Silverlight Installation / Preloader Experience – BarnesStyle.

When I was in the Silverlight Product team, I had many visions of where I wanted to take the product beyond where some of my co-team mates were comfortable with (slow painful incremental growth in terms of change).

One of the main focal areas I wanted to fix, was the overall Installation and Preloading Experiences for Silverlight. In that, i think it’s essentially the like the IRAQ war of software (i.e. meaning, its so far embedded now that fixing it is going to take generations of change).

Here is how I’d love to see it change course.

Change the way Silverlight Boostraps.

If you new-up a project within VisualStudio or Expression Blend, you will effectively get an automated boostrapped solution, meaning inside your main Silverlight project via App.xaml.cs for example, you should see something like this:



        private void Application_Startup(object sender, StartupEventArgs e)
        {
            this.RootVisual = new MainPage();
        }	

What effectively is happening here is that Application Class is the default root for Silverlight and when you inject “MainPage()” into the RootVisual its pretty much the same as if you went:


	UserControl MyUserControl = new UserControl();
	MyUserControl.Content = new MainPage();

What I would love to see firstly is a separate Project called “BootStrapper” created as part of the new-up Project template – that or it prompts you to create one much like it does at the moment with ASP.NET Website (More on that below)

The point is, it draws the developers around the worlds attention to the fact that the Spinning Balls are really bad idea to hand out to public facing websites.

Why are they bad you may ask?

It has to do with the way end users approach your experience and assuming they have Silverlight in place, it’s important that you give the end users some clues as to what they are loading and what is the likely time or more to the point is this going to take forever?

Impatience is a virtue all users have so its going to be very hit or miss depending on what the context of your application expected usage is and lastly the end users broadband connection and tolerance for plug-in experiences in general (I counted like 5 variables of failure that can occur per user when I did some research on this back at Microsoft).

The rotating balls don’t offer much value, there’s nothing to keep you entertained or interested in the experience other than balls rotating and some % of where I’m at.

Soliciting the end users.

Just like a hooker, your job is to entice the person before you to take faith in the hopeful reality that this will be an experience to remember (ok that analogy just took a nose dive in very bad way). Your job is to firstly convince the end user to install Silverlight should it not be in place and secondly and just as importantly your job is to convince the end user that sticking around is also equally important SHOULD they have the installation in place of Silverlight.

You first need to have inside your webpage “You don’t have Silverlight, go get it and here’s what you will get in return” vs the dreaded “Get Silverlight” medallion.

To illustrate this importance; when I was at Microsoft we noticed on Microsoft properties an increase in installation of Silverlight when we actively went out of our way to solicit end users to Install vs the default “Get Silverlight” medallion – information is power, users want power just as much as the next person, power of choice.

Once they jump through that hurdle, you need to again keep their attention on you and try and convince them to avoid the temptation of alt-tabing and twittering etc while they wait – think of all end users as a 3 year old child’s attention span and you will be better positioned for success here.

You need to create a preloading experience that is as helpful and joyful as the intended experience you’ve just spent $thousands of dollars creating (why drop the ball at the last yard! – for you NFL fans)

In this you create something that is part of the theme or take a page out of MAXIS Games where you insert random crap that’s quite funny – example:

“…Initializing launch codes for anti-nuclear attack”

”…Growing Llamas feet so it can walk…”

”…Handing a Monkey a nail gun for entertainment value..”

Keep them informed but not too informed as you want to balance out keeping them informed whilst not making them aware of “time” as that is the enemy, “time”. I’ve even lied once due to a latency hit that I couldn’t avoid, so I put in the initializing splash screen “Checking Security Credentials”  (Given I found end users were more likely to wait for a serious thing like Security to validate vs.. staring at rotating balls of stupidity).

That all aside, this is the “Why” both Preloading/Splash Screens and Install Templates are critical for SIlverlight’s future success as this in turn is what end users judge the technology on (Do i need to bring up the “Skip Intro” debacle of the early 2000’s where Flash Intros were all the rage and bad bad experiences with Flash occurred as a result).

