Friday, March 26, 2010

Immersive UX Changing the Face of Retail

Changing the Face of Retail is an article I’ve been thinking about most of the past couple weeks. I think my goal with the article is to one talk about how technology built into the retail environment can be used to build better experience’s for customers and 2 to talk about how this kind of evolutionary extension of the retail environment is better for customers AND retailers.

I walked into the Microsoft Retail Store or at least one of them, (see one at Mission Vejo or Scottsdale) and its really impressive how the store is built with this wide open and inviting layout, if you didn’t pay close attention one might think it’s more about interior design then about selling computers and software. One of the most striking features is the video wall that wraps around the entire store. But once I walked around looking at everything, what strikes me the most about this store is actually in the far corner or the software section where this small ‘podium’ with a touch screen built in sits. Granted up front I have a strong emotional tie to this ‘kiosk’ but I can’t really talk about it, with that said I wanted to talk about the idea that this ‘kiosk’ represents from a retail standpoint regarding targeted customer experience and UX in general.

So I played with this ‘kiosk’ and what I found interesting besides the ‘metro’ design aesthetic was that as I browsed software titles on this ‘Software’ Kiosk I realized that each time I entered a new ‘category’ of software the video wall nearby changed with the top 5 titles in that category. And then what I really think (in the case of the MS store) what is the most impactful is that they manufacture most of the titles in this kiosk on the spot when I ask for them. Theoretically the store could have a limitless list of titles, no inventory and just manufacture anything I want on the spot. How is that for brick and mortar?

My point in this story is how technology integrated into our environment can be such a huge game changer. When me, a person interested in software, in a retail space has this elegant multi-touch podium with a grand view of all the software in the universe that can lead me easily through all the titles, finding what I need and manufacturing it on the spot is the norm then other business’s in the same line of work or even will really need to bring up the game or fall behind. This is the kind of technology that really changes the face of retail.

So I work for Wirestone an Interactive Design Agency (so I have a vested interest in the technology). We do work like this touch kiosk in the retail space and specialize in ‘Targeted Customer Experience’s.’ So how would I help a retail store build a ‘game’ changing user experience like this (minus the replicator in back)? How can we make a ‘Retail’ experience that much more emotionally engaging, interesting, fun etc? Can we make something cooler that what we saw in the ms store? I really wanted to have something as engaging so I went and spoke with our R and D team in Seattle and we came up with a vision of a retail space like the following user story that we thought we could implement in our UX lab in Seattle.

Let’s say we have John Doe that is interested in Camera’s. He goes into our theoretical retail space looking to buy a camera. He sees one that looks interesting? As he stands in front of it for a few seconds and the price tag visually transforms. The price is adorned and highlighted and across the bottom some text slides in that says ‘touch here to compare’. John touches the digital price tag and the wall behind the product comes alive as that camera slides in to center in front of John with some of the key features listed below. John then takes a few steps down the aisle and realizes that the product detail on the wall follows him; he then touches another tag of a similar camera and that one slides in next to the first on the wall and John can see the key differences highlighted. John quickly is enthralled with this ‘experience’ and the short is he spends lots of money…

With this in mind I started out to build a prototype. One of the Integrators on our team besides having great design and UX skills, happens to write custom serial drivers for fun… I talked with him about it and he pointed me in the right direction including sensors, controller boards and drivers and sample app etc. (See Ryan’s post here: ) That aside I wanted to be able to talk about this kind of technology at MIX around integrating technology into the retail environment so I had to get busy. What I ended up with was a custom Silverlight control built out to include custom events and interfaces so it could be consumed by a WPF windows object controlled by a custom ‘windows’ manager in WPF for having lots of these little usb powered touch screens all wired together. Plus adding some more ‘custom’ code, some serial port programming over USB, a few config issues, sensors and a simple design later I had my working app for MIX.

Now dragging this around mix was kind of shock to see how interested people were and how extremely geeky it was to have all the cables and the sensors and the like mucking about but it turned out to be a great conversation starter. The next step in developing this kind of technology was around the Business Intelligence aspect of this. In our typical retail touch kiosk work it is always interesting to see how things are used. We normally do lots of user studies with the target demographic getting everyone from IA to devs and creative involved with working with the data collected around making the UX not just work but better. In the case of our touch tag prototype a lot of things came to mind. I ended up talking to a friend at Preemptive Solutions (Gabriel Torok) that did this cool BI tool for Silverlight and we met at MIX to talk about how integrated BI analytics would enhance our work around the touch tag prototype.

