Windows Mobile 7 the “meh” release.

Look, I’m going to be that guy that doesn’t give a 100% positive review on the newest Microsoft toy, and its not that I hate its existence in favour of the iPhone (I honestly couldn’t care either choice), its for me a little bit of a disappointment.

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When I first saw the early specs of Windows Mobile 7 before I left Microsoft, i was little jaded with the whole level of commitment to the UX. As initially I’m thinking that this is just simply an extension to Zune, that the reality is it’s much cheaper and easier to take the existing work for Zune and bolt it onto the Windows Mobile OS. Problem solved move on, cheap, easy, effective and done.

There’s nothing wrong with this, but it for me is what I’d call a stabilize move and not a leap frog move. If the objective for the Windows Mobile 7 launch is to stabilize the bleeding, than the current iteration of the phone will do that and will do it in a way that will be declared a success. That is until the next generation of Apple comes off the assembly line and then the race is back on again.

The UX

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I think the UX is flat and is often obvious that the team are to busy trying to “own” their own UI and less about meeting a base benchmark. What i mean by this, is that it appears that the UI is trying a little too hard to do the opposite of the iPhone, like it’s a challenge they need to rise up against. Examples like no Icons, panning up/down instead of left / right for content etc seems to pack a little too much anti-iPhone. You can argue “we did a lot of research and 1 in 5 housewives preferred up and down over left and right”, which is meh, as I’ve seen how easily it is to manipulate usability to suit ones messaging (been there, done that, got the t-shirt).

I think sprinkling the Zune and mini-XBOX into the device will definitely grab peoples attention as i truly think the market is hungry for NOT an iPhone, so Microsoft may very well appeal to the folks who are bored with the iPhone as being this years fashionable technology must-have gadget.

That is until iPhone 4 comes out, and again i think this will raise the bar once again for Microsoft to meet and can they deliver? I think given the plain UX for the phone today, I think they stand a much greater chance of reacting to market conditions in a way that has low impact on development times as there’s less complexity in the room due to the over use of simplicity in the device.

Danger is, you’re left holding the current incarnation of Windows Mobile 7 and looking at the next generation of iPhone and go “aggh..i want that”, as make no mistake devices are really energising the “shiny object” buyers in today’s market.

For me, this is the Windows Vista launch, as after some code resets and downward pressure from above this is almost exactly the same internal conditions Windows Vista team had before their launch, “get it to market, get it fast and we’ll come back around for the bits we wanted to put in place”.

Apple are likely to react to this in a way that is going to be an interesting battle, as Apple is to iPhone as Windows is to Microsoft, so in a sense they are now fully engaged head to head with Microsoft once the device reaches the market.

Microsoft are playing hardball as well as you’ll most likely hear more about how Flash + Windows Mobile will play a role going forward and lastly they’ve yet to talk more deeply about how Silverlight 4 will play a role with the device as well (stay tuned for that, as this will get the developer propellers going).

In the end though, will this light up the soccer mums of tomorrow? probably, its new, it will be cheaper than the iPhone most likely and the Zune subscription model is quite palatable for the market. Zune Marketplace is where I think this device will live or die, if Microsoft gets the subscription model to work outside the US, then we’re in for a real threat to iTunes and iDevices world wide, as its definitely game on. The reason why Zune Market Place is a nicer approach is that its an appealing solution to Music/Movie piracy, as instead of people having to pay $$ for each individual song/movie etc, having a subscription model per month for all you can eat is less friction (especially for teenagers who can’t get access to credit cards)

Verdict.

I’d give the overall story an 7/10, I think the UX is weak and will face some challenges around usability, but overall the concept itself and how it ties in with other services from around the web is where it will most likely get its main momentum from.

Today, everyone is in the Microsoft “Zone” where its drink from the kool-aid, which is really an off signal response to a new products entry to the market. Two months from now, the reviews that are then talked about are the ones that are likely to stick and be consistent and they are truly the signal to the noise. This is where the Windows Mobile 7 team will need to bring their A-Game back and distil the message into  what’s coming next more so than what’s happened today.

