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  • User experience improvements in Composition Center SP5

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Friday 10 December, 2010
Anna Carlsson Anna Carlsson StreamServe Employee
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This article will describe new features in Composition Center from an end user's perspective, how you as and end user will get a better user experience with some of the new implemented features in SP5.

Describing new features from a usability perspective

Dr Jacob Nielsen is one of the "gurus" in usability, especially regarding web design. On his website www.useit.com he talks a lot about web usability.

Among other things he has developed a list of 10 usability heuristics, ten general principles for user interface design. I will use these heuristics as the starting point to describe changes implemented in Composition Center.

This is what the ten principles are:

1. Visibility of system status
The system should always keep users informed about what is going on, through appropriate feedback within reasonable time.

2. Match between system and the real world
The system should speak the users' language, with words, phrases and concepts familiar to the user, rather than system-oriented terms. Follow real-world conventions, making information appear in a natural and logical order.

3. User control and freedom
Users often choose system functions by mistake and will need a clearly marked "emergency exit" to leave the unwanted state without having to go through an extended dialogue. Support undo and redo.

4. Consistency and standards
Users should not have to wonder whether different words, situations, or actions mean the same thing. Follow platform conventions.

5. Error prevention
Even better than good error messages is a careful design which prevents a problem from occurring in the first place. Either eliminate error-prone conditions or check for them and present users with a confirmation option before they commit to the action.

6. Recognition rather than recall
Minimize the user's memory load by making objects, actions, and options visible. The user should not have to remember information from one part of the dialogue to another. Instructions for use of the system should be visible or easily retrievable whenever appropriate.

7. Flexibility and efficiency of use
Accelerators -- unseen by the novice user -- may often speed up the interaction for the expert user such that the system can cater to both inexperienced and experienced users. Allow users to tailor frequent actions.

8. Aesthetic and minimalist design
Dialogues should not contain information which is irrelevant or rarely needed. Every extra unit of information in a dialogue competes with the relevant units of information and diminishes their relative visibility.

9. Help users recognize, diagnose, and recover from errors
Error messages should be expressed in plain language (no codes), precisely indicate the problem, and constructively suggest a solution.

10. Help and documentation
Even though it is better if the system can be used without documentation, it may be necessary to provide help and documentation. Any such information should be easy to search, focused on the user's task, list concrete steps to be carried out, and not be too large.

So, what are the changes done in Composition Center?

1.     Visibility of system status

The system should always keep users informed about what is going on, through appropriate feedback within reasonable time.

Enhancements in SP5:

image

When a metadata used in a resource or a document definition has been removed in DesignCenter warnings are displayed in Composition Center to make the user aware that resources and/or document definitions will be affected. You will see the warnings on the start page, on the manage document definitions page, on the manage resources page and within the document structure itself – like in the text editor where a metadata is used.

2.     Match between system and real world

The system should speak the users' language, with words, phrases and concepts familiar to the user, rather than system-oriented terms. Follow real-world conventions, making information appear in a natural and logical order.

Enhancements in SP5:

Apart from working a lot on terminology we have tried to make the GUI itself follow the way other well-known applications work.

Manage resources page and Manage Document definitions page have gone through a remake. We have introduced a navigation pane similar to the one used in Outlook. This will make it easier to navigate between the pages.

imageimage 

The pages also now both have a tree folder structure to the left and details of the selected item to the left. Much like both Outlook and Windows Explorer have, which is more or less a standard look and behavior that we wanted Composition Center to have as well.

image

   

 

3.     User control and freedom

Users often choose system functions by mistake and will need a clearly marked "emergency exit" to leave the unwanted state without having to go through an extended dialogue. Support undo and redo.

Enhancements in SP5:

We have not done any specific changes in SP5. As in previous versions there are always possibilities to cancel operations and go back.

 

4.     Consistency and standards

Users should not have to wonder whether different words, situations, or actions mean the same thing. Follow platform conventions.

Enhancements in SP5:

Apart from words, we have tried to align GUI elements too.

Manage resources and Manage Document definitions pages are now more aligned in their look. You will have the same options of organizing your work into folders etc.

All toolbars now have icons. The fonts used in the application are consistent everywhere, button placement in dialogs and confirmations are placed consistently throughout the application.