First: Install Templates.

Imagine if you will, you new-up a Silverlight Project. You’re asked obviously what type of project you require and then in the next step it prompts you with the below:

image

You then choose your Install Template and it can be both an Online or Local template (more on Silverlight Marketplace potential later). Once you select the template, this then will take a vanilla themed experience and injects in into your MySilverlightProject.BooStrapper project. You as a developer and/or designer can then focus on swapping out these assets and messaging to suite your intended experience context for your brand etc (much like the larger brands have done with Silverlight today – e.g. MSNBC etc).

Second: Preloaders/Splash Screens.

Same approach as the Install Templates, except it automatically attaches the intended original Silverlight project you wanted as being the “First” to load (but with enough breadcrumbs in code that you can also swap this out should you choose to).

image

Once you have gone through these three templates, your solution should have 3 projects in place.

  • Project1 – MyProject.Silverlight.BootStrapper

    This project’s job is to handle the preloading of Project2, as in order to preload you first have to have a project that is very small in size for Silverlight to load, then once it’s loaded, Silverlight can then automatically bring down the .XAP file (secondary but main project) in a more controlled and aesthetically pleasing manner.

  • Project2 – MyProject.Silverlight

    This is the project you originally intended to use, exact same structure(s) as you have today in Silverlight.

  • Project3 – MyProject.Silverlight.WebThis is the project which is in place today in terms of automatically generating the said ASP.NET / HTML project code you need to test with. Except, it also injects a bunch of files/scripts which handle the “Does the end user have Silverlight?” which then based on a Boolean result reacts and produces a prompt that goes beyond the “Get Silverlight” medallion.

The Marketplace.

Ok, you can technically write a VS Template or WPF/WinForms app today do the above without having to bug Microsoft (i’ve started and stopped 3 times – stopping only due to boredom or busy). Why this needs to come from Microsoft is simply put – Marketplace.

We should have a concept where we can buy/sell Themes, Behaviors, Preloaders and Install Templates etc from one another whether it be by cash, XBOX Live Points or whatever currency you want to barter with. Point is, we should foster more of an exchange based community that is more consolidated and branded under a single point of entry for both Silverlight and Expression (say NO to Expression and Silverlight/WPF segregation– designer / developers need to cross-pollinate).

I’d love to see a similar concept as preloaders.net and scalenine.com for the Silverlight community only less fragmented and one that has a much smoother tooling integration experience (I’ll come back and work at Microsoft if need be to make this happen).

Summary.

I’d like to see us as a community leap frog the Flash community in terms of handling these two experiences. As the below illustration highlights the fatigue gates associated with any plug-in experience.

image

Why leap frog Flash? it’s nothing to do with their community it has to do with “learning from their mistakes” as at the moment Flash folks have figured this out and have a bunch of strategies (whilst fragmented) in place to fix this broken situation. We on the other hand are like the retarded step-child twice removed when it comes to picking up on this, and it erks…ERKS..me (for I am ERKED) to see the rotating splash balls and Get Silverlight Medallion – which incidentally were just a placeholder animations and images that someone forgot to come back and replace.

We fix this we drive Silverlight installation experiences up by minimum 20% per month, I guarantee you that much. As it will lesson majority friction associated with Silverlight and drive a much more deeper awareness of the product amongst consumers who aren’t reading the blogsphere for “What is Silverlight?”

The “What Is Silverlight” is still a question being asked a lot today. It’s one thing to answer that, but it’s another to attach friction to and users experience of the said product once they’ve found a satisfactory answer to that question with bad preloading/installation experiences – OUTSIDE – of Silverlight today.

This is both a Microsoft and Community problem that needs immediate resolution.

Call to Action: Contact Microsoft and hammer away at this issue, get more of a community groundswell behind it so that we can all move forward. I remember inside the team, community reaction was one thing we often would use to trigger emails with one another on why change is important.

