Here’s an update on the progress we’re making on the major rewrite of the Commerce Server business tools.

You may recall from an earlier blog post, we started off the process with an extensive storyboarding exercise, where we focused our thoughts on the roles of people using the tools and the tasks that they might be undertaking.

In the intervening months, we’ve been heads down with our UX consultants Toledo2 to refine those ideas into wireframes and then one step further into a first look at the visuals. Our goal throughout this process is to be able to deliver a Customer Technology Preview (CTP) towards the end of 2013 and an initial release shortly thereafter. The final refinements would then come from our customers and partners as we move through the process of delivering frequent, incremental iterations to the tools throughout 2014 (and beyond!).

Project Phases

As the storyboarding moved towards wireframing, phases started to emerge from the process which enabled us to chunk the work into manageable and deliverable pieces. As this stands today, the work items are broken down as follows:

  • First, a CTP focused on core functionality from Catalog Manager
  • Next, our Initial Release aimed at replacing Catalog Manager
  • Then, agile releases on a very frequent basis (think weeks to months) to replace the other core scenarios from Marketing Manager and Customer and Order Manager as well as the addition of new features not in any of the business tools today

By decoupling the business tools from the core server release, we can respond to customer feedback, new user scenarios and use cases, and add features on a far more rapid basis than anything previously experienced in Commerce Server history.

Search & Disclosure

One paradigm that is certainly changing, is our approach to finding data to work on. We want our users to be able to work quickly on any aspect of data and to facilitate that, we’re making faceted search a key entry point into the tools. Why drill down through complex trees, when you can just type a key word or product code and let the tool take you straight there? We think it will significantly speed up product and catalog editing, especially with the use of facets to refine the search further.

And we’re also attempting to provide more context around visual search results. The interface will be able to disclose information around a selected product, which might be how many categories it appears in, or what discounts apply to it.

As you can hopefully see, this isn’t just an exercise in replacing the existing tools, it’s an exercise in reimagining the entire workflow. Tasks are key to this approach and it’s why we spent such a long time researching these tasks with existing customers, to make sure we’re understanding how the modern merchandiser and marketer approaches their work.

Wireframes

Working in conjunction with Toledo2, we now have extensive wireframes for all phases – yes, we have a lot of wireframes! Hundreds and hundreds of scenarios mapped out. That’s not to say that these won’t change as we refine the designs of course, but this important exercise has allowed us to be sure that the part we’ve built for our CTP – the core framework which encompasses the whole interface grid layout, will be capable of the level of flexibility needed to cope with (we hope) any scenario we throw at it.

Fig 1: A Host of Wireframes!

The Look and Feel

Although our UX process dictates that at this point, we’re not fixated on the final “look and feel” of the interface, we have had a bit of fun with some design ideas. We’re certainly clear that the final UI will be very clean, but this is where we’re so lucky to be working in conjunction with Toledo2, who are really making a name for themselves around the world. For some of the philosophy behind their thinking, I highly recommend reading Arturo Toledo’s design blog, in particular their work with Microsoft and Nokia on the Beyond Tiles design tour.

Here are a couple of “work in progress” screens:

Fig 2: The results of searching for "webcams" - all the places they appear...

 

Fig 3: A typical Product Editing Screen arrived at through faceted search

Technology

For those interested in the nuts and bolts, our responsive design grid is based on the popular Twitter Bootstrap framework and many of our controls will be based on the JQuery UI toolkit. It was important to us not to reinvent the wheel, we are instead focused on getting the tasks and flow correct and, of course, making sure we have the necessary API framework in place to support our concepts. As with past releases, we will provide developer extensibility for advanced customization and extensions. Upgrades will simply be a matter of downloading and deploying a single file – which will take only minutes. And, because it’s browser based, all business users will be updated at once.

So when?

As we said previously, the new tools will debut alongside the next version of the product and we are on track to have that CTP in customer and partners’ hands by the end of the year – with the Initial Release shortly thereafter and frequent ongoing updates after that. But as a reminder, this is being delivered as a separate project from the main server release, in much the same way as our starter sites, so as we move through the project phases, you will see constant ongoing updates. And once we’ve started to deliver, there will be a clear feedback channel for you to comment and help us improve them on an ongoing basis – and see that feedback reflected in weeks to months.

We’re incredibly excited about what the team is producing, we know you will be too!