Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Is Flex just a Fancy-Pants technology?

I had to comment on this entry. I usually don't post comments on other peoples blogs on my own blog, but this is worth getting into here.

The point he makes about building the user interface with the end user as the sole focus is absolutely true. I don't design a UI that is intended to just be sexy or flashy. The trick is, there are times when things that seem like they just add visual flash to an application do add value in terms of supporting user goals. For example, it might seem like it isn't important to animate a menu opening. However, the value is that that transition from closed state to open state serves to show the user how they got from point A to point B. It is the same as if you are riding in a car and close your eyes for a portion of the trip. When you open them,there is a period of "where the hell am I?" even if you recognize where you are after only a few seconds. Seeing how you got somewhere makes it easier to understand how to get back here the next time you need to as well as how to get back home.

If you have ever used a Mac you surely have noticed that minizing a window animates its transition to the dock. Just visual flash? Not really. If you have ever accidentally minimized a window, it would be obvious where it went because you see it go there.

This is a minor example. You get much more value from what seems to be visual flash if the task at hand is more complicated as long as that "flash" was added solely to support a user goal. The fact that he mentions AJAX or Flex as "Fancy-pants" really shows that the author doesn't entirely understand the value of Interaction Design. Perhaps his focus is on the HCM space, but that doesn't make you an expert on the best way to meet user goals. Suggesting that all applications should run inside Office or Google is rather silly. That is like saying that your toaster should make ice. Software is built hopefully to support user goals. Bolting on functions to support unrelated goals complicates the interaction for its original purpose and certainly doesn't give you the ability to focus solely on the new function's purpose. You automatically box yourself into a framework that isn't necessary. Also, chances are, users know how to use their web browser more than Office, so why not use a technology that is easiest to use by the target audience.

Not to long ago, it would have been easy to say "why do we need to invest in the fancy pants computer to do our HR tasks, why don't we just use paper since people use it everyday?"


Anonymous said...

Some good points. It's interesting to me how he rants about focusing on what's best for the user-experience, irregardless of technology, then eschews "fancy-pants" things like ajax and flex.

That right there is someone who may not serve the clients best interests, or the user.

I agree that the focus for an application should be on the user, and how they'll really interact vs. how we think they will. However, you should focus on meeting the needs of the user, irrespective of the technology. I agree that Flash and AJAX should not be used simply for the sake of it. However, there are definately situations where it can improve the user experience.

And as you mentioned with the animations, so too is the asthetic design of an application.

Ryan said...

User experience is def. the most important part of any application. But, Flex (even if it is fancy) is just a technology. Sure people will use it when they don't need to hurting their UX. But there are plenty of situations where Flex increases the UX. It's all about the developers/designers on the project not the tech.

Ryan said...

"It's all about the developers/designers on the project not the tech"

I should add, "and their communication with users"

Has anyone ever actually done UX work here? Or at least looked at a UX deliverable? Nowhere do they talk about a technology.

Alexander Marktl said...

One Word to make them quiet: iPhone

User Interface Design is everything. People want things to be flashy. The problem: To not make it look like weird you have to be really good (like Apple).