Vote here so this can be escalated to the Silverlight Feature planning team! – : http://dotnet.uservoice.com/forums/4325-silverlight-feature-suggestions/suggestions/632735-silverlight-installation-and-preloader-experience-

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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.

image

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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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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iPad is still missing iPlugin due to Compete wars

image I am currently sitting in a hotel in Perth, working on a presentation about Silverlight and at the same time like most people around the world, listening or reading as much information as I can find regarding the new Apple iPad.

Firstly, I like the device and it fits my needs well given I travel a lot and often want to read, watch movies and play stupid games like “Dig It” in Airports or Planes etc. It’s a great device fit for purpose with me, others may find it useless.

How you feel about the device aside, the part that left me uneasy is simply that this will be yet another device to ignore outside technology like Silverlight or Flash. My first instinct is wave my fist at Apple and plead with them to please allow a more open after-market add-on access much like Apple OSX does today.

It however isn’t really just Apple, its pretty much the entire industry today. There is such a competitive marketplace now in around folks trying to dominate the web for profit, that it’s in turn kind of stifled a lot of potential experiences that we as consumers could have.

iPad for example has a nice comfortable looking “surf the web on your couch” feel to it, but you’d probably spend about 20mins on the device before you start seeing a lot of whitespace with this little box in the middle, which represents “oops, this site uses Flash..oh well..” mentality attached to it.

Already your experience is reduced and is this the website it self’s fault or is it Apples?

I’d argue its both these two entities and also Adobe’s – and Microsoft’s etc.

I think what needs to happen going forward is a turnkey functionality approach to the plug-ins, in that unless something like this happens Apple will continue to protect their backyard from invasion of 3rd party plug-ins; it invites a lot of competitive threat to their vision. Microsoft will do the same with devices like XBOX 360 etc and Adobe will push Flash’s agenda well beyond the “it’s just a plug-in, honest” agenda as its no secret they want to own the UX Platform for the web – albeit SWF is the vNext HTML in allot of their eyes ( A vision which concerns Google, Apple and Microsoft).

Google just want you all to stay out of the plug-in space and stick to HTML as it’s more palatable to their business goals. HTML Zealots will cheer but I can’t but help think that HTML is so 1990’s and lacks depth around engaging experiences.

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This is all grand and its interesting to once be in the thick of this competitive nonsense, but in reality we are suffering from a technology stand-off. A lot of great concepts are being presented to the world today, but they are being narrowed down to an obvious competitive stink – disallowing the consumers to gain a richer experience with their chosen purchase.

I think the only way that this can work going forward, is that the plug-in providers such as Microsoft and Adobe probably need that turn-key approach to the products. In that instead of getting the whole hog Flash or Silverlight, you in turn get partial bits instead.

Why?

This enables companies like Google/Apple for example to show face and sacrifice a little to gain more, while at the same time it underpins Microsoft and Adobe’s vision further than what they have to play with today.

It also still allows websites like MSN, CNN etc to still have plug-in experiences and should have little or no impact to what they use the plug-ins for today. As lets face it, most of the broken experiences that you are blocked on in mainstream sites like this are either Video, Informative Slide like experiences or Ads. Are they using webcam? pixelshaders etc? no, not really.

It won’t happen though, as companies like Apple will continue to throw the baby out with the bathwater. It just is a shame that an opportunity like the iPad gets fumbled due to the current competitive landscape. As personally, I really don’t care if Flash, QuickTime or Silverlight wins out in the end. I just want to enjoy the experiences.

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Controlling your Silverlight Installation Experience.

I’ve been doing plug-in development & design for many years, and often I’ve seen many a battle around this space. It typically starts with ubiquity, once that is overcome it then settles down at abandonment rates and from there the curse of the dreaded plug-in ends.

The reality however, no matter what plug-in you choose is that in actual fact ubiquity isn’t the sign of displeasure, it typically starts with how the entire package is presented to the end user.

