JavaOne: Compelling User Experience

May 27, 2008

A couple of weeks have pasted since my trip to JavaOne 2008. Although the trip was overall informative, only a few session continue to resonate. The few sessions I commented on have either personal or professional relevance; more so, they are worth futher discussion long after the excitement of the conference has faded. Compelling User Experiences by Ben Galbraith is one such session.

The Compelling User Experience presentation provided a rule set for delivering high quality user applications. Ben outlined his own methodology for managing high user expectations. He cited various industry experts to support his criteria. Examples of good and bad applications were shown. The plot of the presentation was very traditional. However, the presentation itself was remarkable.

Ben’s presentation was the only presentation, in all of my sessions, where I wanted the deck itself. The presentation echoed the rules he puts forth. Ben did not simply put a bunch of bullets with text on the screen. His discussion expanded upon the slides. He did not simply read what was shown. He used images and appropriate visual effects to reinforce information. He did overburden attendees with huge amount of text on a slide. His presentation lends much credence to his talk.

This is very different than the other technical talks I attended. Most of the presentations gave a bunch of bullet snippets and a demo slide. Talk, blah, blah, demo, blah, conclusion. If you want to inspire me to use your library, platform, or tool, then give an inspirational presentation. Show me the appeal. end-of-rant.

From my notes on the session, Ben has 4 rules to creating a compelling user experience.

#1 Get to Know Your Users

What are the user’s expectation for the application? Understand, a user may change their expectation during the course of development or the product’s life cycle. Different users may have different expectations. A back office clerk has totally different expectations than a Senior VP. Key to knowing your users is to focus on their tasks? What are they trying to accomplish by using your software?

#2 Ignore Your Users

Pay attention to your user base but don’t let them design the software. Ben cited 37Signals mantra of ignoring users until you see a reoccuring and persistent compliant. Instead of directing all your effort in making the application work for the few “squeaky wheels”, focus on improving the application to serve the intended purpose.

#3 Visual Design and Interaction Design are distinct, related, and important

“Attractive things work better”. Ben stressed this point. All industry experts will tell you the universal fact: sex sells. Even with the applications, a more visual appealing interface is used more often than a more feature full app. He gave a trival reference to a study conducted showing users prefer a less stable but more appealing application to another more stable app. The reason is an intate human characteristic. Appealing applications make people feel good about using them. Look at Apple for a case study.

#4 Aesthics matter

I have little notes on this item. Hopefully, I’ll get the deck and can expand on this subject.

The remain portion of his presentation discussed tips and rules for building an appealing application.

Visual Design Tip

Hire a designer. A true application designer, not a programmer who fills the role. Fashion matters and designer live and breathe fashion trends.

Interaction Design Tips

Don’t make the user wait! Response time should be 0.1 seconds for most interactions. At 1 second, users become distracted.

Input is sacred. Auto save user data in every scenario possible. Prefer undos to warning dialogs. With a web application this is difficult to accomplish. However advances are being made in audit table constructs to show previous states of form inputs and session states. The audit table is similar to the Time Machine implementation in Apple OS X. A user should be able to go back to any previous state via a timeline.


“Best to market is not first to market” Applications selling are not often the first to market. This is not to say you can wait 6 months to launch. But, developers should strive to build the best, most appealing, application to achieve sucess.

I was very impressed by Ben. I hoping I can arrange a net meeting/presentation to my team at work. His topic echoes some of my same sediments and discussion with my team. Enterprise IT lags extremely behind in building compelling applications. Our development groups are faced with incredibly agressive timelines that do not support aesthics. But, if I can instill some of Ben’s ideals perhaps we can slide a few tips and impress our users.


One Response to “JavaOne: Compelling User Experience”

  1. […] a recent post concerning Java One, I discussed Ben Galbraith’s rule of hiring a designer. In the actual […]

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