Folders

 image

We have introduces the concept of folders to make it easier to organize your content for better overview and flexibility. You can name them anything you want. You can organize both resources and document definitions into folders, much like you can create folders and subfolders in Windows Explorer. The behavior and look should be consistent with what you as a user have in other applications.

 

5.     Error prevention

Even better than good error messages is a careful design which prevents a problem from occurring in the first place. Either eliminate error-prone conditions or check for them and present users with a confirmation option before they commit to the action.

Enhancements in SP5:

The metadata impact (see Visibility of system status) is one of the error prevention features we are introducing in SP5.

 image

Another one is that when you now change the content of a text in a document definition you will be notified that the text has not been saved. In earlier versions it was far too easy to forget to press the Apply button.

 

6.     Recognition rather than recall

Minimize the user's memory load by making objects, actions, and options visible. The user should not have to remember information from one part of the dialogue to another. Instructions for use of the system should be visible or easily retrievable whenever appropriate.

Enhancements in SP5:

One example is the metadata impact report. You will get a warning from one page and by clicking the link you will get to a more specific page. You do not have to remember what document definition or resource you navigated from, the names will be provided for you in the next page.

 

7.     Flexibility and efficiency of use

Accelerators -- unseen by the novice user -- may often speed up the interaction for the expert user such that the system can cater to both inexperienced and experienced users. Allow users to tailor frequent actions.

Enhancements in SP5:

We have developed a number of features that make it more efficient to work in Composition:

Multi select resources. You can now select multiple objects and move /drag and drop them all in one step. Much like you can select and move several files in Windows Explorer. Useful if you want to reorganize your resources, document definitions etc into folders.

Grouped metadata.

 image

Metadata are now displayed in groups, which makes it easier to handle large metadata volumes. The groups are configured in DesignCenter. This way you can find and navigate and use your metadata easier even if you have a lot of them.

Mass updating and publishing. Useful when a template or resource used for several document definitions has been changed. This way you can select what document definitions to update and publish and do them all in one step instead of having to do the update and publishing one by one.

Reusable rules. Rules are now regarded as reusable resources that could be used in several document definitions or in several places within the same document definition. You do not have to redesign the rule for every place it is used. It also makes it easier to keep track of changes to the rule. You just change it in one place and it is applied to every place it is used, much like when you change content of other resources that are used in several places. 

8.     Aesthetics and minimalist design

Dialogues should not contain information which is irrelevant or rarely needed. Every extra unit of information in a dialogue competes with the relevant units of information and diminishes their relative visibility.

Enhancements in SP5:

As before we strive to make the content in each page as relevant as possible, and provide the information that you need without too much clutter.

For SP5 we have introduced a number of new icons. Below are some of them.

 Metadata iconimage

One of the new icons is the metadata icon, used when you want to add metadata in parts of your document definitions. This icon was not used in previous versions, but the functionality was achieved in a different way. Now inserting metadata will be done pressing the toolbar button with this icon in the text editor.

Rule indicator image

You will now see a rule icon for the parts of your document structure that have a rule attached to it. Rules can be set on all levels, and the icon will be placed next to the tree node it relates to.

 

Table toolbar icons

You will have more possibilities to work with tables in the text editor. Here is what two of the new options have as icons:

Split cell in a table   image

Merge cells in a table  image

 

9.     Help users recognize, diagnose, and recover from errors         

Error messages should be expressed in plain language (no codes), precisely indicate the problem, and constructively suggest a solution.

Enhancements in SP5:

 Nothing particular is done for SP5, this is an ongoing work in every release.

10. Help and documentation

Even though it is better if the system can be used without documentation, it may be necessary to provide help and documentation. Any such information should be easy to search, focused on the user's task, list concrete steps to be carried out, and not be too large.

Enhancements in SP5:

The online help has gone through a lot of changes for SP5, not only for Composition Center but for all StreamServe products;

  • In earlier releases it was page oriented, now it is more task oriented. You used to get information only about the current page. If you wanted help with a task that required you to go through several pages there was no corresponding help information easily available.
  • Now the help is shown in a separate browser window, making it easier to read. You can use browser functionality to zoom, enlarge text etc. Displaying the help in a separate window also makes it possible to see more content without scrolling.
  • There is now a table of content, search functionality and a brief Getting started chapter as well as the content being task oriented. All to make it easier for you to find the information you need.

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