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I understand that there was some folks at MIX09 who weren’t happy (or maybe ‘were bored’ is the better term here) about the day 2 keynote session with Deborah Adler, a designer from New York who created the ClearRx system for medical prescriptions.  Yes, it was not your typical Microsoft keynote presentation and in fact, followed by IE8 announcements, had nothing to do with releases, Silverlight or anything like it.  Sort of.  Robby said it was the best MIX keynote ever, and if I wasn’t a geek, I’d agree (I mean, c’mon, I’m a ScottGu fanboy too).

Deborah Adler at MIX09 (photo Robby Ingebretsen)I’m guessing that those who weren’t excited about this were developers.  In some regard I can understand, but let me tell you this: if you didn’t ‘get it’ then I think you weren’t paying attention.  You see Deborah told us a story, and a very personal one.  The key thing that came out of this story is a change in her perspective on how to design: think of the user first, nothing else.  While her story applied to product packaging designs, it can easily be translated.

This is often a key principle that we forget/neglect in software design.  All too often organizations make decisions based on product raw costs, availability of existing resources, etc.  Deborah challenged this thought, and set out to prove that above all things, the user is essential.  By implementing a user-centric design approach, she put us first in the process…thinking first about how we use medical prescriptions, and the surrounding issues of safety and confusion. 

More than anything that is the inspiration I got out of this keynote (which was great and you should listen to her story…frankly, this keynote is so much better at telling her story than any of the news specials that are available about ClearRx).  I had a much greater appreciation for how user-centric design approaches can impact what we can do as developers.  It was really a reminder of how important that concept is.  The story was great, the results fantastic.  She helped start a game changing concept in prescription medicine.  She went out to challenge the norm because of the user – and did it.  After hearing this story more personally, I’m so compelled to refill my prescriptions at Target in the future, even if it isn’t as convenient.

Bravo Deborah.

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If you’re like me then you probably are more geekier than you are artistic.  I don’t think of myself AT ALL as a designer, but rather one who appreciates both good design and good user centric design.  You may look at this site here and say it doesn’t, and that is okay…I’m trying my best :-).

Smashing Magazine logoBut often I find that I need some tweaks, icons, templates, application design inspiration for a Silverlight application, whatever and just want to do it myself.  I’ve found the one place now where I start to look and be inspired: SmashingMagazine.com.  If you’ve never been there, go and subscribe now if you are interested in design.  Over the past year I’ve found it to be one of the most amazing sites for inspiration and design resources that I’ve added to my toolbox.  Of all the feeds I subscribe to, I can count on the syndicated content coming from them to be 99.999% inspiring and helpful.  I find myself adding almost everything they send to my delicious bookmark list!

Here are some of my favorites and examples (most recent):

And there is so much more.  I look at their Inspiration and Freebies links a lot for aggregation of some of the best stuff.  The great thing is also to pay attention to the end of each article.  The writers are doing an excellent job appending highly relevant information to the topic.  They don’t just show you their top 50 favorite photo blogs, but the related information shows you links on how they were created and where to get more information.

Smashing Magazine has been a daily resource for me for useful tools, resources and inspiration…I highly suggest you add it to your feed list or bookmarks…I am sure it will be a great resource for you as well!

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First a word on the “continuum” I keep hearing about for applications.  I’d like to apply it to my digital lifestyle.  You know that vision where you only have one place to keep your music, but can access it anywhere, etc., etc.  I still haven’t hit nirvana like that yet, but for movie watching it’s getting close.

I used to be a customer of Netflix when they first launched.  To be honest, at that time their pricing was singular and I just wasn’t watching enough movies at home to warrant the cost, so I ended my relationship.  Now I have kids, travel a bit, have an XBOX, etc.  For me, Netflix has become more relevant as a matter of convenience…oh and the fact they have a pricing model that totally fits in line with my use.  The thing that is great about Netflix for me now is that they “get it” with regard to how digital and old-school movie rentals can/should occur.  Why? Simple, it’s everywhere for my lifestyle now.  My Netflix account enables me to get DVDs the traditional way (even with Blu-Ray even though I don’t have a player, but nice to know the option is there) as well as digitally.  Recently they changed their Watch Instantly capabilities to use Silverlight.  But that wasn’t all.  With the launch of the XBOX next generation experience, Netflix now has an application for the XBOX.  So now I can get DVDs, watch on my computer(s) and watch on my home theater system.  All with one account, one place, etc.  The only missing piece is a supported/legal way to download to my portable media player (iPod, Zune, etc.).

