Oracle Usable Apps | Applications User Experience Simplicity, mobility, extensibility
   
 
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Design for the Mobile Experience

Author: Brent White, Principal Interaction Designer – Oracle Applications User Experience
Co-Author: Lynn Rampoldi-Hnilo, Manager, Mobile User Experience – Oracle Applications User Experience

Revised: March 16, 2009
First published: Nov. 15, 2007




An Evolving Workforce

The way we look at work is changing — it is no longer defined by one locale or by long, focused periods of effort.

Whether working from home, in transit, or on location, today’s workforce is more productive while mobile than ever before. And enterprising companies provide the appropriate tools and software to meet the work style of this evolving workforce, whether it is for recent graduates, who may not use fixed telephone lines and grew up operating in a mobile context, or adapters of the mobile lifestyle, who integrate mobile communication devices to stay in touch with family, friends, and the office.

For Oracle, understanding how to optimize the work quality, productivity and efficiency of our customers’ work and life styles is fundamental to the success of the next generation of mobile applications. As technologies improve screen resolution, connection speeds, device management, battery life, and user interactions, the previous limitations of mobile devices are receding. The challenge for us, as designers and usability engineers, is to understand mobile enterprise workers, the context in which they use their devices, and the key tasks they need and want on their handheld devices.

Design Challenges

Design differences for mobile applications as opposed to desktop applications are significant. Some of the characteristics of mobile users include completing tasks in short spurts, often being on the move, and being distracted by changes in the physical environment.

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A person using a mobile device while waiting for a train needs tasks to be succinct, easily recoverable, and fast.

For instance, a person completing a form while waiting for a train may have to negotiate a crowd when the train arrives. By the time he enters the train and finds a seat, he may have forgotten his next step. Therefore, tasks need to be succinct, easily recoverable, and fast — taking less than a few minutes to complete.

Mobile applications are not just an extension of desktop applications; they also support constant updates, decision-making, and even data entry. With lower costs, portability, and better computing power, mobile devices have become a platform for providing analytics, such as performance metrics for sales professionals, forms to capture car accident pictures, data for insurance adjusters, and stock price alerts for brokers.

Whether connected or disconnected, Oracle’s customers need to complete their tasks and work seamlessly with corporate databases.

When Oracle’s designers transition from desktop to mobile design, they often focus first on constraints. However, mobile devices provide design interactions that are not possible on a desktop computer. For example, many phones that come with GPS can tell a customer where he is, reducing data input required for driving directions and location-based searches.

Mobile devices can use audio and vibration to alert users while they are attending to other tasks. Collaboration and communication continue to be central to the mobile experience; incorporating SMS (Short Message Service), MMS (Multimedia Message Service), and phone calls can make task completion more efficient.

For instance, when regional sales managers are reviewing results by store location, they may scroll to a specific store and call the store manager by clicking a dial button. Designers of mobile applications must be constantly vigilant in seeking opportunities to leverage the mobile device’s form factor, or size and display orientation, voice, touch, GPS, and SMS/MMS.

The experience of using mobile applications significantly affects satisfaction, productivity, and motivation to continue usage. These design principles are fundamental to maximizing the adoption of Oracle’s next generation of mobile solutions.

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Oracle Corporation

Designers use multiple modalities such as touch, sound, and vision to aid the completion of tasks on mobile devices.

Oracle's 10 Mobile Design Principles

  1. Contextual design. Mobile applications are used in trains, on oil platforms, in warehouses, and in taxicabs. Designs must work in the target work environment and maximize context awareness of the mobile device. A GPS-enabled device that tells a saleswoman  exactly where she is on a map helps her attend her next appointment on time. A device that reads information about an asset, such as details of the last service, helps a technician bring the right parts and make the right repairs. Looking forward, integration of biometrics can affect how a user is identified when logging in to online banking or how a remote patient is treated after a DNA analysis.

  2. Defining the essential mobile task. A mobile application must be reduced to the essential task or tasks. Therefore, the predesign phase requires a sharper knife to eliminate all but the essential mobile tasks. When porting an existing application, the key task for the desktop may be quite different from that of the mobile. Mobile applications are frequently reduced to one task, such as posting pictures or creating contacts, which is represented by one icon and referred to as a widget.