Jokes aside, the UI still reminds me of Windows 3.11 where its very EGA 2D. is that good or bad? is it a design revolution where we kind of wind back the clock and go 80’s meets 2010, I don’t know. I do know I wanted more, I was hungry for more and i’m in a temper of a mood for not having my hunger satisfied.

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Will I buy one?

Yup. As I’ll do it simply because I’m a Silverlight / Flash UX guy and would love to tinker with a device that supports these two. Once again, Microsoft the engineering culture comes through and user experience takes a backseat.

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Context and Experience Matters.

Hold your hats folks, I’m about to praise Adobe and yes I’m now a confused UX soul as a result of it.

What has got me all hot and bothered in the right way about Adobe, is the Adobe.TV site, as for me it just brought something to life in which I was often quite vocal internally in Microsoft about – contextual synchronization.

In fact, you can see the very deck I used a few years ago on the said subject and it was mainly focused at how stupid and silly Microsoft is with its constant “File->New” website approach. I not only was vocal internally but external as well – recently as last year being picked up by other sites such as Slashdot.org, Tim Andersons Blog  and InfoQ on the very subject.

(Note: Download the deck for full effect here)

 

Adobe have designed the concept where it appears folks who sign in are able to have the content react to their needs vs the end user reacting to Adobe’s needs. As a result, I think this will provide more signal vs noise to consumers of the content (hopefully) but the main thing for future planning around content is that I think it will put Adobe in a better position to see what areas they need to focus on the most. I say this as every time you the end user narrows your selection down,  you are essentially voting with your fingers on the said selection.

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I like this as they have broken the self-selection down into not just categories but also have managed to involve other filtering mechanisms such as “what others say” (ie Most Viewed, Highest Rated etc)

I have dreamt about this concept for quite some time and I hope that the Microsoft various website owners are paying close attention to it.

Why is this a good idea?

Firstly, when you onboard to any technology you face a multitude of challenges most of which is confidence. You need to have this sense of “easiness” associated to a new technology you are about to adopt, so it’s important that you’re not in hunt mode but more browse mode as fast as possible.

Once you are able to overcome confidence issues relating to the technology, you also need to keep focused on advancing along the adoption curve, as you want to build a better tomorrow as fast as you humanly can, but deep down you still want to keep cheating, by skipping over things you probably should pay attention to.

Skipping is important but at some point you will need to go back and and absorb the parts you just skipped, so you kind of need a way point mechanism in the way content is presented to you. In Adobe.TV case you can filter out the irrelevant areas that don’t appeal to you – YET. Tomorrow though you can pick this back up and run with it should you choose to, keyword being choice.

I call this contextual synchronization as the content is synchronized to your contextual needs.

Microsoft has a terrible footprint regarding content of this type, as if you were to look at Silverlight for example there are 4 sites all competition for your attention and that’s just for Silverlight. If You’re a .NET developer your world increasingly gets more and more complex and its hard to parse the information from each individual site, given it’s mostly narrative content and less about serving a contextual need. The ones that don’t focus on narrative are more along the lines of projecting information at you and less working with you and more to the point, there’s no instant reward/recognition approach to learning.

This is important with regards to confidence as if you get a sense of accomplishment for taking the time to adopt or learn something there in turn needs to be a mechanism in place that provides that visual feedback “Good job, keep going” mentality.

Adobe.TV doesn’t have this, but you could easily build on from here? you could add badges or rewards to the context above by outlining that the person is moving along nicely and here’s a T-shirt or something cheap and meaningful to show recognition to the end user for doing a great job at sticking it out.

One day I hope that my vision would come to life, but inside Microsoft there is such a de-centralized approach to the site ownership problem that it would take an act of Executive order to change this – even then it would likely take a few years to filter out externally.

Tim Anderson, a well known IT Journalist who gets paid to navigate the web soup such as Microsoft.com, stated this:

I use “web sites” in the plural because there are many Microsoft web sites. Perhaps there should be one; but as the referenced study observes, there are numerous different designs. There are different domains too, such as Silverlight.net, ASP.Netand so on.

