A Peek Inside Oracle’s User-Centered Design
Author: Kristin Desmond, User Experience Architect – Oracle Applications User Experience
Oracle’s user experience research is about solving these kinds of problems. But it’s more than just skin-deep. It’s about looking thoroughly at how users want and need to do their work.
What is User-Centered Design?
Great design isn’t simply how cool something looks. Oracle’s true user-centered design process is a scientific method to help you get your job done. We take the time to observe users doing their jobs in real surroundings with their coworkers. We learn how you work, not just how you click. The result isn’t just a user interface; it’s a complete user experience.
Oracle makes a bold statement with this promise, which appeared on a company Web site banner. But what lies behind it? Is there really a method that can deliver a user experience that enables your users to be more productive, efficient, and effective? Oracle’s answer to that is “Yes!” Here is how we do it:
User-centered design, or UCD, is an approach and process in which the needs of the end user of the software are considered at each phase of the software development life cycle.
Oracle’s UCD focuses design solutions on how the user perceives the business process and business objects, rather than how the software is built technically. This approach ensures that Oracle is taking advantage of users’ already-learned mental models, rather than requiring them to adapt those models to accommodate how the system is designed. By doing this, we improve the efficiency and accuracy with which users work, and this improves overall productivity.
This is a fundamental shift in how enterprise applications are designed. Historically focused on maximizing value through the maximum number of features, Oracle’s next-generation enterprise applications are looking below the surface. Rather than the most features, we are designing applications around the best practice flows and features using a user-centered design process.
The Building Blocks of User-Centered Design
In Oracle’s UCD process, we conduct a complete research cycle to understand:
Who are the users?
What are their tasks?
What is the larger context of their work?
Integrating UCD into Software Development
In the UCD process, Oracle conducts a complete research cycle to understand:
Strategy: At the strategic stage, we seek to understand:
Oracle does a considerable amount of market research, and we make site visits to customers around the world to better understand how they would like to use software—and where we are not providing all that we could. We interview and survey our customers to collect their requirements. We use this data to craft a vision for where we think the user experience should go.
Release Planning: During release planning, we collaborate with development colleagues to ensure that the proposed scope of functionality provides a useful basis for users.
Requirements: The requirements phase is very active. Oracle conducts intensive interviews with end users. We refine our understanding of their characteristics, detail tasks and the larger processes to which they belong, and map out how the users fit within their larger business process.
Design: During design, the rubber hits the road. We lay out screens and screen flows, first at a “blueprint” or schematic level, then in interactive prototypes. We aggressively reach out to customers to collect feedback to make sure we’ve gotten it right. Products can receive a seal of approval at this step, or go through considerable re-design—all at very low cost because nothing is coded yet. If you’ve been a part of Oracle’s customer feedback sessions remotely, in our worldwide usability labs, or at various user group conferences, then you’ve helped shape our product.
Construct: As the software is being built, Oracle reviews the code to ensure that it is being built to design and that there is consistency and quality across the product suite.
Integrate and Test: During integration and testing, we bring end users back into the labs to work through task scenarios again, verifying that the coded design works for users. We follow the international standard Common Industry Format (CIF) testing guidelines (ISO/IEC 25062) and report task efficiency, effectiveness, and user satisfaction metrics.
Release: After the software is released, Oracle visits customer sites to observe and interview users and determine how the design holds up under real-world conditions. The data we collect during this phase feeds the next development cycle.
Supporting the Process
We didn’t get here overnight. During the past 15 years, Oracle has built an extensive infrastructure to support this process, starting with our ability to recruit a diverse set of users to our 18 global usability labs. Our database of end users is available for in-lab or remote testing around the world. Our UX Customer Participation Program with customers gives us access to a cross-industry and cross–product family group of users that is second to none. And we have a highly refined set of design guidelines that are based on more than a decade of research and experience.
It takes the best minds. Some companies might have faltered during the complexity of acquisitions. Oracle was strengthened. The Oracle Applications User Experience group is a blended family of design and user research talent ranging from PeopleSoft to E-Business Suite to JD Edwards to Siebel. We have retained the top talent to get the job done right.
Your Productivity is Our Bottom Line
Why has Oracle invested these kinds of resources? So our customers attain the bottom line.
We created this user-centered design process, built these labs, and conducted rigorous testing -- all for one single purpose: to help you get the job done right. By focusing on how business users need to work, understanding what information they need to be most effective, and generating designs that are easy to use, your employees get their work done faster, more efficiently, and ultimately with higher productivity.
Oracle Applications User Experience is all about looking deeply to help you gain maximum value from your Oracle investment.