  3. Multiple modalities: Designers use multiple modalities such as touch, sound, and vision to complement the completion of tasks. These let a salesperson append notes about a potential lead by speaking and saving notes into a mobile device. For a work list, assigning different types of alerts, depending on priority, helps a user give tasks priorities. For example, a high-priority item might trigger a vibration in the mobile device, or a low-priority item might send an alert via a message. Multiple modalities also might enable a user to ask a question, such as “Where is my next appointment?” and the device responds by navigating to and displaying the information.

  4. Flattened navigation model: Users should not have to traverse deep structures to find a task. Designers can flatten the navigation model for quick access to key task flows. Once a user navigates to the place where she can begin her work, designers seek to provide a clear understanding of where she is and how she can get back to where she started. Instead of having a user log in, access a section, find an object, and then perform a task, this design principle identifies and locates access to the mobile task immediately after login.

  5. Three-minutes-to-get-it-done mobile work style: Typically, mobile devices are used in short bursts, while personal computers are used for extended work sessions. Because users on mobile devices need to get to the work faster and complete it more quickly, they have less room to make errors.

  6. Simple search: A search must make use of context from a specific area of the application, and that context must be quickly accessible. If a user is on an inventory screen within a handheld application and initiates a search for an item, all results should relate to inventory attributes. The location where the search is executed automatically informs the context and criteria for the search results. Additional search criteria input should be limited to a small amount of data entry.

  7. Collaboration: Designers embed collaboration into workflows, and include triggers to call a person, use SMS (Simple Message Service), and use instant chat. The proliferation of e-mail, instant messaging, and Web-conferencing within the work environment demonstrates the increased importance of collaboration in relation to productivity and work quality. Mobility extends this trend by keeping coworkers in contact more often and in more places.

  8. Progressive disclosure: Screen real estate is precious on handheld devices, so designers must carefully consider the type and quantity of data displayed. Information and actions must be summarized with concise writing and basic overviews, and then details and further actions should become available in drill-down pages and panels. Information disclosure is used in Web 2.0 applications, such as airline systems, where flight listings include additional chunks of embedded details, such as the type of plane and an air route’s layover cities. An example of feature disclosure is used by mobile e-mail programs that simplify functions in the overview interface and require a user to first select an e-mail and then provide functions for reply, delete, forward, and so on from the resulting e-mail details screen.

  9. Business intelligence. Analytics and business intelligence are not limited to the desktop. Mobile users need analytics that work for small screens. A regional sales manager might see a screen that highlights store locations with the biggest sales data from last quarter or last year. A color-coded grid of locations versus key metrics draws attention to good, moderate, and bad situations.

  10. Integration with native device. Designers translate this principle this way: If it already exists, don’t design it again. A mobile user should be able to create a calendar event and have that information translate to Oracle application data. Likewise, events in an Oracle application should appear on the corresponding native application for the calendar, e-mail, and so on of the device.
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Oracle Corporation

Oracle researchers follow both mobile business and consumer users to observe how they use their handhelds.

Building Usability into Mobile Applications

Usability is a core theme for the next generation of Oracle mobile applications. We are fully committed to understanding the mobile workforce, the key tasks they complete, how they merge their work and personal lives on their devices, and in which contexts they use their devices. Background research with current and potential customers is important to make sure that strategic and design directions will meet business goals and customer needs.

A three-phase research program, currently under way, is comprised of product evaluation, customer interviews, and ethnographic research. 

Product evaluation. We are assessing current Oracle mobile applications and best-of-breed mobile applications using a set of heuristics derived from the design principles above. The goal of this research is to determine what works well and should be used in future designs.

In-depth interviews. We want to engage customers who have implemented mobile solutions, who would like to implement them, and who have chosen not to implement them to understand business needs and motivations. In these discussions, we talk with strategic decision-makers to understand their company’s mobile implementations or the reasons they haven’t been implemented, and discern their future mobile plans, mobile culture, and what’s missing from their mobile offerings.

Ethnographic research. We follow both mobile business and consumer users to observe and identify the context of mobile usage, types of tasks completed, types of users, mobile perceptions, and unexpected usage of applications and devices. This study is conducted in three countries: the United States, a key business user market; Japan, a cutting-edge market; and India, an emerging market, to ensure that diverse cultures and users are represented.

This research program informs the Mobile User Experience team about the mobile workforce, customer direction, the mobile context, and what users may expect, need, or want in their handheld applications and devices. From there, our team will develop a set of user experiences and interface interactions that lead to compelling applications that empower mobile enterprise users and provide a competitive advantage.

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