nForm – IA/Interaction Designer

Full Time Permanent Position in Edmonton, AB

As an nForm consultant, your primary responsibility will be translating business and customer insight into concrete plans and prototypes, such as conceptual models, interaction flows, wireframes, and functional specs. You will work with clients, their users, and nForm colleagues to understand, define, and solve problems to create business and user value through designing fantastic user experiences.

Excellent interpersonal skills are required for client-facing engagements. We’re a small firm so you’ll be called on to serve in a variety of roles–flexibility and the ability to tackle new challenges are important.

Qualifications

Skill Set

  • Strong design portfolio including things like scenarios, interaction flows, sketches, sitemaps, wireframes, prototypes, and possibly great final interfaces
  • Fluent with Visio, Omingraffle or other diagramming tool
  • Ability to model interaction flow, navigation structure, and other structural components of system
  • Ability to show ideas visually
  • Ability to write clearly so that you can communicate your ideas
  • HTML and CSS (you won’t be coding, but your designs need to be feasible)
  • Web 2.0 awareness (from acronyms like RSS and RIA to your own thoughts on social software)

Mindset

  • Ability to listen and take direction
  • Ability to learn new skills, both with guidance and on your own
  • Ability to work independently
  • Keen interest in the craft of user experience. We’d like to know who your influences are, where you look in the community for guidance and inspiration, what books and blogs you read, and who you think is doing the coolest work online

History

  • 2 – 5 years of work experience doing interaction design or information architecture preferred. This experience may have been in a dedicated role, or as part of work doing innovative web design
  • Your portfolio, process, and mindset trump both formal education and previous jobs, though we appreciate good schools and good work

Compensation

  • Salary based on experience, plus benefits to start, review at 6 months, 1 year, and then annually
  • Signing bonus for the right employee
  • Relocation assistance for the right employee (if you are moving across the country, North America, or internationally)
  • Participation in employee bonus program
  • 3 weeks vacation to start
  • Participation in employee professional development program

Some compensation isn’t about money or benefits. We’re all here because we like working with an experienced, smart team that not only serves great clients, but also influences the practice of user experience across industry. In the last year and a half, nForm has spoken at the Chilean IA Retreat, the Government Marketing Workshop, DigitalNow 2007, UX Week, UPA 2007, the IA Summit 2007 & 2008, the German IA Conference, the Italian IA Summit, Northern Voice, with upcoming appearances at UPA 2008, and others. We host our own Canadian User Experience workshop, CanUX, every year in Banff.

It’s not just events. We regularly blog and write articles, we co-founded the IA Institute, and we’re thrilled to announce that company principal Gene Smith has recently published a book, titled Tagging: People-Powered Metadata for the Social Web.

How to Apply

Email your resume (Word or PDF) and link to your online portfolio to Yvonne Shek, at careers@nform.ca. If we’re going to go ahead with an interview, we’ll let you know within a week. Unfortunately we can’t respond to everyone who applies, so if you haven’t heard from us in a week, we’re probably looking for a different skillset.

The Platform is the Core

livemeshdesktop

Live Mesh was launched yesterday at Web2Expo in San Francisco.

Our design goals for Live Mesh are to have…

  • …your devices work together
  • …your data and applications available from anywhere
  • …the people you need to connect with just a few clicks away for sharing and collaborating
  • … the information you need to stay up-to-date and always be available

I’m really excited about Live Mesh as a platform. It really is one of the first services above the level of a single device. The integration of experiences across devices is really interesting and important. I started to realize the power of creating a device mesh when I switched from my Blackberry to a Windows Mobile device and Microsoft Exchange. I am able to access my email service using my Palm 750, my Mac Book Pro running Entourage, my new Dell m1330 or my old Thinkpad x60 running Outlook, or when I’m connected over the web running Outlook Web Access. The devices are really irrelevant to me, what is most important is my data. My contacts. My calendar. My email.

Live Mesh is an early platform that allows the abstraction of data and data synchronization with applications, the web, and the cloud. It is a platform for developers to begin building the next generation of applications for the web, devices, rich clients, gaming platforms, media devices, etc.