Many times knowing how users interact with a system and with the environment helps a business better enhance what and how users experiences a retail space to better help the custom solve the issue that they might not even know they have. With the touch tag system we are looking at retail heat maps, working with touch and interaction data as it related to products and POS data. Questions like what products to people pick up? Vs what do the buy? Vs what do the put back vs. what area of the store is most interesting? What areas of the store are ignored? How can I make better use of my retail space?

Being able to engage customers faster with more interesting experiences that get them engaged with the product they are most interested in and in how that product is the best for them through touch, through visuals and all the senses helps the customer connect with the product emotionally faster. In user studies we have found that this kind of holistic approach to the retail environment really ups the game not only for the end users or customer and the retailer but also for everyone else that has to compete. This is how you change the face of retail.

Next on my list of to-dos is making the average retail employee a super star with augmented reality. You might even think I’m kidding but I’m not. I meet with another friend a few days ago that runs a small but high end UX shop in Canada and that is our next project. I’d love to hear what everyone else is doing to make targeted customer experiences that much better.

Oh and here are a couple of pictures of the UI and hardware for the prototype:

I published this post initially on the Interact Seattle Site at:

some related links include:

post from MIX w/ video showing prototype hardware:

and this one talking about touch in general and mention the touch tag prototypes:

and the Silverlight TV ep3 I did on multitouch:

the touch tag demo at MIX on Channel9:

Developing Functional Specifications based on the UML Model

A few days ago I found this white paper I did around 2004 way before I started really blogging:

The Process Overview

Use-case to Specifications is a processing using UML use-cases to identify user requirements and model systems to be able to properly define functionality. This document is intended to serve as an execution based walk-through of this process.

As background: ‘The Unified Modeling Language (UML) is a language for specifying, visualizing, constructing, and documenting the artifacts of software systems, as well as for modeling business and other non-software systems. The UML represents a collection of best engineering practices that have proven successful in the modeling of large and complex systems.’ ~OMG Unified Modeling Language Specification

Use-case – Basic’s

In this process we are focusing on the use of use-cases to identify requirements. The goals of building a use-case is to first identify the actor. This is the person or entity performing the actions described in the use-case. In some cases, the actor is simply a component of the system and not necessarily a user or consumer of it. Second is to identify the goal or what we are looking for the end result to be. Third, and last, is the process in which the actor will take steps to reach the end result or goal. This process interaction is typically described in story form and contains a complete end-to-end walk-through of the actions taken by the actor to reach the goal in the proposed system. To this end, it helps to think of a use-case as a stand-alone story that isn’t dependent on any outside parts to be considered complete. Use-cases serve as a primary tool to help us work out system interaction issues, such as the way it’s accessed, how a part of it might be used or perceived, or how a particular aspect is intended to operates. Basic use-cases will include the following elements, all of which are derived from the overall story-line created:

End conditions
Failed conditions
Success conditions
Alternate scenarios.


To develop a use-case we first need to start with an actor. There are several ways to determine an appropriate actor. One way is to ask a couple of basic, but key, questions: 1. Is this actor a component of the system, like a class or object set, or is it another type of entity, such as an administrative or end user. 2. Is the actor a consumer of the proposed system or does it live and/or work within the system. Second, we need to come up with the goal. What is the end result we are expecting from the interaction process? The next step is to develop a story that describes how this actor interacts with the proposed system in order to reach the end result or goal. The following example uses ‘Microsoft’s ACME Project’ or MSAP as the proposed system and an end user “Joseph” who has specific privileges within the system. The goal in this case is to register for an existing course.


“Joseph, a gold level user and technology buff, has just learned that a new course is being offered for his favorite technology: C#. He immediately rushes onto the MSAP and signs in using his Passport credentials. Joseph then selects the MSAP Center link from the left-hand navigation menu. Once there he is able to quickly search for content relating to C#. Joseph locates the course in the search results that were returned to him and clicks the “Register” link. Joseph is able to get more information on the course while reading through the summary page. He decides that this class is definitely worth while and proceeds through the registration process. Once registration is complete he receives an email confirming his successful registration. Joseph marks the course date and time in his calendar and quickly gets back to his day-to-day tasks.”