The one thing that I really like about the instant watch capability is the fact that it remembers where you were.  So if I am traveling and start watching a video but couldn’t finish, when I get home to my XBOX, it starts where I left off.  Nice polish on that feature.  I can still start over if I want, but it is great to see that added value of watching where I left off.  For me, Netflix truly has figured out fast how I want to watch movies and innovates to offer the options for me.

I was showing my family these features and went to a PC in my house to show them the instant watch capabilities as an example.  It just so happened to be a machine that didn’t have Silverlight installed on it yet for some reason.  After logging in to my Netflix account and picking the first movie to demonstrate to them, I was greeted with this images:

It was a reminder of two things for me: 1) that I didn’t have Silverlight installed and 2) what paying attention to the install experience of your web application features can do to enhance the experience and loyalty of your customers.  You see in reality Netflix could have just left the default Silverlight install experience:

on a blank screen.  For me, I would have known what that meant and still been reminder.  But I’ve ranted about providing a great Silverlight deployment experience, about some easy ways of implementing it and how important it is not to assume and to optimize your rich client experiences for your users.  Netflix nails it and is the best example I’ve seen yet.  Period.  Let’s examine the key areas here (numbering mine):

Netflix focused on the main tenants of first impressions with new technology:

Maintain Visual Cues

Netflix keeps the user engaged, not by using the default Silverlight install image, but by maintaining a consistent user experience in the design.  Although the user has chosen to “watch instantly” and they are not there yet, this design helps keep a consistent brand recognition and even shows a player in the background a little bit.  This tells the user that they are still starting along the same action they desired.

Focus on the Content

Content is king.  Content is king.  Nobody will install anything if they don’t believe the content is relevant.  Look at how Netflix uses some personalization in this experience.  In section 1 you can see that they’ve alerted you about the content you chose…they haven’t forgotten about your desire.  They also put the DVD cover as a part of this experience to remind you of the content you wanted to watch.  This is HUGE to the experience.

Reduce Barriers to Entry

Some people might be apprehensive about installing new things.  In section 4 Netflix helps alleviate some concerns by showing the value of the action, and assurance that this is not something that has to do with advertising, etc.  They are providing you with additional information to help you make a decision and help you feel that the process is relative only to the task you requested (watch instantly).

Set Reasonable Expectations

In section 2, the authors of this experience help give some reasonable expectations to the user with “it only takes a minute” instructions.  This gives the user a reasonable expectation of time.  They have a reasonable assumption now that they aren’t downloading the entire movie, or something huge that will take 20 more minutes before they can watch their selected video.

Minimize Decisions

They haven’t given you any other offers here.  No option to create a new account, or sign up for other methods.  You’ve asked to watch instantly and that’s what they are presenting here…the option to do that.  They are making that decision clear in section 3 as well – this is the call to action…no other.

You may also notice the absence of giant Silverlight logos.  To me, this is a good thing.  It is important that you provide some context to your users about what they are installing if it isn’t directly from you though, whether it be from Microsoft, Adobe, wherever.  Here Netflix points out “Install Microsoft Silverlight” which puts in your mind the brand of Microsoft.  This way when the installer shows up it isn’t a surprise it isn’t from Netflix.  Perhaps adding the Silverlight brand/logo in a subtle way wouldn’t be a bad touch here to have some visual recognition and continuity from this screen to the installer.

Summary

Creating these experiences is an important step in managing first impressions.  It isn’t difficult to do either.  We provide some tools and support scripts (Silverlight.js) for you to understand the different scenarios.  Over time as more and more get Silverlight installed this will be less of an issue, but still shouldn’t be ignored.  I’ve seen many Flash sites that use the default “Get Adobe Flash” small icon and wish they would concentrate just as much on the experience as well.

I mentioned that the Silverlight.js file can help aid in detection/installation of Silverlight.  I’m curious your thoughts on it.  If you have a few minutes to spare, I’d love for you to take this very quick survey of your impressions of this technique and using the Silverlight.js script.  No personal information is required.