Fatigue Point 1 – Do I want the full Experience?

image If you build a Silverlight experience for example, and all you put in place of the viewer whom doesn’t have Silverlight is the typical generic “Get Silverlight” medallion. This will basically be your first failure point  (depending on the power of word-of-mouth).

As put yourself in the end users shoes. I’ve arrived at a site, and it has nothing but a “Get Silverlight” button.

Well, what does that mean? and more to the point do I really want to go beyond the button? why..why should I get Silverlight!

Irrespective of what plug-in you choose to build with, this initial hurdle is not just solely related to the plug-in but more to the point around what it is you’re trying to entice the end user to actually experience.

Have you explained what it is you have to offer clearly? is there a sense of reward for them should they agree that getting Silverlight is worth it.



Fatigue Point 2-  Do I want to install?

image It’s easy to push away and declare ubiquity as being the sole reason as to why any plug-in fails or succeeds. It’s only 1/3 of the battle ahead, as there is more beyond the “Get Plug-in XYZ”.

For instance, Installing plug-in have become a tax we willingly pay each day online, often enough in your lifespan online you’ve most likely downloaded plug-in like Flash, QuickTime etc approx 8-9 times a year. All users online do it, so the old myth around folks being plug-in fatigued is actually not a reality at all.



Fatigue Point 3 – Do I want to stick around.

image The final but crucial point of fatigue is, well, do I actually want to stick around?

If you have a 5mb+ payload (ie .XAP file) the end user has to download and all they want is the first 100k, think about the tax you’re imposing on the end user.

Splash Screens are effective here, you want to keep the end user locked on the job at hand and re-assure them the experience is highly worth the wait.

It’s also important to note your mileage in terms of broadband access online will vary and despite the fact I’m sitting on a 30mbps cable link at home others aren’t on high speed broadband.

Have a read of this great article:

Summary.

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Think about your end users pain, understand that ubiquity is definitely a hard psychological barrier to overcome, at times people put to much stock in the idea of what success here looks like. They also don’t pay attention to their abandonment rates as they should, and watching people drop off can mean many things (i.e. is your intended experience built for the right audience? I’d argue a RIA based blog isn’t appropriate, given HTML is simply just better suited – unless, you’re doing something more compelling than the HTML iteration has to offer).

We’ll explore more of this going forward soon, as we’ve got an upcoming announcement around this space. I just wanted to highlight early the notion that having a Silverlight experience for an external site has many fatigue points associated to it, and it’s something we should all take responsibility to ensure is enticing beyond the off the shelf default experience.

It’s not just solely about “do they have plug-in yes/no”.

We’ll continue to partner with OEM providers and grow Silverlight installs to reduce the ubiquity barrier of entry, however it’s still up to you to handle the rest, no matter what plug-in you adopt.

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Interview with Laurence Moroney and Silverlight 3

 

Just before I left the Silverlight Team, I managed to convince Laurence to give me an adhoc video interview in my office regarding his latest book titled “Introducing Microsoft Silverlight 3”.

 

The sound isn’t the best but keep in mind it was done on a Flip Video camera and as I said – adhoc moment just before Laurence moved out of his Tech Evangelist role into a Product Manager role.

I should also point out a few days later our entire building was flooded with water and my office got trashed, omens anyone?

His Book is this one:

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Buy it here: Introducing Silverlight 3

Laurence contact details:

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Silverlight is creating a mutant designer who can code.

I look over the past 3-4 years in around the RIA industry and just chuckle at times to myself. I say this with all the appropriate levels of respect attached.

The reason I chuckle is that prior to Microsoft i was laser focused on getting developers to adopt Adobe Flex as we had an abundance of Designers in the Adobe community but less developers. Once I joined Microsoft, I was then focused on getting designers to join the Microsoft ranks as we had an abundance of developers.