The story in this example use-case is fairly refined. When we carefully look at this story it identifies a number of qualities about the actor as well as the process used to reach the end goal. From this story we can derive requirements and even data elements needed to ensure that the functionality described matches what was proposed to be built.

First we see that we have given our actor a name. This allows us to reference the actor more easily throughout the use case. From this story we can see that each relevant step our actor goes through has been described. Additionally we can derive actions that “trigger” other actions and can see the basis for some assumptions that were made. As the story’s end draws near we take note of end conditions and finally, after the basic story is completed, we can assess whether or not there are alternate scenarios and even failed conditions that need to be documented.

Derivative Requirements

Once we have worked out the use case we can derive requirements from this. Let’s start with data elements… In the case of the above use-case we can identify the fact that we will need a user that has the following attributes:

User name
User level
Skill set(s)
Course(s) registered for
Course(s) history (assuming we want to keep track of what happens)
Language (if this is used internationally i.e. is he viewing this in English or does this apply to any local? )
Passport account
e-mail address

So we now know that the system will need at least the ability to define the above elements and logically we can think of this as an object.

As to the system, we know that we will need to have gold users be able to login via passport then search and finally register for events. From this we know that MSAP will need to use passport at some level, as well as have built in search functionality and registration functionality. In identifying these elements we also then know that we need to track these data elements as well in the system. So that means we need course information or a ‘course’ object that has search functionality and we need to be able to tie that into registration. An instance of registration would also then be associated to a user and to a course or event.

From this point we are able to identify the basic groups of functionality as well as document data elements from just one use case. These become our derived requirements based on developed use cases.

Building Specifications

From these derived requirements we can also do flow diagrams and sequence diagrams for each use case and this feeds our design process by making it easier to come up with object models and sequences etc.

To focus on specifications, we need to take from the original business requirements and data from our use cases and any requirements list to build functional specifications. Typically organizations have a template of sorts. Microsoft is no different with excellent templates that allow the collected data to be plugged in quickly and effectively. Use cases can be prioritized by this derivative process which in turn prioritizes the feature requirements. In our above use case, from the users stand point, the ability is needed to search and find classes and be able to register. If a user can’t do this then there would not be much point in the example software.

Regardless of templates or other things a functional spec should include all the critical use-case stories or summaries, a feature list, prioritization of features, any external requirements or limitations, assumptions, critical data, issues/risks and a summary of the document.

Monday, March 22, 2010

No Silverlight and Preloader Experience(ish) - in 10 seconds...

here is the basic's...:

<body background="Img/ScreenShot.png" >
<object id="SilverlightControlObj" name="SilverlightControlObjNm"
type="application/x-silverlight-2" width="100%"
<param name="source" value="ClientBin/SUGWTK.xap"/>
<param name="onError" value="onSilverlightError" />
<param name="background" value="white" />
<param name="minRuntimeVersion" value="3.0.40624.0" />
<param name="autoUpgrade" value="true" />
<br /> <br />

if that didn't make since... so for reference take a look at my site and view source. If you don't know how to view source on a web page... you probably should stop before you hurt your self...

lets start with the background image in the case of the same above... this is basically a screen shot of what a user could see if they have silverlight. then where you see the center tags that is where you put your 'non' silverlight stuff. If you refer back to my site source code you can get complicated and add an entire downlevel experience for non silverlight users. If you have an ecom site then you really need todo this. if on the other hand your site is called hacking silverlight like mine then you can be a bit more less friendly for silverlight.

In any case one other thing you can do is add a preloader animation.

here is a link to the preloader on my site:

and to use one you add something like this to the object tag used to create your silverlight application:

<param name="SplashScreenSource" value="Inc/Preloader.xaml" />

In any case doing a preloader and custom install experience is the best way to help the non silverlight visitor and help making the loading your site that much cooler for the Silverlight users of your site.

