Macromedia and Jakob Nielsen, Ph.D., usability guru and founder of Nielsen Norman Group, have entered into a strategic relationship to focus on improving the usability of rich Internet applications and content.
Nielsen will be developing best practice guidelines for creating usable rich Internet applications with Macromedia Flash MX. Flash MX,
which began shipping in March, is a tool for creating a broad range of “high-impact content and rich Internet applications that go beyond the boundaries of the browser,” according to Macromedia.
“There continues to be tremendous innovation in the designer and developer community around creating the best user experiences using Macromedia Flash,” said Kevin Lynch, chief software architect, Macromedia. “We’re thrilled to be working with Jakob Nielsen to turn these experiences into best practices as we all learn about building rich Internet applications. Our ultimate goal is to make these 99 percent good.”
Dubbed “the king of usability,” Nielsen has a Ph.D. in user interface design from the Technical University of Denmark. He moved to the U.S. in 1990 to take research positions at Bell Communications Research and Sun Microsystems. Now he runs the Nielsen Norman Group (http://www.nngroup.com) in Fremont, CA, a consulting firm focused entirely on making business Web sites easier to use.
“Macromedia has obviously taken steps toward better usability with Macromedia Flash MX,” said Nielsen. “The product enables users to create content and applications more easily that follow traditional usability and accessibility guidelines. In particular, the addition of standardized interface components will finally put an end to design abuse.”
Rich Internet applications are designed to free developers to move beyond the document-based framework of the browser. The result of delivering these more intuitive, responsive applications will be increased productivity and better experiences for end users, Lynch said. Macromedia and Jakob Nielsen will be working together to help designers and developers learn how to take advantage of the opportunities of this new market segment by developing best practices for rich Internet applications, he added.
“We’ve been seeing a lot of innovation with Flash on the Web in terms of design,” Lynch told MacCentral. “There’s been a lot of discussion over the past couple of years about how usability with Flash can be improved. We’re working with Jakob now to come up with some of best applications, to look at the innovation that’s happening in the Flash community, and to distill this innovation and knowledge down into the best practices. Flash MX can enable a better experience and we’ll be working on this.”
For example, the software includes standard reusable components such as scroll bars. Previously, you had to build them from scratch. This was time consuming and resulted in all types of different scroll bars popping up on the Web. With Flash MX’s scroll box component, you can simply drag and drop scroll bars. This saves time and brings some uniformity to a wide variety of sites, Lynch said.
“Plus, people can make their own components and share them with others,” he added. “Macromedia has also worked to make Flash MX extensible, offering, for example, templates as starting points for designs. Accessibility is also critical, so that everyone can access sites. Flash MX has built-in support for accessibility design, such as screen readers for reading back on-screen elements.”
Nielsen and his team will be working on “best practices” documents, looking at rich Internet applications and writing their findings in reports over the next few months. Macromedia will be publishing the documents on their Developer Center.
“We don’t think it will take too long for the first report to come out,” Lynch said. “Nielsen and his team are doing research now. This will be a great thing for the Flash community and the usability community overall.”