Take my experience this morning for example. My question: how many processors are supported by Windows Small Business Server 2008? My Google search got me to here, an overview showing the two editions, Standard and Premium. I clicked Compare Features and got to here, which says I have to visit the Server 2008 web site to find out more about the “Server 2008 product technologies”. I click the link, and now I am looking at info on Server 2008 R2 – only I know already that SBS is based on the original Server 2008, not the R2 version. It’s not clear where to go next, other than back to Google.

The prosecution rests your honour.

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Future UX showreels.

image There is something important you must do, in that if you are a regular reader of my blog and often read my rants about how UX this and UX that, then you need to get to the core of why I exist in this space.

Grab a beer, wine, Red Bull whatever your liquid of choice that kind of breaks you out of your mundane existence and sit down and watch the following videos. I guarantee you that if you’re not excited enough to crack open Flash, Silverlight, AfterEffects, Photoshop or whatever your software poison of choice is, then well, this space is simply something you’re not going to be great at – maybe good, but never great.

Warning: Do not sit too close to your monitor as drooling has been known to occur

(1) First

. Let’s do a lap around Mark Coleran’s private collection, I despise this guy’s talent and the constant opportunities he got to work on these projects and never once did he Skype me before hand asking for a chance to do them. *waves fist at Mark, damn you..daaaamn you!*..

Coleran Reel 2008.06 HD from Mark Coleran on Vimeo.

(2) Second

Microsoft has been slammed recently for lack of creative innovation. Look, its mostly true, the company does fumble a lot around this space but every now and then, they outsource to the right agency who manages to tell a story that exceeds peoples expectations of what the company is capable of. Microsoft Sustainability video by Oh, Hello in Seattle, is an example of this. If you suddenly don’t get all excited about Silverlight/WPF after this, then you’re just not into Microsoft.

(3) Third

This ones a local vision, but its from the Commonwealth Bank of Australia (CBA). It’s there vision on how the future will look via the CBA. The comedian in me chuckles a little at the notion that if I ring the hotline i get an immediate answer from a bank manager, but, it’s not about that its about painting a vision and for that, I’ll bank with CBA. Would love to know which agency did this? (Anyone know?)

(4) Fourth

Back to Mr Coleran, he’s done it again that talented so and so  (UPDATE: Not Mark Coleran, its from Peter Menich and 27Forty Studios for Alcatel). I like this one as I look at the concepts used and I see a lot of commonality in patterns used in either today’s UI’s as well as some of the future UI’s that others have through-up as well. My thinking is that if its a common collective vision it stands a greater chance of becoming reality.

(5) Fifth

I love this concept of how mainstream media like magazine can be turned into more of a interactive experience – in that no longer just static pieces of information. Kindle, iPad, Courier etc are all hinting in this space so its not that far removed from fantasy vs reality.

Mag+ from Bonnier on Vimeo.

 

(6) Sixth

This one is kind of weird, I kind of feel like Homer Simpson in that episode he finds his facial features in a Japanese Video and getting freaked out but excited at the same time. I don’t mind this one as it kind of goes to the extreme end on how Augmented Reality could occur should the right eyewear or face shield be built (think IRONMAN). (Thanks to: infocycde for the link)

(7) Seventh

This is the minority report come to life, and its exactly how a concept that Mark Coleran worked on in a movie suddenly appears in real life, again, FUI meets reality. Thanks Mark for the heads up on this one!

oblong’s tamper system 1801011309 from john underkoffler on Vimeo.

(8) Eighth.

Cynergy Systems have put together a brilliant presentation of how a portable device meets a surface table, whilst allowing a buying style concept to occur. It makes me think that whilst everything these days is pushing to be online that with this concept a store owner can still exist, but the physical component to a store doesn’t have to exist. In that you go into a store, speak with the store owner etc and simply drag the book into your device for purchase etc. I like this concept and what’s cool also about it is the fact its already done, it’s not so much a Fantasy User Interface for the future.

(9) Ninth

.<insert your find here> If you know of other showreels like this, please send me an email or drop a comment below with the URL, as I want to build out this page to include them all. I want them like a crack addict needs a new fix.

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Can you mix UX with Agile?

