Thursday, May 05, 2011

"The Bridge": Day 3 (part 1)

Still no pictures yet, so this is Part 1 of Day 3.

Day 3 was crunch time; by 5:pm we were aiming to have a working prototype. Because we expanded our scope (rather significantly) and spent so much time on tangential (but very important and sometimes relevant) details, the idea of getting a working prototype seemed rather dubious. But I think we did it. To a degree.

Picking up where we left off, we started to tackle the actual UI design itself. We had already done a lot of work on Search, so we needed to focus on the SR part of it. I came in a little earlier and drew up my own mock ups - they are horribly cluttered, but I personally think they are kinda cool. :) Basically, my mockup capitalizes on the vast similarities between Search and Creating an SR; providing keywords (ie, title), a product (and version) and you can start going to town. Category is a bit tricky, and I will cover it a little more in the last paragraph, but if you can nail down Category you can potentially narrow down your Search (called "Task Intent") rather dramatically and better yet, you are primed to punch in and route an SR. So why not do both in parallel? Maybe even on the same screen. You start filling in information, and in one pane you start seeing search results aggregated by facets (like what Advanced Search does now, but much more dynamic and insta-search), while at the same time your "Create SR" button lights up. And maybe even a "Post to Forums" button. I briefly argued for this approach, and I readily admitted that the huge downside is that the screen gets very cluttered very fast. I think we adopted a hybrid (eg, compromise), where the "Related articles" shows up insta-matically in a somewhat unobtrusive region floating off to the side.

We did a couple of usability tests; frankly, I think we need specific "Usability Test" training to learn how to do these better. :) I was not entirely satisfied with the particular way we approached this topic. But the good news is that we discovered many holes in our current prototype. Late in the day, we voted and started to tackle some of the more critical (or easy-to-fix) issues. Near the top of that list was whether or not to display the entire SR Creation process as one page or multiple pages. Again, some were very concerned about cluttering the screen and wanted "screen-sized" sections. I want everything on one page. In the end I posited that the user should have a preference for how he/she wants to view this process. We will see what happens with that.

Actually, this topic consumed a bit of time. After we green-lighted the idea of multiple pages, we got to work going through several permutations of possible screen layouts. Again, I found it ironic that we kept coming back to a design that is very similar to what we have today in MOS. Granted, we are added a lot of behind-the-scenes features that auto-fills (and insta-searches) as much as possible - that is not to be overlooked. But our final "look and feel" does not diverge much from the current design, in my opinion. In fact, if I count correctly, our final design may actually look more complicated. It is hard to say without having a real GUI to step through. Even though it looks more complicated, we are actively working to allow the user to input as little as possible to get the SR filed.

I have mentioned this previously, but it bears repeating. We were very much biased by the current implementation. In some ways, we spent a huge chunk of time trying to "fix" and patch current brokeness, instead of redesigning from the ground up. This is not to say we did not think out of the box (or at least try to).  And right now as I type this, I cannot think of one single "out of the box" new thing we pushed. Maybe I am simply tired and not remembering well.

Another point of discussion that came up, and in retrospect I wished we spent more time on, is the current super-criticality of "categories". Currently, SRs are routed based on the sub-category (or category if no sub exists). These are currently filtered by which product one chooses. In our experience, choosing the most appropriate sub/category is often tedious and seems like a relatively useless step from the users point of view. We briefly talked about driving the sub/category off keywords in the Description field, and to be done in the "insta-search" way (you start typing, and the list of possible sub/categories to choose from grows smaller). But the bigger issue, in my opinion, is all about the routing in the first place. Oracle has placed a lot of emphasis on building automated logic to get the SR to a specialist team. I have a problem with that, at least how it is done currently. In my personal "Bleu Sky" vision (Day 1), I created a big easy "Create SR" button, with no requirements whatsoever. How the heck is that any good? Well, think about it, what happens? Rather, what if you changed the button to say "Chat with a human being"? By the end, we made comparisons to various other companies (ie, Amazon) that allows you to fill in call-back information, a computer actually calls you 1 second later, and then attempts to connect you to a live person. I love that concept!! As you can imagine, the managers and directors and support representatives at the meeting hated that idea. :) Yes, currently, it is hugely impractical - the IHub would be drowned to oblivion. Currently. But if we are thinking Utopian thoughts.... There are other ideas to simply routing. For instance, drastically reduce the number of routes. How? Well.... we didn't talk about that, yet. :)

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