on how you can carry out your own tests. As he points out, it doesn't have to be expensive or fancy. You really can do this stuff on a shoestring budget. Chapter 9 ends with a sample excerpt from a test session, which in my opinion is probably worth the cost of the book right there.

Krug wraps up the final chapters of the book with a focus on the larger concerns of interface design, such as why usability should be considered a common courtesy, where accessibility comes into the picture and how to deal with a boss that "doesn't get it". If you just want to cut to the chase and start improving your designs right away you can skip these chapters, but they do a nice job of summarizing at a high level many of the salient points of the book.

All in all, "Don't Make Me Think" is a thoroughly enjoyable read and a very practical book for those that aspire to create better interfaces for their users. Coming in at just under 200 pages with lots of clear illustrations, you can probably read this book in a couple of evenings, which is great for those of us intimidated by the 1000 page tomes that populate the computer section in most bookstores. Probably the best part of "Don't Make Me Think" is that it applicable to the work you are doing today. You can read a chapter or two and immediately start putting the concepts into practice and the value you'll get as you do so far exceeds the book's cover price. "Don't Make Me Think" is highly recommended and I hope you make the decision to add it to your reading list today. You don't even have to think about it! :-)

Friday, February 01, 2008

Getting Things Done: The Cognative Science Perspective

I'm a big fan of the Getting Things Done (GTD) methodology, even if I occasionally fall off the wagon. The concepts of GTD helped me become much more productive than I ever was, which is vital for me as I struggle to accomplish a lot from a work perspective and still have quality time to devote to my family. This is especially true as Haleigh gets older, because being Autistic means many additional challenges on top of the normal things you deal with as a kid (i.e. she takes a lot of my time! :-)

If you are also a fan of GTD (or even if you're just interested in the concept), you should check out this new paper on the science that backs up the GTD ideas. Getting Things Done: The Science behind Stress-Free Productivity is currently in a "submitted for publication" status, but it's still a good read. Enjoy...