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Oracle Fusion Applications
 
Design Process for Fusion Applications Creates New Standard for User Experience

 

Kathy Miedema

Author: Kathy Miedema, Oracle Applications User Experience
Revised: April 3, 2012
First published: January 10, 2011




The innovations around the process of building Oracle Fusion Applications aren’t just on the outside, where customers can see and experience them. Oracle has had many opportunities to give the inner workings of Fusion Applications a lift in quality as well, as shown through the consistency of design and, ultimately the user experience, of this highly integrated suite of enterprise applications.

 
 
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During the creation of the revolutionary software, Fusion, the Oracle Applications User Experience (UX) team has introduced many new or improved processes into designing a software application. The way in which design patterns – or reusable user experience solutions to common problems – were organized was part of that process, says Jeremy Ashley, Vice President of Oracle Applications User Experience, and George Hackman, Senior Director of Operations User Experience.

“We’ve been very persistent and organized – that’s why we’ve been successful”
– Jeremy Ashley,
Vice President of Oracle Applications User Experience

Design patterns, Hackman says, are the templates that designers use to create a consistent work flow in a software application. Using such patterns is nothing new. Design patterns were first found in the field of architecture, but their use has become widespread in the user interface field. Now, you can find design pattern books and templates on Yahoo or Amazon.

The Applications UX team took the idea of consistent, frequently validated design patterns to the next level. They created an entire Web site dedicated to Oracle developers who were designing Fusion, organizing all of the patterns they might use and testing both the patterns and the Web site to make sure that all fit the requirements designers had in order to make them useful.

 
 
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“We’ve been very persistent and organized – that’s why we’ve been successful,” Ashley said. “With Fusion, we’ve had the opportunity to build software much more like a traditional product – a phone, a car, a building – where an architect or a designer was there to validate the design before anything was built.”

Ashley said the Applications UX team spent two years researching and testing Fusion applications before any code was ever written.  “We are the first company that’s managed to produce a software suite of this size, and we’ve managed to do so much user experience and testing before anything was coded,” he said. Oracle was undergoing a series of acquisitions at the beginning of the process, which included PeopleSoft and Siebel, so there was an influx of team members as usability engineers and designers from other companies joined Oracle.  “We got all these people, and we took advantage and got to work. Executives just let us get on with what we were doing, and it had the happy effect of us going through an ideal product cycle,” Ashley said.

Design Innovations in Fusion

Hackman said the process began in 2005, when the Applications UX team started taking the concept of using patterns to build software and figuring out to how to apply it to the Fusion user experience. “It resonated really well with us, just based on the fact that we knew we would have a lot of work flows that we would have to support. Applying patterns to parts of the flow where reusable solutions could be used allowed us to focus on what should be unique for the product,” he said.

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Photo by Martin Taylor, Oracle Applications User Experience

George Hackman, left, and Jeremy Ashley, who leads the Oracle Applications User Experience team, participate in a discussion at Oracle’s Redwood Shores, California, headquarters.

The Applications UX team studied work flows that were planned, figured out what patterns could be used, and began designing patterns where there was an opportunity to set Fusion apart from other software applications. The patterns all went through usability testing and were validated by typical users who knew the work flows that Fusion aimed to provide. Developers also looked at the patterns to make sure they were completely buildable.

Then Oracle’s Applications UX team members dug a little deeper and performed research on their own designers, so the team could create the most efficient way to present the patterns. “We did sessions with developers where we asked them what they were looking for, and the thing they brought up again and again was that they really wanted to search effectively,” Hackman said. To meet this request, the usability team spent a lot of time making sure the global search tool worked well, as the pattern information was organized into an online library, called Fusion GPS (Guidelines, Patterns, and Standards). In the end, Hackman said, there were more than 150 patterns on the Fusion GPS Web site.

“We have the patterns organized in a hierarchy that you can drill down into,” Hackman said. “We also have a design pattern filter tool, where a developer can filter down through the list of patterns by choosing the user type and task for a particular job the user needs to finish.”

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The DEFT tool offers developers support for choosing patterns.

A Boost for Developer Productivity

Ashley says that creating a library of design patterns meant fewer bugs were introduced into the development process. “It sped up the whole development process, and that required less time – by reducing bugs, and giving better-quality solutions. It also gave developers time to concentrate on what made the product special, rather than spending their time fixing tiny little bugs,” he said.

Using validated patterns, and then being able to reuse those patterns throughout the work flows of Fusion applications, helped to streamline the time it took to design and develop Fusion Applications.

But the availability of the DEFT tool went even further in providing support for developers.  The tool allows a developer to focus in on one or two patterns by simply checking off boxes about the intended user and his or her task, which speeds the task of finding patterns. The tool helps ensure that a developer chooses the correct pattern for a work flow, based on knowledge gathered from research about the intended user and his or her task.

The Benefit to Customers

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Illustration by Katy Massucco, Oracle Applications User Experience

This illustration shows how patterns fill in parts of a typical work flow. In these examples, the “Search for” and “Edit” patterns are used, even though the work flows are in different pillars of Fusion Applications. This helps increase consistency across the pillars.

Why is this behind-the-scenes story important to customers?

Oracle’s Applications UX team wants customers to know that the patterns used in Fusion Applications are tested, proven commodities with validated usability interactions. These design patterns are an integral part of the story about Fusion Applications, and because of the work that went into validating them and making sure they have been used properly, Fusion work flows are very consistent. Any usability improvements a user sees in one work flow will be present in similar flows where the same design pattern was used.

Ashley said that customers will certainly benefit from the increased usability that goes along with consistency. Ultimately, that increased usability means improved productivity, because a user spends less time on training and enjoys new efficiency in finishing work tasks.

 



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