UX, Design and Rich Application Frameworks

Kevin Richardson, Ph.D. / Tuesday, September 3, 2013

With the advent of rich application frameworks (and the increased exposure to interaction models they make possible) it isn’t difficult to imagine that usability and design professionals may be feeling a little vulnerable.


After all, until recently, UX and design professionals were the last, best hope in the face of early web design, business systems left over from the 80s and clunky mobile phone menus. We helped create an environment in which users expected more (at least on the web). Today, however, developers have at their disposal an arsenal of tools designed to provide users with experiences that take advantage of asynchronous server calls, high-definition multimedia and slick, natural-feeling interactions. Have we been relegated to the role of usability testing? Surely, our profession has more to offer.


Where do we fit in?

The good news is that our role is the same as it has ever been. Like any platform or technology, rich application frameworks are the medium through which design is expressed. As such, they are no different from any previous platform that was ready to revolutionize the manner in which people interact with information, the world or each other. They are the tools through which researchers, designers and technologists enable users to complete tasks and make decisions. They are the paint and canvas, the clay and plastic molds, with which we bring our designs to life.

A well-designed system is the result of a well-defined design process. That process includes the expertise of an interdisciplinary team with individual backgrounds in graphic design, fine art, architecture, cognitive psychology, anthropology, human-computer interaction, and other fields. This kind of design team has the training and experience to bridge the gap between business, technology and human requirements. They (we!) practice a design process that is mindful of the features, functions and legacy systems that must be somehow united, implemented and maintained. They are equally mindful of who will be using these systems (from motorcycle enthusiasts to financial analysts, from students to CEOs), their experiences and mental models, where the systems will be used (from hospital emergency rooms to living rooms and executive boardrooms) and what they need from technology to improve rather than impede outcomes.

The ultimate compliment for any interface is that it be transparent to the user, allowing complete focus to remain on the task. If, at any point, the user must wrestle with the interface, then research and design have failed. Our job remains one of understanding the ways in which users need to have information presented to them, the ways in which they need to interact with it and the decisions they must make. The capabilities made available via rich internet applications provide a larger toolset from which to choose in order to meet these requirements.