I’ve not decided yes or no on that question, I’ve read a lot in the past few months on the topic and I’m still not convinced or swayed either way.

Here’s my open transparent written exploration of how I am navigating this concept.

UX Design vs UI Design.

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Its important to split a hair on this one, UI Designer in my definition is someone who can work on the aesthetics of a component whilst a UX Designer is the one who contemplates how that component is to be used by humans (I could go much deeper in this topic but another blog post for another day?)

I state this concept out loud, as when I read success on how UX + Agile came together in XYZ team, I often question what they are measuring success in terms of UX and more to the point what disciplines were in the room and what were the problems being solved. I’ve not read a lot about how the sausage was made, its more “trust me, UX + Agile works” belief system which to me is simply not scientific enough to subscribe to. I need proof of life.

The UX Scouting Model.

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There’s a number of articles written on this, but for me I call it the UX Scouting model, whereby you have a set of effort that works ahead of a sprint, its the type of work that solves the problems of UX before the engineers arrive at a point in time to start assembling.

On paper, this seems like a reasonable approach to the problem of dealing with iterative design, and I’m inclined to believe this is probably the only model I can think of that will yield a successful shipping cycle. Having said that, i think this kind of model is more suited towards a validation / mentoring of UX model than an UX problem solving exercise.

What do i mean?

I put it to all that what is occurring is a reactive iteration occurring on the software whereby you’re taking a slice of the feature catalogue and reacting to how it injects itself both technically and visually into place. This is where I think the failure points occur, as its where a seasoned UX Designer shows his/her skill set the most. The ability to foresee what’s next beyond the current iterations (ie sprint) and are also trying to forecast the next few moves ahead (heh maybe a good interview technique for a UX expert is to play chess with them).

Having this foresight is in my opinion a very rare amount of talent to have, and once that person(s) have this, getting them to also negotiate with both stakeholders and engineers on such direction could also reduce the skill pool down even further. It doesn’t stop there, as at times the engineering side of the fence line aren’t open to adjustments in thinking, as it means more time/cost to them and the project. It’s then you face the compromise concern, as once that card gets thrown into the room, its easy to bias the stakeholders or owners of the said software to side with an efficient release over an effective one.

It’s how a lot of software ends up with a degree of “false affordance” – meaning, you get packets of the software where it has a perceived level of functionality that does what it’s expected to do, but in the end it either goes un-used or un-noticed or even more so, it’s sole purpose is to placate the end user and stake holders into believing the problem was solved.

Let’s get it right next time?image

Historically, Microsoft as a company has always duke it out over the battle between function vs form, and all to often function has won out in the end – despite the highly paid talent of UX leads being in the room. The stark reality is that time/cost are a factor one cannot simply deny, and its essentially what makes UX + Agile an attractive proposition, as it means get it done, get it done early and you can always get it right in the next release.

Microsoft typically takes three shipping cycles to get it right, when I say right, I mean “good enough” which in many ways is the ready, fire, aim approach. Apple at times seem to approach the equation from a ready, aim, fire model.

They don’t always get it right, but the amount of “luck” Apple have had with their product lines over the years, can lend itself to the concept that maybe they are siding with Form over Function every time. The company presents itself as being more about the industrial design of the solutions vs the good enough approach and it probably is why they often lead with a linear model of development + release.

Does UX + Agile work inside Apple? I don’t know, I can speculate that probably it doesn’t and that the engineering side of things makes way for UX – ie Function follows Form.

Back to the point, UX + Agile is sometimes hidden under the covers of evolution, whereby the said persons can run parallel or ahead of the said development teams and are able to react according to the growth of the said feature(s). However, when the time comes for a UX refactor, does it not get pushed aside into the next major release cycle with an open promise to get it right then.

If that does occur, then is that cycle dedicated to UX refactor in its purist sense? or is it just the same rinse/repeat formula whereby you have an iterative situation unfolding.

So, UX + Agile isn’t the answer?

