UIEtips Article: Tips for Designing Powerful RIAs: An Interview with David Malouf and Bill Scott

Jared Spool

December 6th, 2006

UIEtips 12/06/06: Tips for Designing Powerful RIAs: An Interview with David Malouf and Bill Scott

Recently, I’ve been playing with a new feature of Google.com: Google Docs and Spreadsheets. Trying these out is a must-do activity for any interface designer.

At first glance, they look just like any other word processor or spreadsheet. However, that’s what makes them impressive. They are implemented completely in a browser, using only standard HTML and Javascript.

The line between what we do on the web and what we do at our desk has significantly blurred. This presents opportunities for application developers that were previously unthinkable.

Yet, it also presents challenges and puzzles to solve. We need to learn an entirely new interaction style, with new constraints and new boundary conditions. (For example, how do you make accessible AJAX work?)

Two people who are at the head of this curve are Bill Scott and David Malouf. Bill is Yahoo!’s local AJAX evangelist and David has been a major player in the founding of the Interaction Design Association. Both have been at the forefront of this new wave of interaction design.

Josh Porter and I recently had a chance to talk with Bill and David about some of the challenges and changes that are happening in the interaction design space. We were supposed to talk for only a few moments, but the discussion was so fascinating, we kept talking for almost an hour.

In this issue of UIEtips, we’ve put together some of the best parts of that discussion. You’ll read what David and Bill think about choosing AJAX versus Flash, what’s a good starting point for learning these technologies, and how design patterns can help with the development process. I’m sure you’ll find it as fascinating as I did.

Read today’s UIEtips article.

Have you been experimenting with RIAs and AJAX? Is this an area you’re thinking of moving to? We’d love to hear your thoughts on this. Leave a comment and join the discussion below.

[If you find this article interesting, I encourage you to join us in Monterey, California this January for our UIE Web App Summit. David and Bill will present their acclaimed full-day seminar, Designing Powerful Web Applications using AJAX and RIAs, as well as give their own short talks. You don’t want to miss out. See the summit website for more details.]

3 Responses to “UIEtips Article: Tips for Designing Powerful RIAs: An Interview with David Malouf and Bill Scott”

  1. Michael Says:

    RIA should be in an abbr tag with the title attribute value of “Rich Internet Applications”.

  2. Chris Hawkins Says:

    What is your experience with 508 compliance on the DHTML widgets? We are having a heck of a time getting this figured out, where screen readers are able to distinguish, for example, expanded information in a UI design pattern we call “expanders” – how do we make these 508?


  3. Brett Merkey Says:

    Oh, yes, RIA frameworks are all the rage. My experience has been that “rich” refers more to the number of widgets developers can easily add to the GUI — and not to the client experience.

    I work with multiple development teams and I hear this a lot:
    “This «insert cool technology name here» allows us to give all these user convenience widgets right out of the box!”

    Discussion ensues:
    “Yes, but do we have a case for these conveniences? Do they help or do they serve only to impress and confuse our users? All GUI elements are guilty until proven innocent by testing.” At this point, perhaps a manager weighs in with concerns about metrics of team productivity. This client experience person is seriously proposing that the team works *more* to end up with *less* on the screen…

    No, RIA silver bullets solve no fundamental problems and create many others. The basic idea that we should work to reduce internal Web-like navigation and provide more of the conveniences of desktop apps is an excellent objective. The key is process, testing, discussion — not technology.

    Brett Merkey

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