November, 2009

  • Canadian UX Blog

    Silverlight 4 Beta Overview


    Silverlight 4 logo

    It was just 5 months ago we shipped Silverlight 3. Last week at PDC, Silverlight 4 Beta was introduced. The rapid release cycle allows the team to act quickly based on developers feedback and to keep pushing Silverlight to be the best platform for delivering rich interactive and media content on the web. In Silverlight 4 Beta, I see more end-user features that were only available to client applications before. For example, Silverlight 4 supports right-click context menu, drag-drop from desktop to Silverlight app, and multi-level redo and undo. This allows users to transfer their knowledge of using client applications to the web. Device access support such as WebCam support will bring more richness to web applications. For instance, instead of sharing something with your friends on the web through a text email, you can send a video clip. The possibilities are endless.

    My colleague Joey DeVilla has a nice post on the Developer’s blog on Silverlight 4 features and resources. The best way to get an overview of Silverlight 4 is to watch Karen Corby’s PDC talk “Microsoft Silverlight 4 Overview.” Karen has many interesting demos in her talk to showcase Silverlight 4 features that you can download and play with from her blog. To get more details of a specific area of Silverlight 4, you can watch one of these PDC Silverlight sessions.

    Silverlight sessions at PDC

  • Canadian UX Blog

    Experience Office 2010 Beta


    Office 2010 logo

    At PDC’s keynote yesterday, the general availability of Office 2010 Beta was announced. Everyone can try out this Beta for free. This is a comprehensive Beta set which not only includes Office the software but also Office Web Apps and Office Mobile. Even the companion Office website had a brand new design. Let me take you on a little tour to experience Office 2010 Beta.

    A Clean Design for Office Online Website

    I’m quite impressed by the visual design of this version of Office products. It’s lightweight, organic, and full of energy. The brand identity connects well among the Office online website, Office web apps and Office software. For example, below is the new design for the Office online site. It integrates Bing search throughout the site, there’s much less information presented on each page, and a clearer and more consistent layout. The old Office online site has a more corporate and product centric feel, so users may miss all the great resources presented on the site such as images and templates. The new design brings out these resources and makes a directly connection to Office Labs, which allows Office users to try additional innovative tools to increase their productivity.

    New Office Online website screenshot New Office Online website screenshot

    More Friendly Splash Screen 

    Excel 2010 splash screen

    Although splash screen is just a small component of any software design, it’s the first impression the software gives to user. I like how a user can close any Office 2010 software during splash screen rather than waiting for a complete start. The animation used in the splash screen is quite attractive which gives the perception of fast movement and energy. Perception is reality, so it’s important to make users feel the software is not idling but rather actively working. On Office 2010 splash screens, there are text indications to show users what the software is doing to start up. 





    More Usage of Ribbon UI

    Ribbon UI is widely used in Office 2010 to provide a consistent UI structure for users. My favorite Ribbon addition is in Outlook. There’s a feature called “Quick Steps.” I can add my own quick step according to my email behaviors. For example, I like to archive important Inbox mails to a local mail folder. Before I had to manually drag one or more mails to the archive folder, which takes time especially if have lots of folders in the folder hierarchy. In Outlook 2010, I set couple of quick steps so that after reading Inbox mails, I just need to click on a quick step, the mail(s) will go to the folder I want. It’s a big time saver.

    Outlook Ribbon screenshot

    Another feature that was nicely designed in Outlook was called “Social Connector.” Check out a demo on it here.

    Move Seamlessly Between Online and Offline

    This is something a lot of people have been waiting for – Office on the web. You want to edit your document anytime, anywhere, and be able to share with whoever you what. In Office 2010, it’s very easy to create a document on your computer and then save it to a shared location on the web. Here’s an example.

    I created a PowerPoint presentation called “Experience Office 2010 Beta.” I can save a local copy but I really want to share it with the public. So, I click on “File” button which takes me to the backstage of this file. I can save the file directly to my SkyDrive from PowerPoint 2010 (below left) rather than going online and uploading the file. Later on, I can access the file on my SkyDrive anywhere with internet access (below right). I can easily share the file as a link in an email or embed it on a webpage.

     PPT 2010 save to Skydrive screenshot skydrive screenshot

    If I click to view the file in browser, I can see my file as a slideshow (below left) or edit in the browser directly (below right). Notice in the Office Web App, the familiar Ribbon UI is still there. The “Open in PowerPoint” button is very obvious which allows me to edit the file back in PowerPoint if I want to access the full features in the client software.

    PPT 2010 web app preview ppt screenshot PPT 2010 web app edit ppt screenshot

    The office team has embraced the Software + Service model and aim to provide the best productivity experience across the PC, phone, and browser. So, what are you still waiting for? Experience Office 2010 Beta Today!