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Today, nothing really has changed much. As when I was a Product Manager for Silverlight, I think we last announced there was around half a million (there about) Silverlight developers, which for a product that’s roughly 20+ months old, is about 4:1 on Flex Developers give or take. Yet, before we all start whooping and high fiving one another about the success of SIlverlight over Adobe’s products, they would have about 5x as many designers in their ranks compared to Silverlight which would have probably a design audience measured in thousands and not hundreds of thousands.

I’m yet to see any evidence that this stand-off is likely to change radically in the next 2-5 years either, except there seems to be a change in the wind that I was hopeful would happen but skeptical at the same time. It turns out Silverlight is igniting a lot of design passion within the ranks of the Silverlight developer community – meaning, I am seeing some interesting signs of developers wanting to learn “design” albeit also “user experience”.

Can they design though?

Everyone can design, as when you were children you were told to draw a house with clouds, you did so and sure it made your parents happy enough to put it on the family fridge, but is it a realistic house that can withstand the elements such as a sun with eyes?…no.. but you designed. As you began to age towards adulthood for some reason you stopped drawing. The passion in a nutshell, was depreciated from within you.

Designers however kept it alive and continued to learn new techniques and slowly over time mastered ways to explore the concept of design more. That’s why they see things differently in the world than most and can bend your ear on the subject in ways you think they are likely smoking crack.

Today, lets face it, the design audience isn’t exactly pounding down the Microsoft Expression door, this in turn has created a discipline that needs to be filled and as such more and more developers are stepping up to fill it. They will in turn need guidance and better techniques on how to pull off the design part and it will take some time for them to master this art form. In the process I think this will also be a more vibrant unbiased beacon for the design audience to flock towards as in order for the developer audience to fill such a position, they will seek out more designers for help. As the design audience begins to help them, they will in turn also begin the journey of understanding what’s before them and hopefully it will stick.

Thus as Yoda would say:

“the cycle it will, repeat itself it may”.

Point is, at some point we will have a displaced audience that sit between the words design and develop they in turn will be the influencers on why Silverlight should be adopted. Today’s developer is tomorrows designer, so we who consider themselves of the design lineage need to show kindness and patience towards these folks. As they in turn will also show us faster and more efficient techniques to also carry out interactive design.

Next time you hear a developer say “I can’t design” correct them and say “You mean you haven’t the passion to try design” as this is a more correct response.

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How do I get started in User Experience?

I’ve had this question put to me in the past month about 20 times or so. It’s a tough question to answer in a nutshell, as it has a lot to do with “How do I retrain my skills to focus on User Experience” which is really what i think is the right question to be asking.

Firstly, I’m personally constantly learning new things around User Experience daily so I’m by no means done with this subject as there is more secrets of human behavior yet to be unlocked. My approach here is to get started at what i call the core of UX – the human 🙂

Secondly, User Experience for me is purely around how humans behave, in that I think you really need to sit down and read as much as you can on how the human mind works, specifically in around cognitive science.

Cognitive science is usually defined as the interdisciplinary study of how information is represented and transformed in the brain. It consists of multiple research disciplines, including psychology, artificial intelligence, philosophy, neuroscience, linguistics, anthropology, sociology, and education.[1] It spans many levels of analysis, from low-level learning and decision mechanisms to high-level logic and planning; from neural circuitry to modular brain organization.

The keyword being study as in the end, listening and learning about how a human being processes information and makes decisions is one thing but then mapping this knowledge to interface design in software is really what i personally think comes back to experience. Building the muscle here is something that is done with both trial/error, whitepapers, videos etc of how others have succeeded (i.e. Microsoft’s favorite one is the old “Ribbon Menu” and how it supposedly won over the Microsoft Office Masses).

Thirdly, I think you need to practice the art of design, I’m not talking about high fidelity user interfaces, I’m talking about wireframing and prototyping your ideas. These are crucial as it forces you to jump into the hot seat of the end user and try and see things through there lens. It’s also important that you understand who your end users are likely to be, as we human beings aren’t the same. We are made up of different ages, sex, race and abilities – so understanding your target demographic is just as important in software design as it is in marketing the software (the two are interlocked really).

