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i found this very interesting site at ny times today which titles itself as 'analyzing the details' of the republican debate (the recent youtube one).

aside from the video transcript interface (being able to select a topic and have the video and text jump immediately), there is the transcript analyzer which presents this visualization below:

Republican Debate Visualization

very cool experience.  i'm able to visualize the time blocks and highlight the large blocks to see the topic/text that is taking that area.  additionally, you can see how much time each candidate actually talked.  it looked like guliani and romney capitalized the time...interesting.

anyhow, a pretty cool/different view on looking at information that is primarily media and presenting it in a different way.

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36 teams.  1 winner.  join the phizzpop design challenge.  from the site:

"The PhizzPop Design Challenge pits top interactive, Web, and design agencies against one another to push the limits of technology and creativity in a battle royale."

if you want to join in the festivities, go register for a location at the phizzpop design challenge site.  the first of these challenges happened earlier this year in san francisco and looked like a great time.  the teams were presented with a challenge use case and given time to come up with a solution.  various implementations in various technologies emerged (ajax, windows presentation foundation, , etc.) and a winner was chosen by the design community judges.

design smackdown baby.

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i've finally found the ultimo mp3 integration for my auto.  i don't have a new car, i don't have an aux jack, and i'm no longer in high school where i care about deep bass or wicked features, my factory stereo works fine thank you very much.  fine, that is, except that i can't play my mass collection of audio (unless i do it 6 CDs at a time).

well, i've found it.  unfortunately the actual store is in atlanta, ga, usa.  a little too far for me to drive and get it installed...so i begin my research of installing it myself (yes, i know i'm about to venture on a bad idea).  the company provided me with the installation manual so i can assess my pre-purchase jitters.  while the end result of the installation looks incredibly wicked cool (the kind that will make the skool kidz say "d00d"), it isn't as easy to install (to the lay person who doesn't install car stereo equipment on a daily basis).

but the company has provided me with some complete expectations post-install.  in a way they're providing me some pre-warnings on my user experience.  here's a choice statement from their guide:

The <productname> module is a very complex piece of hardware that is responsible for very complicated communications between your <mp3 player> and your <car>.  It will not just "work" once you plug it in.  Much like a computer, it requires patience and an understanding of the hardware and its operation to use.  You MUST be patient when operating the integration kit.  The <productname> has a learning curve.

i was laughing.  mother-in-law proof?  um, no.  the words complex, patient, and phrase 'not just work' are repeated...that's a goucher for sure not being mo-in-law proof.  yes, they reall have the word work in quotes.  it is beautiful.

but it makes me think if this is a good user experience or not.  after all, if i acquire the product, the expectations are being set clear for me.  does that make it a good ux?  i think about these scenarios in software development as well, namely in the initial deployment stage.  if companies writing software go out and say "okay, this is a great piece of software, but you have to ensure that your flux capacitor has been modified with the latest plugin and your alarm shields are down -- only after that will things work...be patient" would that enhance their product?

i think sometimes we are limited in scope what we can do in setting ux expectations (clearly this particular manufacturer hasn't ironed out the ideal kinks in their system, or perhaps they have and thus are delivering the best possible solution to us old car dweebs) and our users suffer.  lowest. common. denominator.  if you are developing your solution both technically and how your users will interact with it, you must take into account the turn on experience (or out-of-box experience).  first impressions are said to be lasting ones.  will yours be one?

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well, you've seen the flurry of no doubt (at least if you are a regular subscriber to things silverlight).  i'm not here to say "go check it out" and add another post to the flurry, but instead to perhaps look at why is important.

you see, when i look at the site, i think it is cool, interesting, unique, <insert-favorite-word-here>.  but at the same time i'm a little opinionated about the ui design choice.  i should be clear that i'm no professional designer at all, and all of this is my opinion of course.  but i look at the home page of tafiti and i see a lot of things going on and elements that i'm not sure interact with each other.  there seems to be a theme of some type of desk/drawer.  maybe i'm just not a fan of woodgrain :-).  now because my mom is a librarian and i grew up singing family songs about the dewey decimal system (ah, good times), i can visually see that this drawer emulates a card catalog box (hence the single hole punch in the search box area), but are those elements matched with the other experiences?  i feel like i'm looking at a card catalog sitting in an ocean scene.

perhaps i'm being too picky (and i'm sure i am).  but one of the most unique features of tafiti is not being demonstrated in the user's face enough IMO and maybe should be a default view given this experimental project.  that's the tree view i'm speaking of.  what?!  you haven't seen it?  do a search and then in the top there is a link to "tree view" -- click it now.

and there in lies the importance to me of tafiti.  a different experience on search.  you see, the default search results are just that -- default.  they give me a header and some initial text sorted (apparently in relevant order).

