Article: Deconstructing Web Applications: An Interview with Hagan Rivers

Jared Spool

October 16th, 2006

UIEtips 10/16/06: Deconstructing Web Applications: An Interview with Hagan Rivers

Few things present a bigger challenge to today’s designers than building a web-based application. The constraints of HTML, the complex requirements of the business, the restrictions of the thin-client model, the demands on the back-end, and the intricacies of the domain all come together making George Clooney’s job in the Perfect Storm look simple and carefree.

Part of the complexity comes from the industry’s inexperience at building these types of applications. Every project feels like it is breaking new ground, bringing us into unchartered territory.

However, we’re not alone. There are hundreds of projects like ours going on at the same time. And hundreds that have already been completed. Learning from what has come before us is a key part of growth. What obstacles am I going to run into? What are my design options? These questions get easier with experience — from our work and from the work of others doing similar things.

That’s why we’ve been so excited about Hagan Rivers’s work. She’s studied hundreds of web applications, carefully cataloging and deconstructing them, to see what works and what doesn’t. In today’s UIEtips, we are reprinting an interview UIE’s Christine Perfetti conducted with Hagan last year. I found it a fascinating read and I’m betting you will too.

Are you working on web applications? How have you found the transition from the previous work you’ve done? I’d love to hear what challenges you’ve faced and how you’ve overcome them. Add to the conversation in the comments below.

Read today’s UIEtips article.

If you’re working on web applications, you really want to sign up for the UIE Web Application Summit we’re holding in Monterey, CA this January. At this 3-day event, you’ll meet the pioneers and world-class designers behind today’s most successful web apps.

Also, if you would like to hear more from Hagan Rivers, we’ve invited her to present our next UIE Virtual Seminar on November 1st. In this seminar, Hagan will take a closer look at the visual design of web applications. She will cover key strategies for creating both usable and aesthetically pleasing web applications for your customers. I highly suggest you check it out.

2 Responses to “Article: Deconstructing Web Applications: An Interview with Hagan Rivers”

  1. pauric Says:

    Excellent read! Can you suggest any books on this subject?

    “The way they (sales force) handle toolbars, tables, and editing is all the same no matter where you are in the application.”

    I’ve found that interaction consistency is much more important in web-app design compared to web-site. I feel the user is much more focused on goals in the app arena and is sensitive to discrepancies in flow.

    “I don’t think the page metaphor limits web applications at all. The page metaphor makes most people think of simplistic, page by page application design.”

    An interesting article on the Kathy Sierra’s blog: http://tinyurl.com/y2vrv4 talks about constraints aiding design. The page paradigm helped me organise my UI in to features/actions/content across a menu, tab row and main panel. In turn this forced me to think carefully about my menu and kept the overall interface clean. One only needs to look at something like Lotus Notes to see how too much choice for a developer/designer can be a bad thing.

    Finally, a thought that is pops up throughout the article and something I could not agree more with; we are given a lot of freedom at the presentation layer. However, I would go further than stating we should not look to replicate desktop app interaction paradigms, I create all my designs in Omnigraffle with little regard for how a developer could render it in html/css. More often than not I receive something close to the candidate design.

    Great article – thanks

  2. Anup Says:

    I think the article was interesting and made good points. I think the problem for many developers in a number of countries will be how to make web *applications* accessible, because AJAX (as that is what a lot of web-based apps imply) is powerful but screen readers and other assistive technology struggle with it.

    In some countries this implies employment law as well as disability discrimination may kick in, if the app prevents someone doing their job.

    With desktop apps, they typically have different hooks that assistive technology can make use of to help make the app accessible (the developer still needs to do work of course!)

    Accessible web apps is not just about making a site work when AJAX or JavaScript is not available, because many people using screen readers, for example, will use browsers that have JavaScript enabled.

    Flash (Flex) has made some advances in accessibility which may be worth considering for web apps — needs to be considered carefully — search engines won’t index very well, book marks will be a problem. If it is an internal web app then this could be a useful option.

    One thing developers can do is see if their apps do not, for example, only allow drag and drop as the way to complete a task (which is kinda basic usability anyway). These kind of things may help but requires more research.

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