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I think the concept of Agile is fine, its the execution of it that I think is where the story kind of starts to fall a little to the way side, I think from a UX standpoint you really need to outline the features ahead but do so in a way that is suited to a ready, aim, fire model. It also needs to lend itself to a dedicated chunk of time purely to refactor the function of a solution to accommodate the consistency and goals of form. Having said that, that “Form” needs to be defined early and it needs to be framed in a way that everyone involved can subscribe to easily enough (heh, the joke is on the UX itself, as in order to sell everyone on the UX vision, they in turn need to ensure its palatable enough for them to recall, thus UX sells UX ..funny)

I’ve not decided as yet that UX + Agile is a formula that works, I can’t decide that just yet as I feel we in the software industry are back to pioneering mode. We settled on a rinse/repeat formula for so long that it started to breed mediocrity in the way software is designed, developed and deployed. Given the device market has created an interesting interruption in the way we approach mundane tasks, it in itself has elevated the B2C or B2B markets in a way that forces the ideation phase of software to take more risks.

The problem isn’t with the ideation being unwieldy or requiring strict time boxing, it’s simply we may have all forgotten to add the UX tax to the software builds – meaning, costs just increased.

Cost increases aren’t swallowed well, so the reality is what is likely occurring in UX + Agile teams is that there is more of a UI Designer validating and placating the said engineering side with “Good job, keep using DataGrids” mentality vs.. a UX Designer asking that folks think differently and outside the box.

On paper, agile is fine. In practice, well, grab your UX six shooter and lets ride off into the west and see what we find out next.

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Multi-touch VJ..err..DJ…err..nevermind.

I’m about 10 days out until I get my hands on my multi-touch monitor from Dell. As a result of this long wait, I’m just exploring the web tonight to see what’s out there in multi-touch land. I came across this video via vimeo (which can I just say is where all the creative people youtube their work).

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The concept is by James Cui (VJ Fader) and what it appears to do is allow him and other VJ’s to synchronize with visuals (both for his input and the audience watching him).

I’ve been to a couple of raves in my time (17/18 yrs old) and I can see how this could definitely up the fame pool for a lot of DJ’s as my friends & I often use to joke at how stupid people were just staring at some guy move records in and out? (ie…what was the point? music was great but stare?)

This however changes everything.

faderTouch 3.0 & Audio Visual Instruments from VJFader on Vimeo.

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FUI – Igniting the Fantasy User Interface spark.

 

Introduction

Every single time I’ve been given a brief to design something, I often will browse the internet for inspiration, in that I just need something to help nudge me into the direction of an idea. I also constantly keep mug shot’s of user interfaces that I often enjoy interacting with or spot parts of that simply are well designed.

In the past probably 3 years, Industrial Design has also gotten a hold of me, as the more and more I see how devices are emerging onto the world technology landscape the more and more I get excited about the software that drives them – hence my love for Flash/Silverlight over the years. These devices are starting to take into consideration the end to end experience, not just from the physical touch but also through to the emotive touch provided by the device once it’s given life.

At times however, these fake devices are simply a fantasy concept, illusion and/or to be continued. The would be inventors throw their idea out into the wild and soon it becomes a feeding frenzy in that it’s almost a glimpse to all as to what the future holds.

I myself, get excited by the idea of being the designer for such devices. In that, what if I got a job tomorrow and it was to design the next graphical interface for x new invention. That’s where the true fun is in software design in my opinion, its the ability to shape a culture through hardware and software at the same time. iPhone, Zune, XBOX etc are all doing this now, and its a no brainer at the success they are having.

In light of this core passion of mine, I had an idea today, what if I dared all to do just that, design the UI for the next generation invention. What would you all come up with? and how would you explain what it is you did?

Getting Started

I constantly am being asked every time I meet with developers etc in the Microsoft community – “How do I get started with UX”, I’ve attempted to answer this but I’m still not happy with that answer. Today, it hit me, and my answer is “design something you think is going to be the vNext”. I say this as I think it will first throw you into the deep end fast, secondly it will make you think about something that has not yet been invented and thirdly it exposes your level of passion in a raw format.

