Archive for February, 2009

6 Tips for a Great Flex UX: Part 2

By Theresa Neil

Since the book focuses on rich interactions, I want to spend some time on Adobe Flex/AIR.

These tips are based on the best Flex resources I have found, and how you can use them to craft a great user experience. This is part 2 of 6:

  • Play With It: 10 Explorers & Galleries
  • Learn From the Best: 10 Great Flex Apps
  • Learn From the Rest: 10 Great RIAs
  • Stock Your Toolbox: The Essential Controls
  • Review Best Practices for Designing a RIA
  • Avoid Common Mistakes: 10 Anti-Patterns

Learn from the Best: 10 Great Flex Apps

Take a look at some of the best Flex applications on the market. How did I decide these are the best? I reviewed numerous applications, basing the evaluations on Jakob Nielsen’s 10 Principles for User Interface Design:

Feedback — Metaphor — Navigation — Consistency — Prevention — Recognition — Efficiency — Design — Recovery — Help

I realize these guidelines are a bit old (from 1990!)- but all applications should meet these guidelines at a minimum. The applications listed below also embody our 6 Principles for Rich Interaction:

Make it Direct — Keep it Lightweight — Stay on the Page — Provide an Invitation — Use Transitions — React Immediately

01. Picnik

Free version available

02. Balsamiq

Trial version available

03. Sprout Builder

Demo version available.

04. Campaign Monitor by eyeblaster

Commercial application- no demo available. Awarded Top 10 User Interfaces of 2008 by Jakob Nielsen. Report available for purchase.

05. ConceptShare

Free account available.

06. Weight Watchers eTools

Commercial application- no demo available.

07. Small Worlds

Free account available

08. Buzzword

Free account available

09. Whitestone Cheese

Publicly available at

10. Kuler

Publicly available at

11. SumoPaint

Free account available

Close Contenders

These apps were really close, but missed a couple of key principles, or are still maturing.


Free personal download available

Nice time tracking product in AIR- nailed the metaphor, but haven’t Made it Direct enough (yet). I instinctively want to click in my calendar to start logging my time against a certain project. Instead I have to navigate to Project View, then into Time Entries. And spinners for entering start and stop times are inefficient.

I must say I love the Weekly Time Sheet though, and the fact I can drag it to my desktop! I think this product will mature very nicely.

Tour Tracker

Up for a limited time at Amgen Tour of California.

Looks amazing. The metaphor is perfect- big map showing the course and stages- but lost points on some basic principles. Specifically Feedback- I click and click to “watch a rider” on the home page, nothing happens, so I keep clicking. And Design- a black background might demo well, but white and blue tex, all caps, sure is hard on the eyes.

Google Finance Dashboard

Publicly available at BrightPoint Consulting

This is a really nice dashboard showing what can be done with Flex & Degrafa. I can’t wait to see how they finish it out. Also check out Tom Gonzale’s blog for more amazing data visualizations with Flex and Degrafa.

htmlText Editor 2008

Publicly available at

This is a neat little one screen application that absolutely Stays in the Page and Makes it Direct. However, the Filter Tags feature is non-standard in more than one way: “If you remove tags and see that they really were needed, you can just uncheck the box and press Filter tags again.” I know the space is limited but Undo and Redo buttons would make more sense.

Agile Agenda

Free trial download available

Project management tool in AIR. Missed the Keep it Direct, and Stay in the Page principles. Too many dialogs where simple inline editing would have sufficed. Need better icons, or text with the icons. Usability aside, the product’s functionality seems to be quite robust and well worth the price.

Comment with your favorite Flex applications

I realize I have only skimmed the surface here, please comment with a link to the best Flex UIs you know of.

Comments (14)

Foreword by Luke Wroblewski

We were honored to have Luke Wroblewski write the foreword for our book. Luke is the Senior Director of Product Ideation & Design for Yahoo! where he leads the design for, My Yahoo!, Yahoo! Buzz and other popular Yahoo! sites.

You can read the Foreword he wrote for our book on his blog site.

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6 Tips for a Great Flex UX: Part 1

By Theresa Neil

Since the book focuses on rich interactions, I wanted to spend some time on Adobe Flex/AIR.

After designing several large enterprise applications for diverse clients and industries, I’ve noticed some barriers to crafting a great experience in Flex. I think these barriers arise from the relative newness of the technology (and RIAs in general), the initial focus on development over design, and the confidence that Flex can provide a great UX out of the box. But it takes a bit more to make a Flex app really shine. Fortunately, the Flex community is chock-full of talented and motivated developers who contribute amazing resources.