Example. If your expected audience was made up of 10-35 year old males from an English speaking country, would you approach the software user interface from the angle of a 35 year old only? or a 10 year old? would you fork the UI depending on age brackets? if so why?

To answer that, prototype. Experiment on what you think is the right theory, research how to design for the aging brain, find out as much as you can on how males differ from females, and does this offer any extra clues on how it should be approached? or does it even matter. Point is, absorb who your audience is and find ways to make the software design suite their needs to carry out actions and less on the easy route that gets you done quicker.

Example: Inside Microsoft, I often heard UX designers complain that they are limited in terms of winning over the engineering teams on fixing bad UX within the company. The reason being was that a lot of the times the engineers would simply refuse to change their practices, and would constantly throw the old “it will cost more” argument onto the table. This in turn left the UX Army frustrated, as nothing was changing and they were constantly having to accommodate engineering’s needs and less on the end user. An example of bad UX in Microsoft that i can think of is SQL Server.  Its a horrible installation experience and makes you the end user feel like its way more complex than products like MySQL for example.

Fourthly, experiment and listen/learn from others who are in this space. A lot of times people are often echoing the same b.s they probably read in Jenifer Tidwell “Designing Interfaces” book, but mainly research what terms like “Progressive Disclosure” means..or specifically how Fitts Law is relevant to software you are designing today and does it have a positive or negative effect? if so, why?

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I personally am constantly retesting theories all the time, my main focus is not to play it safe with software design, I want to essentially break out of the mould of guys like Jakob Nielsen.  I instead want to push the boundaries and break rules, as my theory is based around what others in Apple have told me – “We know what people want, they don’t know what they want”.

It’s arrogant and bold, but i often wonder if products like iPhone were put to the usability test, would it pass or fail? Same with the Windows Start bar, isn’t the BOTTOM LEFT position more cumbersome than say TOP CENTER? is this accepted now due to habits being formed around its current location or would a virgin user likely accept it being placed elsewhere on the screen?

Habits can be the enemy in user interface design, as in order to break away from existing patterns (good and bad) you have to convince the end user to change their habits in a subtle way. If you succeed, then you innovate and we see more and more exciting experiences emerging (or flipside, horrible ones) – the key though is doing this within context and within scope (ie pick your battles)

In order to get started in User Experience, sit down and read as much as you can on how humans interact with software. Books, Websites etc are all going to offer clues but the best starting point imho is reading as much as you can on “Cognitive Science”

One of my favorite books I often refer to a lot is -  Universal Principles of Design.

I’ll continue to explore this subject more.

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What does a potential Silverlight Adoption Lifecycle look like?

I’ve been working in this industry since i left high school back in 1995, and I often think about my journey to date and how I’ve adopted a technology. I then as a Product Manager on the Silverlight Team constantly try and put myself in you, the adoptee’s shoes. I’m constantly thinking about what it takes for you to adopt and what are the motivational events that have impacted you along your journey.

The below is my own personal experience / observation of the industry in general. It doesn’t stop at Silverlight either as prior to Microsoft I watched folks do the same with Macromedia Flash and then Macromedia Flex.

Not to mention AJAX and so on, even HTML! – yes, I watched the birth of HTML unfold into what is now a commercial entity known as oxygen ;).

The Adoption Curve.

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Contact. You’ve found the word Silverlight fly past your senses, you’ve not pinned down what it is but its the talk of the town

Awareness. You just finished reading something about it and have a somewhat bit of knowledge in and around what it’s capable of doing.

Understanding. You just finished a tutorial, training session or brown bag, overall you’ve got what we commonly call a “basic” understanding of the product.

Evaluation. You’re now writing a quick prototype of a project you’ve thought about making in Silverlight. You’re still unsure, but the product has captured your interest levels.

