Editor’s note: For posterity’s sake, I’m reposting some content that we created during our time at Oracle. These statements and views are those of the author and do not reflect those of Oracle’s current user experience organization.
Designing for What’s Not Yet Here
Designing for emerging technologies means seeing how these technologies can help solve user problems in the enterprise and turn invention into innovation. Because design is somewhere at the intersection of people, technologies, and business, designing for what’s emerging is like solving an equation with three unknowns. What capabilities will the new technologies bring? What users will evolve as adopters? What business models will grow around it?
Three methods help in designing for what’s not yet here: juxtaposition, iteration, and drawing outside the lines.
Juxtaposition is the art of bringing two things from different contexts together to see what kind of chemistry will happen. At the simplest level, a designer might take a recent trend from the consumer space and apply it to an enterprise use case to see what will happen.
For example, we tried applying the experience of using a zoomable mapping app to the project-planning domain. This led to the Project Mapper, an interactive visualization for large projects that lets users see the entire project in two dimensions and then zoom in on details in ways difficult for traditional tools, such as a Gantt Chart.
The final user experience provided not only better access to details but also a global understanding of an overall project, hard to achieve with earlier tools. This is the kind of synergy we look for when using juxtaposition.
Iteration is usually associated with continuous improvement rather than innovation, but we have learned that deep iteration can lead to breakthroughs.
Taking an idea and playing with it, making hundreds of incremental changes with no predetermined goal, can lead to surprising outcomes.
Drawing outside the lines starts by defining the boundaries of a product definition, a task definition, or a user definition. Since those boundaries are almost always fuzzy, we push them just a bit further, adding features not normally seen in such products, gathering more data about the user’s context to simplify the task flow, etc. This method is very helpful in finding sweet spots in the innovation cycle, areas of possibility that are neither self-evident nor too far out.
Here are a few examples of projects that use this method.
The Welcome App was one of Oracle’s first detailed iPad prototypes. It replicated the functionality of the desktop welcome page using tablet paradigms, which seemed unusual at first, including swipeable cards in swim lanes instead of tables and reformatting based on orientation.
The Mountain visualization places a colorful mountain-climber infographic into a sales compensation dashboard. The concise visualization represents a sales representative climbing toward the goal. When the rep exceeds the goal, the climber floats above the summit in a balloon. A team performance view for a manager offers an at-a-glance comparison showing where each individual is.
The Interactive Pipeline took a normal bar chart and turned it upside down to show both gains and losses in staged processes, like sales and recruitment.
We expanded the “Glance” smartwatch project definition (to display enterprise notifications on a watch) to include context such as schedule, location, and priorities. The goal was to ensure that only timely and important notifications would show up on the watch.
The goal in user experience design with emerging technologies is always to find early indications of new techniques and technologies that may prove useful to Oracle’s enterprise customers. As computing pioneer Alan Kay famously observed, the best way to predict the future is to invent it.
These efforts at invention are always grounded and guided by an understanding of the users. We work closely with researchers on the team to better understand the challenges that Oracle customers face. We test early concepts in focus groups, test prototypes, and continue testing throughout the design process.
All of our projects start, continue, and end with user research.
That way, prototyping and development are also inseparable from our design process. An act of building out an idea into a visible, tangible form brings up all of the details that the mind had overlooked, be they feasibility, design, or usability. For more on that, read the next article.