Me on Windows 7 Touch (and I mention Silverlight Hack)

At the MPV Summit 2010 I was asked to talk a little bit about Windows 7 touch and so I talk abit about this touch tag Kiosk technology and our experience at Wirestone working with Windows 7 Touch, WPF and Silverlight. Anyway its pretty cool:

Searchability and Indexability in Silverlight Sites

I got a question from a friend last week that I thought would be a great question to post the answer to about Searchability and Indexability with Silverlight apps. Here is the question,

"I have created a site and I followed the approach something like this : I have created 5 projects for five pages and added the five xap in the main SilverlightProject. and then I have write the code something like this for each menu buttons : HtmlPage.Window.Navigate(new Uri("/Default.aspx",urikind.relative) ;
My question is : Does this help me solving providing the unique url's for search engine optimization ? "

my respone: linking in the xap does not expose those pges to search engines as such but does lay the ground for exposing those pages to the robots/search engines. to expose them to the search engine for indexing the best method is to use the install experience to expose the different elements as links in the html. remember as of late the search engines see nothing inside the xap. specifically they only see the html and a custom install experience provides not only a better user experience to users with out silverlight but that also is what the search engines will see.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

MIX 2010 - in 10 seconds...


windows phone 7

Silverlight 4

better ux

lots of parties (MIXer was awesome)

OData (ado v35.5?)

number of problems with conference direction, still coolest of the public ms conferences

did I mention the iphone killer windows phone 7 (aka, Zune Phone, windows mobile 7) and amazingly enough it might actually be some real competition for iphone, ux is awesome (after 4+ freaking years it had better fraking be freaking awesome)

You can get all the videos here

AND Wirestone sponsored it, stole a sign with our Wirestone logo and more parties and friends.

The worst part of MIX was not getting to see everyone I was hoping to. there may have been talk of other things such as azure but they are really that critical and I didn't pay attention...

Did I say windows phone 7 and all its apps are Silverlight and XNA? freaking awesome

Friday, March 12, 2010

Dirty Dirty Silverlight Hack... - Silverlight 4 Hack: Use Native/Desktop CLR Without COM Registration

Here is a hack of the month. Jeremiah is probably my favoriate Silverlight Prodagy and he has done it again with this wonderful hack, 'Use Native/Desktop CLR Without COM Registration' I like the first line, "WARNING: Information and code here can easily be abused. Please do not use it as a crutch in application planning, but more for utter despair or experimentation. Thus I wrote this blog post from that perspective."

Certainly Jeremiah's code can be abused but what is really interesting to me is how this is one more way to push the limits of what Silverlight can do. 'Hacking' doesn't have to be evil but can be just that pushing the limits and making things better. With that commentary here is the first paragraph and sample code from his article and for the rest you will have to go read his post:

Silverlight 4 + OOB + Elevated Trust gives us the ability to use COM. That would be extremely useful (vs. really useful), except we cannot use just any COM class. It has to support IDispatch (COM automation). It also has to have a ProgID associated to it. That leaves you still with quite a few built-in COM objects to work with, as Justin document's quite well here. What about running our own native or .NET code? One would have to register a COM object first, which requires administrator rights. That’s no fun for an end user! Optimally, it would be nice to be able to add your desktop CLR objects as resources to your XAP, and from Silverlight code, be able to instantiate and use your Desktop .NET classes. This is a hack to do just that.

Huh? What does the hack do?
Let me explain it in code.

/* Create our Desktop .NET helper */
dynamic fullDotNetProxy = fullDotNetProxy = ComAutomationFactory.CreateObject("ClrProxy");

/* Have our .NET helper load up our .NET assembly we extracted from our SL app resources */
dynamic assembly = fullDotNetProxy.GetAssembly(m_assembliesPath + "\\Inject.Test.dll");

/* Get our .NET Type */
dynamic testClassType = fullDotNetProxy.GetDotNetType(assembly, " Inject.Test.TestClass");

/* Create an object instance of our .NET type */
m_testClass = fullDotNetProxy.CreateInstance(testClassType);

/* Run our RunMe method on our .NET object */

Read the rest at:

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Programatically Setting Margin On Elements...

Foo.Margin = new Thickness(0, 50, 24, 6);

really thats it...

as defined by:

[Named UIElement].Margin = new Thickness( [double] , [double], [double], [double]);

or go the extra mile and use intellisense...

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Does Your Agile/UX (User eXperience) Shop have a CMM Rating?

I posted this article on Interact:

"CMM? what is that? is the typical response I get when asking about CMM. For starters CMM = Capability Maturity Model For Software Engineering project methodologies. Basically it’s a way to rate how good a software shop is with regard to its process. Now in the UX/Agile space talk of applying Software Engineering metrics such as the Capability Maturity Model For Software Engineering from Carnegie Mellon University might be a bit more than most will deal with :) however being exposed to both worlds I think it is worthwhile to talk about what UX/Agile can learn..."