Trial Usage. You’ve built a first draft of your Silverlight solution, and you’re essentially shopping it around for feedback and help you up sell / include this into your peer’s technology radar.

Adoption.You’ve built your Silverlight solution and are ready to deploy, you’ve troubleshooted your way through learning the product and are now what we would call an “Adoptee”.

Institutionalization Your solution is in play, you’re now thinking about the next release or next project, you’re well on your way to success and have either a positive or negative feeling towards the brand.

The Learning Curve.

I’ve often thought about the whole competitive story around what it takes to adopt a technology. I know I’ve personally learnt more technologies than i thought my long-term memory could contain, but none the less they are there, crammed deep within the dark matter of which i call my brain (Java, PHP, C#, ActionScript, Flex, XAML, XSD, Maya, VRML etc).

The reason I do think about the competitive nature of technology is that in many ways when you read a Flash vs. Silverlight style post (insert Apple vs. Microsoft etc) it at times reads as if that technologists are easily conned into adopting a technology they’ve never used before.

In that the x number of years they’ve spent nurturing their chosen technology could easily be diverted to the new shiny toy that they have before them.

I put it to you that, folks aren’t that easily swayed, that often its simply a case of a number of factors. They are:

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Boredom.You’ve been using X technology for the past N years. You’re essentially peeked in terms of all that you want – not can – learn from the said technology. It’s time you explored your horizons and shop around for what’s the latest & greatest, that or research an old technology simply because of the nostalgic geeky cool flavor it brings to your technology palette.

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Goldrush.You’ve seen how much others are making off the Y-Technology and you’re keen to get some of that action. You are motivated my greed, but that’s ok, as in the end getting a leg up in life is fair game. You typically would of probably ignored this technology in the past, but all the other kids are doing it, so you’re essentially force fitting yourself to the adoption.

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Duress.You didn’t want to adopt, but you’re forced to due to a project you’re working on or about to. You start off in a negative state, in a duress state. You’re constantly trying to marry your existing skills over to this new technology but are finding it a rough road to follow. Eventually you figure it out and have an overall negative / positive emotion around the technology. It’s at this point you decide to either continue to pursue the adoption or abandon and retreat back to your preferred X-Technology of choice.

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Curiosity.You’re neither bored or motivated by gold / project. You’re simply one of those people who love to explore no matter what the technology. To you, technology is about the art of creation and problem solving and you tinker with them like someone explores a music library – all music is good, it just depends on the listener.

Summary.

There are different motivational reasons as to why someone adopts. There is no one fits all approach, and given in today’s IT environment there are so many moving parts to keep track of, it’s not an easy thing anymore.

In the old days, I remember learning Delphi vs Visual Basic. I choose Delphi simply because I couldn’t grok the VB way of code, to me the Delphi seemed more natural. Delphi didn’t get the uptake as much as VB did, so what happened?

Companies like Adobe, Google, Microsoft, Apple, Sun etc all have an offering to provide you all. The main mission overall is to highlight the technologies strength, divert from the weakness and encourage you to at least get as far as the Understanding stage in the life cycle. From there its entirely up to you, as that’s where the freedom of choice really kicks in (there is only so much a company can market).

It’s from here that you decide based on merit and personal experience (aka Time vs. Commitment) and ultimately this is the true test for these companies. As for us in Silverlight this is where if were to take a pulse at your confidence level, you’d tell us data that I’d rate as pure signal. As this ultimately for us is the tipping point of success vs. failure for the product as its our job to make sure you understand what the product is, ensure it’s easy to learn and lastly reassure you that you’re not alone – as nobody likes to actually bleed when it comes to bleeding edge adoption.

Is that all?

Next Post, how the human mind absorbs the adoption lifecycle, lets dig into cognitive science. The new fad i like to call “Cognitive Load Theory”, as once you fully understand how the human mind works and ways to seed information in both short-term and long-term memory, it gets really interesting… well for me anyway.

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