These tips are based on the best Flex resources I have found, and how you can use them to craft a great Flex UX. This is part 1 of 6:

  • Play With It: 10 Explorers
  • Learn From the Best: 10 Great Flex Apps
  • Learn From the Rest: 10 Great RIAs
  • Stock Your Toolbox: Essential Resources
  • Review Best Practices for Designing a RIA
  • Avoid Common Mistakes: 10 Anti-Patterns

Play With It: 10 Explorers

I can’t think of a better way to get your feet wet than to play with these explorers.

01. Tour de Flex


02. Component Explorer


03. Style Explorer


04. Regular Expression Explorer

By Ryan Swanson

05. Charts Explorer

By Ely Greenfield

06. Efflex Effects Explorer

By Stephen Downs

07. Filter Explorer


08. Primitive Objects Explorer


09. Data Visualization Explorer


10. Button Skin Explorer


Comment with your favorite Flex explorer

I realize I have only skimmed the surface here, please comment with a link to your favorite explorer or gallery for Flex 3.

Comments (17)

What Interface Engineers Wish Designers Knew – Interview

Lou Rosenfeld interviewed me on the topic “Bringing Design to Life: What Every Designer Should Know About Interface Engineering”. This is a really interesting subject and gets to the heart of how to get engineering and design teams to work together better.

The interview gives you some of the points I will cover in my upcoming webinar on the same topic (Feb. 26th, 10AM PST/1PM EST).

Also there is a short video presentation (about 7 minutes) that provides a sneak peek into the webinar presentation.

Use code RMWBNR for a 20% discount off your ticket purchase.

Comments (2)

15 Common Component Patterns

By Theresa Neil

As Bill mentioned in an earlier post, we don’t want to limit this blog to just the principles and patterns found in the book. For that you can check out our Explore the Book section.

This is the third article in a three part series on patterns and principles for RIA design.

      Standard Screen Patterns: 12 patterns w/100 examples
      Essential Controls: 30 controls for RIA design and development
      Common Component Patterns: 15 patterns and examples

Odds are good if you are designing a enterprise software or a productivity web application, you’ll need a number of these components. Don’t spend time and effort on (re)designing these ancillary features- try these solutions instead.


01. Add Another

Wufoo (button)

Gmail (link)

Requirement: Need to offer multiple input fields for the same thing, but unsure how many the user may need
Example: Add attachments, enter phone numbers, upload photos…
Description: The “add another” link or button should be in proximity to the field, and the remove option is shown an attachment is added, and only one “add another” link is shown at a time. No need to show the remove button until at least one entry is shown.

02. Add/Manage Tags

Highrise (inline edit)

Mint (dialog)

Requirement: Need a way to add non-structured meta data to an object that can later be searched
Example: While adding recruits to a CRM system, the recruiter wants to note applicants’ interests and hobbies
Description: Place the tags in close proximity to the object being taggged. Allow for direct adding of additional tags and editing. You can take the 37signals approach and let users type in any tags they want- running the risk of duplicate, misspelled or overlapping concept tags. Or use Mint’s approach and let users select from the existing list of tags, and/or add new ones.

03. Add/Edit or Select from Existing


Requirement: Need to pick from an existing option, add a new option, or edit an existing option
Example: Recording receipts for household expenses, and there is not a category for pet/vet bills. Add a new category for “pets”, which will now show up as an option in the list
Description: Place the option for “add new…” at the bottom of the options. Open a new dialog or light weight layer to add the new option. Place edit to the right of the list box, edit can be a new screen or dialog for editing all the options.

04. Advanced Filter

Mission 360 for The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society

Requirement: Need to refine the data set based on specified criteria
Example: In a bug tracking system, a developer needs to see all bugs assigned to him, in the last 24 hours, related to the production system, containing the term “feedback”
Description: Provide a dynamic filter field and offer an advanced filter option, where the user can specify criteria for refining the data set. Allow the criteria to be saved (usually as a ‘view’), that can be accessed again. Note* Luke W. has a great article describing multiple techniques for refining data tables.

05. Build a List (aka Accumulator)


Requirement:Need to create a list from an existing set of options
Example: Invite some of your friends from your existing list of webmail contacts, or build a list of hot prospects for a sales campaign
Description: When a user needs to select items from separate sets of search results or other large, unwieldy data sets- let them manipulate the left (search, sort, navigate or filter), and add to the right.

06. Build an Expression (aka Predicate Editor)


Mac OS predicate editor inspired web versions of this component

Requirement: Need to define a set of conditions that build on each other.
Example: Complex search or building a report filter, or building a mathematical function
Description: Design it so the expression can be read, left to right, top to bottom. Each line can be edited, removed, or deleted, and possibly rearranged in order.