  • Services Are the Core of the Platform – the Live Mesh platform exposes a number of core services including some Live Services that can all be accessed using the Live Mesh API; these include Storage (online and offline), Membership, Sync, Peer-to-Peer Communication and Newsfeed.
  • Same API on Clients and in the Cloud – the programming model is the same for the cloud and all connected devices, which means a Live Mesh application works exactly the same regardless of whether it’s running in the cloud, in a browser, on a desktop, or on a mobile device.
  • Open, Extendable Data Model – a basic data model is provided for the most common tasks needed for a Live Mesh application; developers can also customize and extend the data model in any fashion that is needed for a specific application.
  • Flexible Application Model – developers can choose what application developer model best fits their needs. .

Mike Zintel, from the Live Mesh team, describes the locus of control is with end users. People are given a platform where they have the control over the devices, the communication, the storage and the membership to the network.

The mesh is the foundation for a model where customers will ultimately license applications to their mesh, as opposed to an instantiation of Windows, Mac or a mobile account or a web site.  Such applications will be seamlessly installed and run from their mesh and application settings persisted across their mesh. The device ring inside of the Live Desktop is a simple visualization of the mesh, and provides a view of all devices and current device availability. The Live Mesh platform provides the ability for applications to connect to any other device, regardless of network topology (network transparency), within the mesh. This infrastructure enables the Live Mesh Remote Desktop experience today.

It is a great way to start to build above the level of a single device. Being able to abstract devices, membership lists, connections between devices, and then an underlying pub/sub infrastructure for awareness and sync is a very empowering framework. I can’t wait to start enabling more of my personal data between my devices (namely music, videos and photos shared between my laptops and music players, and if I’m lucky my TiVO because I can already share from my Mac to my XBox360 via Rivet or Connect360). Ewan Spence covers the hackable power of the underlying “RSS and XML derived data exchange”. This looks like a really good first direction for a Software+Services platform that enables developers beyond the context of a single device.

As Live Mesh is a limited Technology Preview, but it is a great start to building cloud connected applications.

For more information, go to LiveMesh.com. For more Live Mesh coverage:

Reach and Rich

Nikhil Kothari has a great post about Silverlight versus Ajax. It’s a view of the front-end technology stack, including Silverlight, WPF, Flash, Ajax, Gears and AIR. I guess the only thing it’s really missing is Mozilla’s XUL stack that’s been used to build Skype and Joost (and JavaFX and OpenLaszlo for RIAs). It’s a very honest look at the types of applications and the islands of functionality, aka the sweet spots, that are starting to develop.

AppContinuum

Interesting thinking about what are the sweet spots for the users of particular applications. Funny that, it comes back to understand people and their environment. There are tradeoffs and benefits to moving along the axis.

Applications have distinct scenarios and correspondingly gravitate toward a sweet spot. Some apps lie squarely on the left, with the need to first and foremost prioritize universal reach. At the same time, some apps have experience or functionality as the high order bit, where it is necessary to leverage a more capable platform, even if it means somewhat reduced reach. Still, the best apps will probably be those that leverage multiple front-end options to follow the user, with a common back-end (sort of a software and a service model). 

Building RESTful applications on the server can enable the creation of really powerful, customer-driven tools. Understanding the people using the tool and the context of how they are using it build better applications. Blogging provides a simple example, WordPress 2.5 has a fantastic Ajax admin UI, but requires that the user has a live network connection. This does not alway make sense, just imagine writing blog posts on an airplane without network connectivity. Tools like Windows LiveWriter or MarsEdit enable richer experiences and offline editing of blog posts (among other features like plugins for creating hCalendar microformat events).

The Web is rapidly transitioning from being the “second screen“, to being the primary screen as the number of hours and the consideration of the web as the primary source of information and news has steadily risen to eclipse television watching (IBM Institute for Business Value – The end of advertising as we know it [PDF – 303kb]. The Web is the hub. Ray Ozzie described the web as the “hub of our social experiences, our social mesh, the hub of our technology experiences, our device mesh”. Your devices, your data, your applications all need to be connected to the web. It means that great applications will be loosely coupled systems built on interoperability and open-standards.

