Oracle Usable Apps | Applications User Experience Simplicity, mobility, extensibility

Why does Oracle’s user experience team strive to ask questions that are unbiased?
Oracle user experience (UX) professionals often find themselves asking customers questions about their requirements, preferences, and experiences using Oracle software. UX professionals are skilled at knowing how to ask questions that are neither leading nor biasing in order to solicit honest feedback. For example, after watching a customer use a new feature, a UX professional might ask, “Were you or were you not able to accomplish your work?” This allows the customer to frame a response that is either positive or negative. A question such as “Did you like using that feature?” might lead the customer to say only something positive. Another technique would be to say something like, “Tell me about your experience using that feature.” This statement is called a “curious command” and has the advantage of avoiding putting customers on the spot by asking a direct question.
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What’s the difference between ease of learning and ease of use?
When you go to your favorite ATM for much-needed cash and find that the bank has installed a new machine, you may have some difficulty understanding changed menu options or new features. Most often, these problems are overcome after one or, at most, two tries. They are examples of initial ease-of-learning problems. If they become barriers that block customers from achieving a goal, the product fails no matter how great a benefit its new features potentially have so it is important for designers to eliminate them. Some usability problems, however, persist. A button or a link in the middle of a screen can be difficult to find every time. That kind of ease-of-use problem slows a customer down every time and can be frustrating. The Oracle Applications User Experience team works to eliminate both ease-of-learning and ease-of-use problems from making their way into Oracle software. The team’s goal is to prevent these problems from reaching customers by reviewing screens and conducting usability tests of Oracle products before they are released.
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How do you choose test participants at Oracle? Can I be a participant in an Oracle usability study?
The Oracle user experience (UX) team conducts hundreds of activities during the course of a typical year. These activities include visits to customer sites, and asking customers to come to an Oracle facility for group and one-on-one sessions. Team members also talk to customers on the phone, sometimes while sharing images of their desktops online, to discuss new screen designs. Customers often enjoy these experiences because they provide a chance to offer feedback about developing products. When the UX team solicits customer input, it creates a set of screening questions to ask potential candidates. The questions ensure that the candidates fit the profile of typical end users of the product under development. For example, while developing an accounts payable application, a team member may want to talk with an accounts payable professional who works for a public sector organization and who has experience managing invoices that have been automatically scanned. The goal is to find people who need the features that the new product will provide and who have the skills, knowledge, and experience of typical users of that product. If you are interested in participating in UX team activities see Get Involved.
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What is a usability test at Oracle?
The Oracle user experience (UX) team has several methods for evaluating the ease of learning and use, in short, the usability, of new software. In most cases, these methods are applied before products are released in order to catch any problems early. A usability test is a one-on-one session in which a typical user of a developing product, often an Oracle customer, works with a UX team professional to assess how well the product design works. Users who participate are asked to work on realistic tasks while the UX professional watches and records such activities as task successes and any errors that occur. The professional also asks users about their impressions of how the product works and their preferences for design options. The data from several individual sessions are combined to provide a reliable list of both the strengths and weaknesses of the design. The UX professional then works with other members of the development team to keep what works and change what does not. A re-test often follows with a different set of users to ensure that the changed design has fixed any problems.
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What is an Oracle usability lab?
A usability lab is a facility for testing the ease of learning and use, in short, the usability, of Oracle software with customers or potential customers. Oracle has 18 labs located in seven locations worldwide, including labs in India and the United Kingdom. A typical lab consists of two adjoining rooms: a participant’s room and an observer’s room. In the participant’s room, an Oracle customer uses software that is under development. In the observer’s room, a user experience (UX) team member talks with the customer using an intercom and observes the participant’s interaction with the software. The customer’s background, typically the job they perform and their level of computing experience, is matched with the requirements for the software. The UX team member recruits customers who match the needed background and invites them to come to the lab. The data from these sessions is then combined with data from sessions with other customers to enhance the software before it is released.
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What is remote usability testing at Oracle?
Until about the year 2000, usability testing was conducted in a specially constructed lab. Since then, desktop sharing and Web conferencing have become dramatically more powerful and easy to use. These improvements have made it possible for testing to be done remotely. In a typical example, an Oracle Applications User Experience (UX) team member contacts a customer by e-mail or phone to arrange a convenient time for a session. The customer then calls into a toll-free phone conference. The UX team member shares his or her desktop with the customer using Web-based sharing software. The customer is able to perform tasks with software under development and talk with the UX team member about his or her impressions and preferences. The advantage of remote testing to customers is that they do not have to leave their office and they can use their own computer for the session. The advantage to UX team members is that they are not limited to the local area to find relevant customers. They can reach any customer who has a phone and an Internet connection, which greatly expands the pool of available customers who can participate in tests. This remote testing capability allows more customers to provide feedback in product development.
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Why talk to Oracle customers where they work?
Oracle user experience (UX) teams often go to customers’ workplaces to talk with them about how they do their work. Why? First, people often are more relaxed in their office than in a conference room or at an Oracle facility. Second, there is a substantial volume of research that shows that the quality of an interview about how a customer does his or her work is enhanced when it is conducted at the workplace. Customers’ descriptions of what they do are less abstract and more detailed when they can demonstrate how they use products at their own workstation or pull out a report they were just working on. Finally, UX team members have the opportunity to ask customers for work samples, such as documents they create. When customers talk about their tasks in the context in which they happen, they often are reminded about critical incidents that occurred or how they were doing several activities at once. UX team members sometimes take pictures of work spaces and the contents of sticky notes that enrich their understanding of all of the tools customers need to accomplish their work. UX team members agree that it is always informative to meet customers at their workplaces, especially because of the unexpected findings that come from being in that setting.
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How did user experience research develop?
 “User Experience (UX)” is a modern term that describes the quality of the interaction of people and technology in its broadest terms. The roots of UX research go back to World War II, when military personnel were being asked to use complex technology for the first time. The people who studied the skills and capabilities of people and how they used technology became known as human factors professionals. They started their own society in 1957. In 1982, a special-interest group in human-computer interaction, called SIGCHI, was formed within the Association of Computing Machinery. That group focused on the study of people and computers, which was just coming into focus as computers spread from computer centers to terminals that let an average person interact with them. About 10 years later, the Usability Professionals’ Association (UPA) was formed. At that time, most professionals working in the field identified themselves as “usability engineers,” a term that emphasized the applied, practical tradeoffs that product development requires. Around 2000, the broader concept of user experience came into use with its emphasis on the quality of all of the touch points between a customer and a company that provides services or products.  See the User Experience Network for more.
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How do user experience methods differ from market research methods?
Both user experience (UX) and market research professionals solicit feedback from product users about their needs and their assessment of the quality of products. Until recently, the two professions used different but overlapping methods. UX professionals, who are focused on the ease of usability of a product, developed methods in which a small sample of customers perform tasks with products under observation and are asked in-depth questions about their perceptions of product quality. Market research methods, however, involve large samples of users and focus on customers’ preferences and opinions. The methods from the two professions also yield different types of data. Usability methods tend to produce many different measures, such as task time, errors, and ratings, that need to be combined to assess product designs. Market research methods tend to produce large volumes of data that require complex statistical analysis. Recently, the two professions have begun to converge, both wanting to assess the whole user experience with products. UX professionals often use larger samples to obtain information beyond usability such as how customers experience the branding and emotional qualities of products. Market research professionals gather more detailed information from customers about their needs and how products fit into their lives.
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What is a prototype and how is it useful?
Source: Dhayan Kumar, Oracle Applications Unlimited User Experience