07. Contextual Toolbar


Requirement: Need to perform an action that has multiple input parameters
Example: Analyst needs to apply a discount to all the rows in a table, clicks the ‘discount’ tool. The discount options: discount percent [10%] or flat rate discount [$0.00], are then provided.
Description: Group the actions in a toolbar, and as one is selected, disclose the input parameters. Offer a live preview if applicable.

08. Customizable Data Grid

Flexigrid demo

Requirement: Need robust data grid from viewing, editing and manipulating data
Example: A CRM system with contacts displayed in a table/data grid
Description: Offer simple and advanced filtering, ability to directly resize columns, ability to directly rearrange columns, hide/show columns, sorting. If also providing editing, provide a toolbar that includes undo and redo actions.

09. Drag & Drop Reorder



Requirement: Need to reorder a text list, visual map, or tree because the order is indicative of priority or hierarchical relationship
Example: To-do list, org chart, tree
Description: Make sure to follow the interaction principles for all the states of drag and drop management, most importantly providing a visual cue the list can be rearranged, like the drag handles in the examples. Refer to Bill’s Interesting Moments Grid for implementing the interaction properly.

10. Full Screen


RadEditor Demo

Requirement: Need more real estate for core functionality
Example:Editing a photo, designing a work flow, navigating a map
Description: Place the toggle in the top left corner (make sure it remains in the same spot and visible even in the full screen mode). The branding and top level navigation can be hidden in this mode. Don’t add any more elements into the full screen mode- just enlarge the workspace.

11. Graph Drill Down


Dundas Charts

Requirement: Need to show a summary view and allow a quick and efficient drill down to view more details, instead of navigating deeper into the graph
Example: A specific datapoint has multiple sets of information available. The main graph could show sales volume by sales person over time, and the hover detail breaks it down by new versus existing clients
Description: Provide a visual indicator (like a dot) that hover details are available. Use a non-modal layer to display the next level of data.

12. Live Preview

Fidelity MyPlan

Mint Savings Finder

Requirement: Need provide live feedback on changing criteria
Example: Graphic designer altering the hue of a photo needs to see the effect as he adjust the value
Description: Provide easy to manipulate controls, and an “apply” and “cancel” options, or “revert” feature.

13. Slide Down

component_slide_down_retail (inline)

Weight Watchers (overlay)

Requirement: Need to show more details, or input details
Example: Reading an article in a list of articles, scan the first paragraph and want to read more, or read the comments.
Description: Expand inline or overlay without leaving the page or opening a new window/dialog. Use smooth transitions and a fixed height scroll window like RetailMeNot. Provide the close link in the same spot.

14. Split a Transaction


Requirement: Need to allocate a single item across multiple categroies
Example: Dividing a transaction (ex. allocating a 50% of a donation to one recipient, and 50% to another recipient, or $2.00 as a fee, and $200.00 as cash withdraw)
Description: Split button placed unobtrusively in the transaction detail pane, could also be a tool in the table toolbar, enabled when a row is selected. Opens a dialog allowing the user to re-allocate the data as needed.

15. Switch To



Requirement: Need to infrequently navigate out of one module into another without returning to a control panel, dashboard or dock
Example: Working in one project, finish and need to work on another one
Description: Make the switch less visually prominent than the main navigation, but still easily accessible (top right or left, above the main menu).

Comments (23)

Screencasts Added to Flickr

I just uploaded around 390 screencasts to the Flickr Designing Web Interfaces photostream. These are movie captures of various sites illustrating patterns from each chapter. This makes a nice supplement to the hundreds of figures that are already on the site.

The screencasts are in the DWI: Screencasts collection and organized into Sets that represent each chapter of the book. For example if you are looking for examples for Chapter 13, Lookup Patterns then the Set Chapter 13 (SC) – Lookup Patterns contains 70 screencasts illustrating various lookup patterns.

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O’Reilly Webcast Presentation Available

I presented Designing Web Interfaces on the O’Reilly Webcast today. Almost 1400 people signed up and the actual attendance hit 862. We set the record for an O’Reilly webcast :-) And we had overwhelmingly positive responses to the talk. If you liked the talk & the material then I think you will enjoy the book.

If you did not hear the webcast, check out the slideshare presentation below. It will give you the best flavor for what our book is about (keep in mind much more is in the book with lots more details and guidelines).

The audio will be available in a week or so. Look for a post here when I get the audio to share.

**UPDATE. The actual video & audio of the screencast can be seen on YouTube. Watch it in high resolution.

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