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  • Canadian UX Blog

    Research in Action at UofT


    image of Research in Action event Yesterday I went to the research showcase at the UofT Computer Science department called “Research in Action (RIA).” It’s always an idea feast going to research open house, and there were lots of “delicious” projects served yesterday.

    Professor Steve Easterbrook showcased a number of projects his undergraduate students worked on to explore how computer can support collaborative science. One of them is called “Breadcrumbs” which allows scientists to save and share graphs of related web pages when browsing for related work. Steve also spoke at last week’s World Usability Day event in Toronto where he talked about the role of software in understanding and responding to the threat of climate change. You can follow his group’s ongoing research on his blog.

    image of a person using RearTypeI also got to try RearType during the tour (see the image on the right). It’s a text input system that allows you to type on the back of the device. “The aim is to ‘free up’ the front of the device, maximizing the use of a physical display, minimizing the need for an onscreen keyboard and resulting pixel occlusion, and providing a tactile and multi-finger method for text entry – with the potential for knowledge transfer from QWERTY.” I’ve been using my thumbs most of time now typing on a mobile keyboard. This design will allow me to use my all my fingers especially the non-thumb fingers. When using it, it actually feels like I’m playing an instrument like flute. :) This is a collaboration project between Microsoft and the university. 

    You can check out all the projects showcased yesterday at their website. Also, this is an annual event which you can go in-person next time.

  • Canadian UX Blog

    UX Research in Plain English

    image of a dog teaching an owl speaking

    Picture taken from A List Apart

    I came across a great article last week on A List Apart about explaining UX Research in plain English. For UX professionals, we are so used to speak terms like “Contextual Inquiry,” “Task Analysis,” “Paper Prototyping,” etc. They are terminologies that are not intuitive to our clients or people in other disciplines. Sometimes they may have an idea of what we mean but not really. The article gives a handy cheat sheet that we can explain these terms in plain English and establish a clear understanding between us and our clients. Moreover, it highlights the business value of the activity. For example:

    Task analysis

    What it is in plain English: Observing how people take part in an activity, and then examining what they are thinking and what they are doing as they complete each task, step by step.

    Real-world example: A health-care company wants you to improve their claims-processing system. You observe their employees as they use the software to process claims. Then, you go through the process yourself, documenting each step required to fulfill every task. From that analysis, you make recommendations to streamline or improve the process.

    Business value: By conducting a task analysis to break down how customers use the website or application, and then using that information for process improvement, you can increase the number of site transactions and create operational efficiencies that save money.

    Task analysis provides input into: Personas, user flows, wireframes, navigation schema, the use case / requirements document, the content map, and the site map.

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  • Canadian UX Blog

    Happy World Usability Day 2009!



    Happy World Usability Day, everyone! May all your design projects have the best usability! :-)

    This year’s theme is “Designing a Sustainable World.” As the world is celebrating today, here are the events from Canada. I’ll be going to the Toronto chapter event and hope to see you there.

      • Ottawa World Usability Day, Ottawa,17:30 Canada/Eastern (Thursday 12th of November 2009 05:30:00 PM)

        CapCHI, Akendi and Macadamian Usability present an Ottawa World Usability event featuring local experts in the area of designing for a sustainable world. Keynote presentation by David Berman. Snacks and drinks will be provided. A trip to a local pub will follow the event.

      • Design@IBM: Usability Challenges of Building Smarter Cities, Toronto, 12:00 Etc/GMT-5 (Thursday 12th of November 2009 12:00:00 PM)

        Join us for a webcast, hosted by Karel Vredenburg (IBM User Experience Design Program Director), in celebration of World Usability Day's theme of "Designing for Sustainability".  John C. Thomas (IBM Research Scientist) will present "The Usability Challenges of Building Smarter Cities". 

      • Sunup to Sundown Design Slam, Vancouver, 08:00 US/Pacific (Thursday 12th of November 2009 11:00:00 AM) Sunup to sundown design slam where a group of Vancouver UX professionals will team up with an urban community garden to help them do more of the good work they do.

      • World Usability Day in Kelowna - Website Usability 101, Kelowna, BC, 11:00 Canada/Pacific (Thursday 12th of November 2009 02:00:00 PM)

        Is your website realizing its potential? How do you know? Enquiro is hosting a website usability clinic for local Kelowna businesses.

      • Halifax Ergonomics Interest Group WUD Meeting, Halifax, NS, 17:00 Canada/Atlantic (Thursday 12th of November 2009 04:00:00 PM)

        The Halifax Ergonomics Interest Group - special WUD meeting. Presentations, from ~5:10 pm - 6:10 pm to be followed by a networking / social session will follow with drinks and snack provided.

