Saturday, March 21, 2009

Creating Composite Application with Care

A big part of Notes 8 has been the ability to create and run composite applications. Regardless on how you create composite applications whether the IBM way or Richard's way, you need to really understand the audience that you are developing the application for before you venture into composite applications. Composite applications are great in tying different components together to create a visual relationship between data. For the Notes 8 client this can be done by displaying different components in different frames that are linked together.

However, this is not always the best way of displaying the information. For example, netbooks are now very popular with a number of sales staff that we have been working with. The typical screen resolution of netbooks are 1024 x 576 much shorter that the typical laptop with 1024 x 768. Therefore, screen real estate is very precious. As the results, composite applications like the Lead Manager composite application example from IBM becomes discouraging to use as shown below. The more framed windows, the less space you have to work with visually.

With limited space you need to carefully design the layout of the application to maximize the space usage. You need to consider other techniques like using a form or page as a composite tool to bring data together from different sources and display the information in a single form or page. The form becomes the display tool not the data source.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

I have been Flexed, a New Adventure in UI Design

Over the past couple of months I have been optimizing our IBF 3.0 technology to develop applications. One of the goals of the project is to develop Notes applications with an interface design that is effective for users, especially small business users. The design team and myself have gone through a number of different designs understanding the limitations of the Lotus Notes Basic client. I thought about designing just for the Lotus Notes standard client, but I do not like it because it is big, slow, and the UI is buggy. As many who know me, I would have preferred that IBM revamped the Basic client rather than go with the an Eclipse framework. I understand why IBM went with the Eclipse framework, my I still do not like it. I am a proponent of small and lite clients. The Lotus Notes Basic client is much leaner and faster, but the UI and controlling it even with all the tricks that I and others like Chris Blatnick and Nathan Freeman has come up with is still lacking. This is especially important since we are developing commercial products that are marketed to small businesses. Each time we ran into design issues that stopped us because of known bugs or design deficities that has never been fixed some of which have been there since Notes 5 and 6. I remember asking IBM at the Ask the Developer session at Lotusphere when the CSS problems would be fixed and the response was in the next version (Notes 7). Well if is still there even in Notes 8!

With XPages as the new buzz word, we thought about developing our applications as a pure Web solution. However, the response is not there and we still wanted the ability to have offline capability and start off it as an application like we have in the Notes client.

Therefore, after researching different RIAs we have decided to try creating an Domino RIA application using Adobe Flex. The combination of Flex and AIR hoping will give us what we have been looking for. It might be a dead end, but from all the research that I have done it may provide 90 to 95% of what we need.

Would this replace the Lotus Notes client, I seriously doubt it. After this exercise, we might be back to the Notes client again. Programming and experimentation many times results in dead ends.

If you are interested in Flex with Domino there are some good blogs on this subject. So far I have found these blogs on Flex and Domino very helpful. If there are others, let me know.

Angel Figueroa and Mark Ambler

Jake Howlett

There is also a list of videos on Flex from Adobe. I would like to thank Mark Myers for the link.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Balsamiq Mockups is Cool

Over the next few months I will be involved in a number of Notes application projects that will require design interfaces for our clients. I usually sketch out the interface using paper and pencil and then scan it in and store it in a file.

I read Daniele Vistalli's blog about "Website designs for lazy developers." He mentioned in his blog about the tool Balsamiq Mockups. I downloaded and tested it out. It is great. It will save me a lot of time.

With Balsamiq Mockups I can quickly create it and store it as a file and make changes to the UI design with the client on the fly. Thanks Daniele for the blog. It is also very cheap at $79.00.

I just recommended this product to a few other designers that I work with.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Using Icons in your Notes Application

We are currently working on a new interface for our IBF-based product line and our graphics team sent me this link that I would like to share with everyone. It is blog entry about using icons on your web site. However, it can easily be applied to creating interfaces for Notes client applications (both the standard and basic).