Corporate Brand <> User Experience

Front-end development technologies are becoming increasingly important. Understanding what is possible, i.e., the sweet spot and the limitations, helps makes it easier to start building applications that match usage patterns and device capabilities. The user experience will continue to evolve to span of mesh of Web-connected devices increases. Tim O’Reilly introduced me to the concept of software above the level of a single device, where software becomes more valueable as manages and mediates access to local resources and the internet cloud.

It’s about looking for tools, design patterns and methods that allow you to create connected experiences. Building reach applications is the first step, but it’s the rich applications that are memorable and have the power to change the human condition.

Successful applications require users

Baseline magazine has a great article reinforcing why we build applications, they are for people! The article is about Symantec’s Project Oasis, the code name for their massive ERP overhaul as part of the merger of Symantec and Veritas. The project reinforces that successful applications have users who not only are able to complete their tasks error free, but that emotional and personal impact of the software is incredibly important to it’s eventual success.

Technically, Project Oasis, an upgrade to Oracle 11d, was flawless. The code, interface and system—aside from some conflicting records that made accounting difficult to interpret—went exactly as Symantec had conceived when it launched the project in May 2005.

But users didn’t understand the system. The voluminous information it provided them and the myriad steps required to place orders created confusion and poor usability.

As individuals choosing applications we are free from the burden of corporate history and inertia, we are able to select the operating systems, applications and web services that best meet our needs. If you prefer running Mac OS X or Linux, just run it. If Microsoft Office doesn’t match your budget, try Google Docs or Apple iWork. Amazon SimpleDB not providing the indexing and performance tuning you need, maybe Microsoft SQL Server Data Services (SSDS) is more your cup of tea. As alpha geeks, we get to push the envelope of what is possible. We get to explore new frontiers. Often we get to do this with freedom of a revenue model, without deployed customers, without a legacy.

But what about those with paying customers, how do you push boundaries and define new models for them without negatively impacting your bottom line? How do you prepare customers to move forward?

“Despite its best efforts, the management team could not adequately prepare its more than 60,000 resellers, partners and distributors—and scores more customers—for the procedural changes required by the new system.”

Project Oasis was executed flawlessly. It was a technically flawless upgrade to Oracle 11d. But it wasn’t enough. Symantec’s CEO “blamed part of the company’s sluggish financial performance in the third quarter of fiscal year 2007 on the ERP plague”. It turns out that people determine the eventual success of a system. Understanding the user experience of an ERP solution, and the lack of alternatives for interacting with the system users have 2 choices:

  1. Learn the new system which may involve customer support, training, etc., or ;
  2. Find a new provider.

It’s even worse with internal facing applications, employees are forced to use poor applications for payroll, benefits, performance management and nearly every part of their interaction with a company’s systems. The idea that employees should understand the General Ledger codes for submitting expenses is absurd. It’s either the role of the financial department to correctly identify how expense should be entered or it’s their responsibility to ensure that the system and processes are easily learned and used by non-financial staff, probably sales people and assistants.

Symantec had realized that when leaving a financial system upgrade to only the financial and IT staffs you’ve created an unusable solution. A solution that only the people who built it wanted to use.

the system was performing as designed—to a fault. The problem was that Symantec had inadvertently created the perfect storm: It had failed to consider the user experience with the new system, it hadn’t correctly identified the true users of the system and it had layered other projects on top of the ERP implementation, thereby complicating the launch and generating more confusion.

Software like business is messy. We want to think that things are digital. Binary. Black and white. We want people to be efficient, error free, rational actors. They aren’t. Understanding people, their experiences and their desires is the cornerstone of building successful software applications.

Technology may be the engine that drives business, but business is still conducted by people. Understanding the needs, desires and experience of the customer—whether that person is an internal user, a reseller partner or a consumer—is critical to any company’s success and growth.

Successful software is used by people.

Learning how to build customer-centered systems is a mix of theory and practice. But primarily, it is about your organizational culture. Who holds the decision making power? Marketing? Development? IT? Who speaks for the users?

Resources