Carbon Motors E7

Today, there is a car called the Carbon Motors E7 it’s basically a futurist police car that has been designed and developed to help law enforcement world wide do their jobs more effectively. You can read more about the car at their website or below, but the thing that struck me about this car when I first read about in a magazine, was the level of detail the designers went to in terms of designing it. It’s a car begging for some CSI fake UI to help sell it’s idea to the world, in that take the car’s physical designs into place, what else could it use to help officers do their job?

This is where FUI (Fake User Interface(s) – term coined by Mark Coleran) comes into place, what if I dared you all to make the software for the car, you have unlimited budget and unlimited use of any technology, what would you implement into the car and what should it look like?

Let’s start with the middle console of the car. This is the nerve center of a cop, its his/her office and super computer in one. This area’s job is to provide officers an understanding of events and information not only within his/her patrol zone but also live situations outside the car itself (speeding cars, number plates etc).

What should this UI look like?

The HUD

Let’s Design.

The assumption for the car is this:

  • There is NextG broadband built into the car’s computer console.
  • The car is fitted with internal and external cameras (HD display) on the car (Fact: the car is actually fitted with an internal camera so police can monitor criminals in the back and it can also record 1500 number plates per minute of cars all around it).
  • The car can detect biological and nuclear readings.
  • The car can detect stolen cars both around it live as well as has the ability to recall a days worth of number plates that the car has seen during its patrol (Fact: It can do this, its not b.s)
  • The car’s cameras can also conduct facial recognition of suspects both in front, back and side views.
  • The car can provide live tracking of its self and other police cars within the area (GPS etc)
  • The cars screens are all fitted with touch panel capabilities.
  • The cars have voice and webcam capabilities (vide conferencing etc)
  • etc… use your imagination

The car today is actually pretty much fitted out with some of the above, but the possibilities of this concept are endless. The thing that gets my design propeller’s going is what would the HUD of the car look like, what would the console in the middle show when the officer first gets in.

I’m going to play around with this fantasy, and come up with some design mockups of how I would approach the GUI if i were given the task of being the interactive director for it. I’m going to ask various people I know around me for ideas on what they would put into and why etc. As this for me is a great case study for how user experience can empower a concept car like this further than its physical brilliance that’s out there today.

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My Slides: Microsoft UX: What Just Happened

I’ve been travelling around Australia in the past few weeks talking about Microsoft UX and essentially “What Just Happened”. I’ve uploaded my slides to slideshare.com (though they don’t animate, booo hiss..) but none the less they are there for those who may have attended my presos to look at.

The “What Just Happened” title came from an internal discussion list inside Microsoft, where I would decode movements on Adobe for all of Microsoft to get a better understanding of the PR spin coming from those guys. I’d essentially break it down into less b.s and more to the point information. Given I had a lot of success with this inside Microsoft I thought it would be a great idea to do the same, only not with Adobe but for those in the public regarding Microsoft.

It’s a theme I plan on continueing with in the near future.

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DataGrids are the safety blanket for bad design.

I’m constantly in and out of meetings with developers who are making some pretty intense Silverlight based solutions. It’s exciting and irritating at the same time to see them having all the fun in Silverlight and all I do is give advice etc on how to fix X or approach the product from Y lense.

One consistent theme I often see a lot is the over-use of DataGrids. DataGrids are being used pretty much majority of the time to present any if not all large amounts of data and it absolutely baffles me personally as to why developers keep gravitating towards them?

I say this, mainly as you’re given a solution like Silverlight where its actually your job to simplify the end user’s experience – yet the first chance some get, “Let’s grab the ye olde DataGrid with sortable columns and snap it into place”

DataGrids have a very small niche of usage rights in my opinion when it comes towards User Experience. What I mean is, should you have a need to make your own Excel Spreadsheet, sure, I can see the need (sortable columns and all).

Otherwise, stop. Use ListBox’s instead of DataGrids.

The difference between a ListBox and a DataGrid visually is obvious – DataGrid is multiple columns, ListBox is one. The major significant mindset adjustment for a ListBox is that it dares both the developer and end user to think about the problem being solved in that current piece of software.

An example that comes to mind and is quite common is Outlook 2007.

On the left you have a tree like situation, this is your first line of defence against dense data. It essentially forces you as an end user to think in terms of contextual categories regarding your email traffic.