Navigation Flow (top row)
Paper Prototype (second row)
Wire Framing (third row)
High-Fidelity Prototype (fourth row)
Before the 1990s, the only way to verify that a software application worked was to build it and then test it. When the testing of the ease of learning and use of a product was performed, it was often too late to make major changes because the changes were too costly and time-consuming. Flexible prototyping tools have removed those limitations and are heavily used at Oracle. A prototype is a model or representation on which a final product is based. For example, a prototype of an airplane wing can be used in a wind tunnel to measure how air will flow around it. A software prototype also is a representation of one or more aspects of a product. User interface prototypes represent the part of the product that users see and interact with, such as screens and buttons. The prototype can be relatively static, such as drawings on paper of what screens might look like. Interactive prototypes are created with software tools that allow designers and potential users to click on buttons or links and move between screens. Prototypes may have nothing behind them, that is, they may not accomplish any work. They just look like they do. The value of prototypes is that they allow Oracle User Experience professionals, who frequently are experts at prototyping, to explore alternative user-interface designs and show the designs to customers to get feedback. Because Oracle prototypes save time and allow exploration of alternative designs, they allow development teams to create higher quality products and move them into the market more quickly.
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What does agile development mean to Oracle customers?
Agile software development is being used by Oracle on some of its new applications. The agile movement gained its momentum from a 2001 meeting of software developers who were exploring this new approach.

An agile process focuses on rapid coding of a software product by successive segments. A team works together, preferably at the same facility, to code a segment of a product, then test it for bugs before moving on to the next segment. The goal is to produce working code rapidly, rather than following a serial process that is heavily documented, sometimes called a waterfall process. Each section in an agile process often is completed in 2 to 4 weeks. Oracle uses this development process to get its applications to customers more quickly. The challenge for the user experience (UX) team is to integrate itself into Oracle’s agile process and to bring customer feedback into it without slowing the rapid progress. They accomplish this by planning and preparing their activities ahead of the coding team, conducting less formal usability tests, and reporting results as soon as a test is done. In agile development, the pace is fast, but the UX team agrees that producing quality software more quickly is worth the effort.
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What happens with the feedback the user experience team collects?
The Oracle Applications User Experience (UX) team collects data both at customer sites and in Oracle’s usability labs. The UX team member who conducts these activities usually is working with a product development team on a new or enhanced application. The UX team member tabulates the data, analyzes it, and prepares a summary with recommendations. The whole development team then is briefed on the results, which is followed by a discussion about how best to implement the recommendations. The UX team member has two goals at these meetings: advocate for Oracle customers, and negotiate the best solutions within the objectives for the product and the constraints under which it must work.
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How does Oracle design user interfaces?
The Oracle Applications User Experience (UX) team follows a systematic process when it designs the user interface to applications. The user interface is the part of the software that customers see and interact with. The process begins by identifying the people who will use the product, what they will use it for, and under what conditions they will use it. In addition, the product’s business requirements are matched with the customer’s goals. The UX team then begins to create a design concept for the user interface. Prototypes of the screens and interactions are created and customers are asked to provide feedback. More iterations of the look and feel of the interface are explored as the design is fleshed out. Near the end of the process, a final industry standard usability test is conducted to verify that the product meets user-interface goals. For more information about user-interface design in industry, visit the Web site for the Usability Professionals’ Association.
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