SIDENOTE: when i do a search in tafiti that is powered by live search (i thought) the search results are different then when i go to live.com.  hmmm...

here's where i think rich internet applications (beyond rich media experiences) have a real opportunity to excel...different visualizations of data.  why is that important?  well, i'll take it from my perspective as not to assume i speak for the rest of the human race.  for me, tafiti is good and there are some demonstrations of the platform of silverlight, etc. -- but for me at the end, it still is search.  until you see the tree view.  here's a look:

you see the tree view "grows" a tree out of the results (i'm still trying to understand the sort order, but for this purposes this is irrelevant).  each branch becomes a result and sways in the wind in front of you.  one could argue (i'll be that one) that this might not be the best demonstration of this visualization (because you want to see relevant data in searches displayed more prominently), but the point is that it is a different twist on an existing problem domain.  i find myself going back and playing with the tree view for the silverlight aspects, but also to see if it does make some sense from a presentation sense for the results...either way it has kept me engaged on something that is old hat: search.   and to me, that's where rich internet applications can excel.

let's take another example using this same paradigm, family trees.  i'm huge into genealogy.  i've researched my family as far back as i can take it without digging out old documents in libraries that i don't have access too.  my tool of organization for this has historically been personal ancestry file (affectionately referred to as PAF).  for the most part, PAF is an excellent tool and gets the job done.  pedigree charts can be rendered just like any other pedigree chart in every other online/offline application.  then came mix07 and my friend scott stanfield and his team at vertigo.  what did they do?  they took a different look at an existing problem domain.  the result?  family.show.  you see, they didn't re-invent genealogy nor the pedigree concept, but the provide me a new visualization of the information...keeping me engaged and wanting more as a user.  take a look:

they are showing my family tree as real people, not flowchart lines.  oh, and they give me instant clues as to what i'm looking at: the star is me, the line connecting my wife, the fact that we have children, my sister and the fact she has children.  oh, and bill, my half brother -- they even provide a view on that challenge of representing multiple lineages that intersect.  (note: i don't have a half brother, but added that here to show a point.)  another cool feature vertigo added was the timeline snap.  curious what the family tree looked like years before?  move the timeline:

notice the grayed out areas -- they aren't gone, but filter out in the background showing what the pedigree looked like at any given time.  sweet.  family.show has provided a new experience on an existing problem domain.  and in doing so has made it a rich experience, an engaging one, and one that gets me excited again about the topic.

so what's my point?  who knows really :-) -- in a nutshell it is bravo vertigo and tafiti, for providing some unique differences on existing scenarios.  thanks for helping me understand that "rich internet application" doesn't have to always mean "new idea" all the time.

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i'm now sitting in a session entitled "hello? is there a user in the house?" with .  amy is a user interface designer and has been around the block with regard to user centric design...something that is lacking in probably most software development processes.

here's some of my raw notes/thoughts.  if you've done user-centric design before, most of this will not be new.

creators == consumers (understand who they are building for because they are building for themselves) -- this is what makes some projects successful in the geek world -- we develop for what we want as we are the users.

lots of successful projects in open source...lots of unsuccessful.  unsuccessful because they aren't taking the user in mind.

ui design is primarily about interpretation, empathy, aesthetics and editing (most important).  how do you ensure a project makes sense: know your audience. using blogs, who is the user? author, reader, reader/author, stop-in/regular, lurker/commentor, consumers via APIs and syndication?

side note: someone is literally weaving some type of string in this session...weird...oscon is the only conference where i see this type of diversity (and people bringing their newborns).

here's some critical steps in involving the users' perspectives in design:

    • use persona for guiding your development process.  create the target users (and potential edge users).  define them well.
    • use task paths (use cases)...task paths have scenarios and goals. 
    • user interviews (subject matter experts) [what do you do now, use, when, what do you like/not, tell me about your day). 
    • observation and watching your users in their habitat. 
    • research.  look at competitiors, look at leaders in your space.
    • prototyping - use paper-based prototyping (audience member mentions DENIM).  before you write code, test some designs on paper, etc.  invest in changing drawings before you invest too much in changing code :-)

some audience members commented/questioned about changing designs of existing applications.  some good suggestions i heard:

    • gradual changes (if possible, i think in real world budgets and pointy-haired bosses this might not be easily accomplished) -- implement small, effective changes gradually rather than dump completely new experiences on the users
    • enable 'classic style' implementation.  this audience member pointed to when windows xp came out there was an option not to use the new design and get winxp but with the battleship gray user interface.

overall a good session.  i've hung around some folks that are really good at user interface/experience design and felt that i've already absorbed this information -- but it was clearly a good presentation solidifying that concept as well as it looked like a lot of people hadn't used it before.