      • Free Expert Reviews of Customer Experience!, Ottawa, 09:00 Canada/Eastern (Thursday 12th of November 2009 09:00:00 AM)

        Neo Insight offer FREE, confidential 1-hour expert Customer Experience reviews on World Usability Day - Nov 12th

      • Usable Climate Science , Toronto, 19:00 US/Eastern (Thursday 12th of November 2009 07:00:00 PM)

        Presentation by Steve Easterbrook. How do we make climate science usable? Unless we do this, journalists, politicians and the public will be unable to judge whether proposed policy solutions are viable, and unable to distinguish sound science from misinformation. I will illustrate the talk with some suggestions of how we might meet this goal.

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    • Canadian UX Blog

      Cool Natural User Interface Demo from MSR


      During this year’s college tour, our chief Research and Strategy Office, Craig Mundie, demonstrated how technology can help solve the world’s toughest problems. One of the demos is on Natural User Interface (NUI) in a search scenario (see the video below). I was very excited to see the demo because it combined a number of NUI elements such as gesture, speech, and even eye-tracking. If the future allows users to interact with technology in a number of ways (i.e. various input methods), then it’s really interesting to find out how users will accomplish their tasks at hands with a combination of these inputs. For example, as I’m writing this blog post with keyboard, I can say “Computer, search ‘Craig Mundie.” Or, if I want to send this demo link to a friend, I can say “Computer, create an email with XX link embedded to Joe.” I don’t need to stop writing and go to a search browser or an email client to do another task then come back. This speech interaction is independent of my writing flow and and allows me to multi-task. I would really like that!

    • Canadian UX Blog

      Digital Brand Experience Matters


      a screenshot from FEED

      I came across FEED this morning, which is the annual report of the study Razorfish conducts on customer behaviors. The report this year focuses on understanding how digital is changing the way that consumers interact with brands. This is what they found out:

      [Digital] Experience matters. A lot. So much so that experiences are becoming the new advertising or marketing. And these experiences are having an inordinate amount of impact on how consumers perceive a brand and ultimately purchase products. Moreover, we also found that consumers are actively engaged with brands across the entire digital spectrum. Consumers may be in control but so are brands which are so deeply embedded in the culture that consumers can’t imagine not making them a part of their world — on Facebook, Twitter or even their own blogs.

      Although this is a marketing report, it’s an interesting read, a good example of a report design, and valuable information for UX professionals to know as well. I was impressed by how connected consumers are online and how much they are willing to follow a product/brand in their own social networking spaces (e.g. follow a product on Twitter and friend a product on Facebook). As UX Designers, we know the product experience matters. As the definition of “product experience” gets broader, part of the experience is how the product is perceived. It starts long before users use your products. For example, users want to interact with your brand through rich media and listen to what others are saying about your products especially from the people they trust. It’s a great opportunity where we can work with marketers to understand consumers’ behaviors (i.e. patterns, motivations, etc.), create digital experiences that engage them and get the best Return on Experience (ROE).

    • Canadian UX Blog

      Berlin Wall Photo Mosaic in Silverlight


      As the World is celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall today, a digital project is also underway to remember the historical moment. Thousands of pictures are posted by people in the community to create their impression of the fall of the wall. Check out the photo mosaic in Silverlight Deepzoom.

      screenshot of the Berlin Wall Photo Mosaic screenshot of the Berlin Wall Photo Mosaic

    • Canadian UX Blog

      A New Look for MSDN


      With the announcement of Visual Studio 2010 Beta 2 availability couple of weeks ago, you probably notice the different look on MSDN (Microsoft Developer Network). Although the site’s main audience has been developers, recently I’ve found more designers are visiting the site to get knowledge on Silverlight, WPF, Windows 7, and other UX platform and technologies.

      First, we have a new logo for MSDN, which is called the Network Wave. I like the new logo design because it captures the movement of different pieces of developer knowledge coming together. :) It’s also an organic design that works well with the .NET 4, VS 2010, and Silverlight logos. It’s a cohesive branding for our development family.


      Besides the new logo and color theme of the site, the re-design is trying to address the following top use scenarios and improve the overall user experience:

      • Help users quickly solve their technical questions or find reference documentations
      • Connect and engage users on the site who have similar technical interests and connect MSDN users with product teams
      • Get users to the downloads they need fast
      • Connect users to the product so that they can easily provide feedback, get deep technical information about the product, and so on
      • Keep users updated with new technology information and enhance their learning experience

      For example, to help users quickly find technical reference, the new design improved discoverability by providing guidance for new developers and MSDN first-time visitors. See the diagram below.

      screenshot of a MSDN page 

      As the weeks to come, more improvements will be visible on the Canadian localized version of MSDN. Make sure you check out the new MSDN site and tell us what you think!

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