Prague and usability

If your buttons click with a gentle swoosh, your edges are neatly rounded, your colours and fonts are the forefront of the latest fashion, with just the right amount white space, and neat right click features, you may get a whole lot of praise from some parts of the blogosphere, and rightly so. Looking good is important.

I too, wish that our applications were prettier, and the user experience was a tad more engaging. But I’m not going to write a long rant here about how the next version will be better etc. It will be, because These guys and many others are working on it.

I was reminded today of a demo that I was involved about 9 years ago or so. It was in Prague, on a day much like this one. (photo from Aptronym’s excellent flickrstream)

Prague Castle (Pražský hrad)

The demo was for the Eastern European operations of a US multinational. The competition, an American vendor demoed first, and their GUI was the sweetest thing on the market at the time, fields were dragged and dropped, and graphics appeared as if by magic. The fellow doing the demo had flown in from California, and his Brooks Brother’s suit with wide lapels& pin stripe, shiny Johnson & Murphy oxfords, a crisp white shirt with button down collar, rather loud tie, and side parting cut a dapper swathe through a rather grey Prague. Apparently he spoke of reaching out, and of getting past first base. He spoke of global. of strategy, and domino effect succession planning trees.

Next up was SAP. We couldn’t drag fields around the screen, nor conjure up graphics out of thin air. But we had a cunning plan, borne out of desperation more than inspiration. I logged on and ran through the standard core HR demo, showing one grey screen after another without saying much at all. At the end of the demo all the Czechs in the audience clapped much more loudly than they did for the remarkably polished slick show that had gone on before me.

The difference was I’d logged on in Czech. Most of the fields I knew anyway, but SAP is pretty easy to navigate around with using numbers. (7 for Address, 8 for basic pay, 14-15 for deductions etc…) I then quickly logged on and showed a couple of screens in other languages for the Poles, Russians and the stray Italian in the audience. Then my Czech colleague explained in gory detail exactly how the Czech HR solution worked to the Czech Payroll manager. He ran a complete payroll simulation with the result in Czech Crowns and taxation.

This taught me several valuable lessons

1. Baseball metaphors don’t travel well.

2. Usability and look & feel aren’t the same thing.

3. Local functionality matters. Řešení SAP ERP HCM je navrženo pro globální podnikání, podporuje funkce pro výplatu mezd, regulační požadavky a obsahuje nejlepší zkušenosti z praxe pro více než 47 zemí.

4. Translators,Translators, Translators.

The reason why I’ve regaled you with a story from my presales days is that I was sent this fabulous song today by a former translator. The lyrics are brilliant. It is about the trials and tribulations of a translator here in bureaudisney. Turn it up loud.

To all the translators out there, wherever you work, Thanks and Respect.

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The demo jam recording.

A couple of weeks ago I promised to post the demo jam videos, but rather than use up all my wordpress quota, I’ll point you over to SDN, to Craig’s post. 

It is worth watching it all, as there is lots of very impressive stuff. Wii hands, Widgets, Semantics, Voice, Powerpoint bliss, Flex sweetness, ABAP Eclipse, IDE and of course Eddie. It also gives you a sense of the SAP community vibe.  Craig also has a screen cam of the the IDE demo for those interested in where ABAP might be heading.


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Boxes and Arrows…Richness.

I’ve just spent an evening on the Boxes and Arrows site, and I will need to spend many more there. It is a treasure trove of thinking on software design. 

Amongst others, I read this piece by Uday Gajendar,   What Does Rich Mean?  A Deeper Look at the Rich Experience, and I’d urge anyone who is interested in user interaction to read it too.

If we take the term Rich Internet Application, quickly abbreviate it to RIA, and label it as the latest cool technology, we miss the power of the term rich. Rich is not about funky buttons but about a better, deeper experience.

And therein lays the great burden and hope of designing for rich experiences. As arbiters of human attention, designers must ensure there is not an overload of superfluous, gratuitous richness that distracts users or makes a product difficult to use. Recognizing that every digital product is a rhetorical moment amplified by expressiveness can enable designers to tap into the promise of rich experience: Intelligently crafted, well-intentioned acts of communication that are emotionally satisfying and sensibly organized to meet user goals, thus becoming something memorable and valuable. Ultimately, that is what richness is about—connecting to those core human qualities that define our goals, values, and attitudes for living.

If people spend a good portion of their day interacting with our systems, I think we at least owe them that.

I’ll also be reading Uday’s blog from now on. 

Jawbone and Nespresso latte.

Readers of both this blog and dfof will be aware that I’m fond of my new toy, the Jawbone

On Saturday morning, while I was enjoying a bit of sunshine, the online papers and a latte,  a child of mine decided to baptise it in the aforementioned latte along with Thomas the Tank Engine.

It does say clearly on the operating instructions do not place in water, and I assume this goes for  frothy latte too. Not surprisingly it would not connect back to my phone, so I feared the worst. Alas, poor Jawbone, we knew him well.

But it dried out over the weekend, and it charged back up fine this morning. And gosh, it now it works.

At first it wasn’t perfect, with calls sounding rather tinny. But with each call it has improved, as if the latte is being slowly shaken out of the system. It managed a chat with James Governor without distorting, which is stress testing of the highest order.


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Talent Management, the perfect storm?

I just received a newsletter from London Business School. This is normally a good read.  I’ve blogged it today, not just because of the HR related topic area and I find Prof Ready an interesting fellow, but because they have embedded video into the newsletter, and have allowed easy distribution via GoogleVideo. Shock,horror, business schools giving away IP. Well, give away a little bit and you get a lot back. Voting embedded too.  2.0esque. Edgy filming.. What next?

Is talent management is the number one issue for CEOs?


Watch it and decide.

There is lots of interesting stuff in the vid, Emerging Markets, Talent Factories, the P&G story… Also it is strikingly similar to an article I found  here, in HBR with the self same Prof Ready.  I especially like the bit about vitality. Keeping systems vital, is, er, well, vital. Mapping functionality and vitality is pretty damn good advice.


(btw P&G run SAP and Taleo I believe.)


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Information R/evolution

Zoli’s blog prompted me to write something about Mike Wesch and his Social Anthropology course at Kansas State. This is coolness.

To this end, Wesch is launching the Digital Ethnography Working Group, a team of undergraduates exploring human uses of digital technology. Coinciding with the launch of this group, Wesch created a short video, “Web 2.0 … The Machine is Us/ing Us.” Released on YouTube on January 31st 2007, it quickly became the most popular video in the blogosphere and has now been viewed over 3 million times. Wesch has won several awards for his work with video, including a Wired Magazine Rave Award and the John Culkin Award for Outstanding Media Praxis from the Media Ecology Association. Along with other explorations of mediated culture, the Digital Ethnography working group is now studying video-blogging on YouTube, a project which was featured in The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Great use of the blog too.  Anyone who doubts the power of youTube as a marketing and educational tool should heed the Kansas State example. 

link for those who can’t view the embedded player.

I’d like to use this video at the focus workshop on the future of work. It is the best way of describing generation about to hit the workforce that I’ve seen yet. Brilliant stuff.

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