The next column is typically a list of emails separated based on Date (Most commonly) but again, this is your second layer of defence regarding unnecessary dense data.

Last is the body of the email itself, basically this is your main end point “ahah, now i can get down to work”.

I like to use this as one of many examples of how a DataGrid vs ListBox could go off the deep end. In this example you’ve provided the ability for the end user to both narrow their filtering (self-selection in the wild) and secondly you’ve addressed the overall problem in a way that isn’t to restrictive or requires a lot of mental processing to parse for that email sent “last week”.

It’s concept also caters to both large and small data sets, as should you have an inbox like I did when I was at Microsoft, it was pretty much 1000’s of emails a day.

Today I have smaller inbox (yay) but the problem getting access to emails from the past hasn’t changed. In this approach to UI, i’m still able to sort/parse the said emails but should the data not yield an obvious “at first glance” hunt for that email of ages past, I can enter a search term – that or – sort the data on a more contextual level (narrowing down the data ).

Search is probably the area I use the most in Outlook as i’m often going “Oh crap, Sarah sent me an email last week, it had something to do with X customer…” I then type in “Sarah X Customer” and already my hunt is narrowed and the chase begins.

You can do the same with DataGrids, don’t get me wrong. DataGrids however get quite busy and cumbersome once you go beyond 1 line of text. In that, we humans typically aren’t happy to read horizontally – it has to do with the fact we prefer to parse things vertically than horizontally and especially on wide columns. It gives the impression that its “heavy or more work” vs vertical can give you more of a feeling of being “quick to parse” (Ever wonder why news papers do this?)

Bottom line is this. DataGrids should really be left to narrow specific areas of use, typically for fiscal data that has a lot of calculations to review – that or UI’s that make use of 1 line of text much like Apple’s email client does below.

Having said all of that, I still often see teams of folks praise the DataGrids that have heirachy’s of sub-grids as a “better way” to represent the data. It can be quite frustrating to see this, but I simply take it on the chin, take a deep breathe and try and sway them to focusing on the said problem from a different angle where the mandate/objective is to simplify the density of the data.

Less is more when it comes to UI, parsing large amounts of information gets tedious and is more prone to human error than user interfaces that handle a lot of the heavy lifting for you.


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Microsoft Innovation. If it falls, does it make a sound?

New York Times has kicked up some serious dust in the Microsoft ethos around whether or not the company does innovate.

I often have found myself at a cross-roads of agreeing and/or disagreeing with people like Dick around the term “innovation”. I say this as I pretty much agree with Dick’s arguments in the NYT, but at the same time I can’t but help remember the amounts of innovation I saw inside the company – especially in the last 3 years.

I look at Microsoft Surface and can’t but help wonder at the actual spark of innovation around this product. I state this as I once interviewed Mark Coleran, a guy who’s job was to build Fantasy User Interfaces for Hollywood.

In this interview I ask Mark about how he came up with the inspiration for the Surface like table in the movie “The Island” and his response was:

There has been alot of confusion over the table in The Island. Most people have no idea of developmental timelines and the table itself was not a guess at what might be. It was actually production themselves who had said it was going to be a table type screen. There was a guy called John Underkoffler from MIT involved as well working on how people might interact with such a device. No doubt some influences came from the work going on there, including that of people like Jeff Han. I myself when I got involved at the design stage, looked over a massive body of work previously done on these type of devices and desktop. It was a relatively easy process to draw elements together and combine in such a way as to make it look like a realistic device.

Mark was able to piece together what he found in the industry at the time to help shape the story of a futuristic movie like “The Island” well before the Microsoft Surface table was shown to the world. I ask the question, did Microsoft Innovate with the Surface table? or have they simply democratised the concept of Multit-touch to the unwashed masses?

I look at Silverlight and I know there is actually some pure amounts of innovation from my comrades in Engineering. I have personally witnessed these guys create life from 1’s and 0’s where its competitor, Flash, simply had no clue.

Is Silverlight innovation? I mean the actual name “Silverlight” (aka another word for Flash is …a Silver Light…) is it really innovation or just really good at again, democratising something that most have had the concept of seeing before.

