6 Tips for a Great Flex UX

Theresa Neil is writing a 6 part series of articles on designing great Adobe Flex/Air user experiences. The first 3 parts are up now.

After designing several large enterprise applications for diverse clients and industries, I’ve noticed some barriers to crafting a great experience in Flex. I think these barriers arise from the relative newness of the technology (and RIAs in general), the initial focus on development over design, and the confidence that Flex can provide a great UX out of the box. But it takes a bit more to make a Flex app really shine. Fortunately, the Flex community is chock-full of talented and motivated developers who contribute amazing resources.


Schedule and Cost Summary Calculator Template

So it's my birthday today. One thing that I've learned about birthdays from having a child, is that it's a lot of fun to give gifts away on your birthday. I'm now a seasoned goodie bag shopper and can tell you some interesting places to go in Manhattan and Brooklyn to find unusual gifts for boys age 8-10. But since I can't give all of you rare swag from Tokyo Toy, I thought I'd offer up a template that freelancers might find useful.

I've posted a Cost Estimate and Scheduling Calculator spreadsheet to the Tools. The document provides a lightweight method for learning to estimate time to complete a web design project, and calculating cost for completion. The intended audience is individual freelancers or contractors. This may not be an ideal format for the calculation of project team estimates.

Screenshot of the template waiting for values to be entered.

The purpose of the document is to teach you to get acquainted with spreadsheets as tools for cost estimation, with the hopes that you will learn to use and modify it to suit your needs. Please note that this is only meant to be learning a tool and must be customized to be useful to you. This is NOT meant to be an out of the box solution.

I hope this is useful to someone out there. I know there are other tools to do this sort of thing, but it never hurts to see examples of how others' get things like this done.

And no, I don't freelance anymore. I just hated to see this go to waste.


How Software is Built: Interview with Liz Danzico

The Scott Swigart and Sean Campbell interview Liz Danico to discuss user experience on the How Software is Built blog. The lengthy conversation covers a wide array of topics including Liz's view of the differences in design process between typical clients with small teams and larger open source projects with communities of participants, design vision and leadership in open source software, and opinions about the acceptance with the direction that open source software has led users in terms of sharing data. Read the full interview.


Plagiarism Vs. Inspiration

The recent Skittles launch, which appropriated Modernista's idea, and the Shepard Fairey law suit, which questions whether or not the artist has a first ammendment right to use images appropriated from an AP photohjournalist, is making me think more and more about the issue of plagiarism vs. inspiration.

I don't know who was involved with the making of the Skittles site, but it reminds me of how BBDO ripped off Spike Jonze's "Full Flared" video for its Skittles commercials. If, for instance, Modernista designed Skittles or Jonze directed the Snickers ad, I wouldn't be bothered. But this just feels like someone is plagiarizing and being lazy. I don't know how a creative agency can be this blatant and not think they're going to get called out for it. What's bothersome in all of this is that credit is not given to the original, permission is not granted I am sure.

I'm a firm believer in finding inspiration from others' work, but only if the concept and design is altered significantly enough that it becomes one's own and only marginally refers to the original. What Fairey does, in my opinion, pales in comparison to what these ad agencies are doing, and it can be debated whether or not his work is too close to the original and falls into the rules for fair use. I think it's pretty close and my opinion on that has been changing pretty regularly on the Fairey issue. What makes the issue sticky is that it is both art and it results in a commercial product. I think it would be less likely to be troublesome if the result was simply some form of communication or a more pure attempt at free speech. But the commercial aspect alters that view of the copy in my opinion.

In any case this is an issue that re-emerges constantly and becomes more and more laborious for me to think about and discuss each time it arises.

A to Z Indexes

uxRefresh has collected a handful of examples of A-Z indexes of titles on large sites. Also useful might be a look at the article I wrote about KWIC/KWOC/A-Z Site Indexes work I did while at Bell Labs, and for a deeper dive, look at the list of links of indexer-designed examples on the Montague Institute’s site. Many of the latter are still valid, but there’s some link rot there too. James Kalbach also recently wrote on A-Z indexes, and in particular demonstrated the use of indexes in search auto-completion using Elsevier bibliographic database EMBASE.

Exhaustive A-Z indexes of the variety that indexers produce with relationships among terms are rarely seen on larger sites. This is probably for good reason–search engines are often as effective in most cases and indexes requiring human, subject matter expert involvement are expensive. The kinds of places where these A-Z indexes are to be found are largely in bodies of content with some sort of specialized need, e.g. research databases. It’s important to keep in mind, when comparing the above, that there is a difference between simply providing an index of titles of content, and providing an index of terms found in the content. The latter, in my opinion, is where the display of relationships and hierarchy can be most relevant and useful.


Cooper Shows How to Do Low Fi Concept Demos

Cooper Interactive’s Commuter Buddy concept video is another great find via Dave Malouf’s Engage blog. You might have already seen this one, but as Dave points out, it is a great example of using personas, narrative, and really low fidelity sketches to demonstrate a concept.

The video above uses still photography, super-imposed photos of whiteboard drawings, and voice over narrative to describe the idea for a mobile phone application that helps a commuter to get to his ride on time, and even to remember to get off if he becomes engrossed in an article, for instance. Super idea, but what’s really great about this is that how easy and inexpensive it probably was for them to produce this video. Good design doesn’t need to be big and costly.