Bravo to the Netflix team…very well done.  Oh, and the experience isn’t that bad either ;-) -- Seriously though the player and bandwidth/quality detection is great.  Overall Netflix has won me back as a customer for sure!

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I just finished up a day attending the Chicago RIApalooza event in, well, Chicago.  First, I must say that I love cities with great mass transit systems.  I’ve said this before and I keep threatening myself to move to one.

IMG_0276For this event I paired up with a super designer Corrina Barber.  Corrina works as a user experience designer at Microsoft, is wicked smart and was a perfect compliment to this event.  Most of the attendees at RIApalooza I believed to be interactive developers, so most having a knack for design.  I figured rather than a developer only session it would be better to have more of a design skew on what Silverlight, Visual Studio and Blend bring to the table for developers and designers.  Corrina and I set off to demonstrate that designer/developer workflow that Microsoft talks about so much.  To set the stage, basically we started with a concept and then Corrina used Expression Blend to create a wire-frame mock-up using unstyled controls.  I then jumped in as the developer and modified only code, keeping the design in tact while my designer counterpart continued on fit-n-finish and polishing the design.  It is really great to see this separation and see how a developer can work on a project, keep the design integrity 100% and allow this separation.  In the end we had a final product that demonstrated this concept as well as some aspects with Silverlight such as IsolatedStorage, WebClient, LINQ to XML, data binding, etc.  I hope it was well received.  Corrina held court in the lounge afterwards gathering feedback from designers on what we (MSFT) are doing right with our tools/platform and what could be improved.  I listened in a few times and it was great feedback and I think the attendees really appreciated hearing stuff straight from a designer!

Dave MeekerThe rest of the day’s sessions were great.  Back up.  The night before was a social mixer where we had a discussion from Dave Meeker of Roundarch.  This guy gets it.  It really was spot-on in my opinion and I sincerely appreciated his perspectives and knowledge brought to the discussion that evening.  We ended with a panel discussion that surprisingly had more to do with discussions around business/marketing aspects than any technology.  It was a good discussion.

Okay, the rest of the day was great.  Presentations from Corey Miller and Anthony Hendley on Silverlight, WPF and XAML.  A look at RIA best practices with Josh Holmes and Michael Labriola.  Some cool framework stuff looking to merge the world of .NET and Flex from Ka Wai Cheung of We Are Mammoth (which ironically describes themselves as a small firm).

I also personally had some great conversations, particularly with Stanton Ware, Donald Burnett and Michael Labriola.  Nearing the end of the day I caught Michael in a resting moment and decided not to let him rest.  What started with a simple question of “do you think you can show me Flex for a few minutes” led to an hour or so demonstration of Flex Builder, the platform and some concepts in software design of Flex applications.  Honestly it was time very well spent and I have a much better perspective of Flex, what is good, what is bad, etc.  We also philosophized (bushism term, deal with it) about evangelism, organizational growth, etc.  Good conversation.  He’s a really smart dude.

I also was able to sit down with Larry Clarkin and Dave Bost with The Thirsty Developer.  I had a good time on the podcast and hope it turns out okay for the guys.  Thanks to them for asking me to participate!  The Thirsty Developer is one podcast that I’m subscribed to and I think they have a good balance of fun and conversation with the people they choose to talk with.  I would recommend you take a look and consider subscribing.

 

I was real pleased with RIApalooza and hope to see more of them sprout up.  The mashup of community and discussion was welcome and refreshing.  Congratulations to the entire planning committee on a job well done.

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got mad design and css skillz?  take a stab at redesigning the mix web site for a contest.  i saw through twitter that adam kinney noted only one person entered yet.  and there are three prizes!!! should make winning pretty simple right now ;-).

visitmix.com - restyle

of course i'm ineligible (that's my way of getting off, because i have no mad design skillz), but might i suggest a few themes to try out:

    • halo 3
    • rockband/guitar hero - have you seen this and this yet?
    • reno 911 - man i love this show -- 'sheriff's department!' -- hmm...ballmer as lt. dangle?
    • dora and diego -- go ScottGu go!
    • high school musical
    • election 2008

either way, all you have to do is visit the restyle contest page and download the starter kit.  so what are you waiting for?  deface, er...i mean...restyle the site in a creative way!