Saturday, November 07, 2009

Usability - Round II

I don't want to work
I want to bang on the drum all day
I don't want to play
I want to bang on the drum all day

-- From Todd Rundgren's "Bang On The Drum All Day"

I know i've been banging the drum lately about applications usability…and I want to do some more banging right now. There's a great opportunity for many Oracle customers, but most are missing out on it: user feedback sessions.

The Oracle Applications Usability Experience ("OAUE") team conducts user feedback sessions at many of the Oracle user conferences - I make it a point to attend each year during Oracle OpenWorld ("OOW") and Collaborate. It's time well-spent for three reasons: 1) you'll have some influence on the design of new Oracle products, 2) you'll also get some feel for Oracle's future direction in a particular product areas, and 3) it's fun! My own user feedback sessions (which were back-to-back) during OOW are prime examples.

My first session involved using a providing user feedback on an enterprise-wide search tool prototype. I was led through the session by Santosh Astagi, a Sr. Usability Engineer with Oracle. The tool itself had some very cool features, especially in the way one could filter searches or tailor the presentation of the results. I admittedly struggled with a few parts of the user script I was using, but Santosh repeatedly assured me that this was a no-pressure situation…even my struggles were valuable feedback. Working with the search tool was interesting and provided some food for thought to take home with me. I'm also thinking about firing my regular psychologist and having sessions with Santosh on a regular basis instead…he's better for my ego.

The second session was even more interesting, as I worked with a prototype User Assistance (or Help) search tool for Fusion Applications. It also felt pretty pressure-free, even though I was working in front of an audience of Oracle people from Laurie Pattison's crew: Joe Goldberg was the eye tracking moderator, Ultan O'Broin and Mindi Cummings both took notes (yeah, I'm so verbose that they needed TWO notetakers to keep up), Rhonda Nelson was the overall session moderator, and Laurie herself also sat in to watch the fun. Another pressure-free session - we got the work done and had lots of laughs along the way. This was another very interesting search tool, but the most fun came when I got a little "passionate" about breadcrumbs. One of the tasks from my script required the use of breadcrumbs in order to be resolved successfully - I failed to see the breadcrumbs until someone pointed them out to me (and they weren't called breadcrumbs, but some other term that just didn't stick with me). Once I stated that I never saw the breadcrumbs, Joe cranked up the trusty eye-tracker application, which shows where and how long my eyes dwelled at particular points on a web-page (geez, my inner geek gets excited just remembering this part of the session - this was serious fun). Turns out I spend quite a bit of time looking at the breadcrumbs, but they failed to register with me. We talked about call breadcrumbs breadcrumbs and about making them jump out at the user a bit more. Just a great session - I walked out pumped up, feeling like I really may have contributed something worthwhile…and the eye-tracking stuff was REALLY cool! You can see a picture of me hacking away, with Joe watching my eye-tracking patterns, here (thanks to Ultan for the pic).

These feedback sessions cut across a wide range of user types (at this past OOW, they even had a session for DBAs on a prototype patch application tool) so, whatever you do with Oracle Applications, there's probably a session well-suited for you. And the OAUE needs more participants in user feedback.

So, as I bang the drum, the takeaway I'm hoping to send you off with: the next time you attend an Oracle user conference, be sure to get in on one of the user feedback sessions. It'll be one of the highlights of your conference.

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