I look at the XBOX Natal and think to myself, ok that’s innovative right? yet let’s be realistic the concept of using your body and having a game react isn’t anything new really (the concept in theory has been around) and would it of come about had it not been for the Nintendo Wii pushing that envelope further?

Innovation is a term I think gets lost in product shipment dates and timelines and there is a multitude of ways in which one could carve up Microsoft’s history around innovation.

I think Microsoft does innovate but only from concepts that have been pioneered OUTSIDE the company. When they do produce results from these efforts they in turn democratise it to the millions of customers around the world that are typically held hostage by premium costs associated with the advancement in such technology.

To go back to Dick’s article in the NYT, I think the problem isn’t the innovation its telling the story around what Microsoft is doing in the market that’s the over-arching problem here. I think splitting hairs on who moved first is simply academic, the problem I personally see being both inside and outside now is that decoding WHAT Microsoft is today and Tomorrow is getting difficult for customers to embrace.

Take this into account and it fuels a lot of ignorance and mistrust around the company, so that if one day it truly does purely innovate, nobody will notice. As it’s getting lost in al the signal of “Look at me, Look at me” marketing from the company.

Is marketing to blame for lack of innovation?

Frank Shaw, VP of Comms replied to Dick’s article, it basically is in my mind a “rar rar rar go Microsoft” response. I spoke to Frank via email just before I left Microsoft and told him why I left the company, as at the time he sent out an email to all of Marketing which basically was “Stop making cheesy dumb ass movies please, you’re hurting our brand”.

I think the problem with Microsoft is its marketing teams. The more I interacted with these folks the more I realised just how disconnected they are from their audience. In that, I’ve worked in Marketing before where we would meet with the customers we spoke to, we would analyse their behavioural patterns and lastly we would react to feedback from them daily if not monthly.

I simply didn’t see this inside Microsoft marketing, especially in the Developer Division. When you’d ask folks about who the target audience is for Silverlight, you would get mixed responses. Responses that typically where buzzword bingo …

“Technical Decision Makers are our guys!”
“Business Decision Makers…”
“Both, TDB and BDM…TDB for RIA, BDM for Video!..”

I simply would shake my head and look forward to my visits back home to Australia where I would jump on some planes, visit people from all around the country and just listen. I listened to how they got started, I listen to what they love and hated about Microsoft and lastly I listened to what they needed. TDB or BDM folks never reared their heads once so that for me was the first clue – lack of depth from team, noted.

This is important as if these folks are targeting the wrong style of audience or albeit, talking at them NOT with them, then in turn you loose the translation of “What Just Happened” – or in simpler terms “If a tree fell in the forest and nobody was around to hear it, did it actually fall?”

I know there is innovative things happening within the company and I could cite them until I am sick of the sound of my own voice. The reality however is 90% of my time outside Microsoft is telling people this message now that I am outside of Microsoft. I tell them and watch as they either argue the point or in turn show a facial expression of pure surprise and follow with remarks “Really? i didn’t know that?”

I left Microsoft simply because my division is probably one of the best at celebrating mediocrity but also I feared what I would eventually turned into, a person who is at peace with “Good Enough”.

That is the core to why Microsoft suffers from the lack of innovation label as in truth risky innovation is typically replaced by “Good enough” mediocrity – “Don’t worry, we’ll get it right in V3, just ship V1”.

Apple is a company that strikes me as a brand that rejects “Good enough” it simple expects an end to end execution of an idea.

Microsoft differs, take a look at their websites. You have every team jockeying for your attention all being inconsistent and not helpful in the way they portray their messages around whats new?

Apple, you have one. If someone in iTunes team wants to create their own website? its simply “fuck off, and fall into line” and then its executed with precision as to what the story is behind the newest shiny object. It’s competitor, Microsoft, simply fires up 3-4 websites all for the same concept.

Point is. Innovation happens, you just cant’ seem to decode where it lives and I think a guy like Frank, VP of Comms needs to start firing people and soon as Innovation isn’t the problem inside the company, its getting the message out which is.


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