TechDays 2009: ‘Building Modular Applications using Silverlight and WPF’ Follow-up

TechDays 2009I’ve just finished delivering the “Building Modular Applications using Silverlight and WPF” session at Microsoft Canada’s TechDays 2009 event in Toronto.

What a difference a year makes! At last year’s TechDays, my presentation was all: “Silverlight is new and awesome! Let’s lap around some awesome Silverlight features!”

But this year, as Silverlight and WPF have gained some maturity, many of us are now working on more complex projects enabled by these frameworks.

So this year’s theme, appropriately, was designing for change. It was about taming complexity in real-world Silverlight and WPF apps with patterns, conventions, examples, and a little glue code.

What we covered

After a brief primer on the MVVM pattern, the core of the presentation was a lap around Prism, a.k.a. the Composite Application Guidance for Silverlight and WPF released by Microsoft’s Patterns and Practices group.

We looked at the structure provided by Prism’s Shell and Bootstrapper, demystified Dependency Injection (over breakfast), and then explored the Region Manager, Modules, the Event Aggregator, and Commanding.

Taming Complexity and Designing for Change

Prism's Stock Trader Referencec Implementation
Prism's Stock Trader Reference Implementation

Complexity in the software development lifecycle comes in many forms, including but not limited to:

  • integrating multiple disparate sources of data,
  • dealing with changing requirements,
  • managing features delivered by distributed dev teams,
  • creating complex interactive views,
  • rapidly skilling up new resources on a project,
  • cleanly separating concerns for different roles (like designer and developer), and…
  • well, I could go on.

It seems to me like a good way to tame complexities like these is to design for change. Prism helps you do this. So does MVVM.

I’ve worked with WPF since it was called Avalon, but only recently started using Prism.

When I go back now and look at my pre-Prism code, it looks fine in parts, but organizationally, it reeks of uninformed, trainwreck stuff. If I could speak to Rob vPrevious, I would insist that he take the time to learn Prism.

Do your time in Prism

I did my time in Prism
I did my time in Prism, so I did

So my call to action for all serious WPF and Silverlight devs is:

Finally – if you are a Silverlight or WPF developer, and are looking for a place to work on interesting projects on a scale that demands you plan for change, please contact me.

For those of you who came out today, thanks for the engaging conversations afterwards, and I hope you found the presentation a helpful primer on Prism. May it help you get up the learning curve and start using the P&P guidance in your own applications!

Please write me with your own Prism thoughts and stories.

This year, the theme was designing for change. It was about taming complexity with patterns, conventions, examples, and glue code.

it was a deeper Senior Dev / Architect level discussion that discussed the MVVM pattern and Prism, the Composite Application Guidance for Silverlight and WPF.

Four Perspectives on Delivering ‘Return on Experience’ Follow-up Notes

And now, as promised, the link-laced follow-up to this week’s “Four Perspectives on delivering ‘Return on Experience.'”

Our UX Gurus on the panel were:

and in addition to their insights on Wednesday night, they’ve kindly helped me compile these links.
(If you want to contact any member of the panel, they’re first-initial last-name at infusion.com, or ping me.)

Introductions

The panel began by reflecting on the masochistic teapot made famous by Donald Norman on the cover of his book The Psychology of Everyday Things, to remind us that in the software industry, what we create for our clients often becomes an everyday thing.

Are we making things that are functional but masochistic like this teapot?

what's "Return on Experience"?

The panel then weighed in on Deborah Adler’s redesign of the Target Rx medicine bottles, which was bravely showcased by Microsoft as a UX case study from another industry during the second day keynote at Mix09.

It was a story arc that highlighted the many elements of ‘return on experience’ – everything from safety and customer satisfaction, through brand awareness and driving revenue.

Co-Exist?

Then we reflected on the co-existence of the Development and Design lifecycles. There were varying opinions on where each person on the panel feels squeezed for time and resources in the cycle.

Ernie’s more thorough PM’s Gantt chart (very much not shown here) was a sobering dose of reality. We considered techniques for determining the point at which the value to the client diminishes when you add more time and resources.

New Tools, New Processes

I did a Sketchflow demo. We created an interactive prototype. It had the “right level of fidelity” and the panel remarked that the “sketchy” look helps manage client expectations.

At a high level – there was love. Sketchflow should change our software development lifecycle.

But some easy things were hard. We integrated sample data (and Susan quite fairly called me on it when I talked about a designer “databinding” to “sample data.”  (If Blend wants databinding to be [the designer’s] job then the designer says “but it’s not my job!”). We looked at editing a data template (for a Listbox full of items) and everyone agreed this experience was currently way too hard without grokking a number of Blend and XAML-specific concepts.

Especially valuable is Sketchflow’s ability to solicit feedback from clients with standalone prototypes. Ernie remarked that it was when he saw Sketchflow run “live” as a  standalone prototype that he saw how valuable it could be. Integrated client feedback was a big win. We also saw how it can generate Word doc summaries, and all eyes lit up.

We remarked on its incredible potential, which it’s not quite living up to just yet. Earlier on in the presentation, we’d hit upon this theme that a good user experience should never make the user “feel stupid” – but for new users Sketchflow can unfortunately make some of its target audience feel stupid.

For a v1, though – wow – we all saw the value, and deeply, desperately want it to be awesome. Ernie said he’d go back to his team the next day and tell them to start using it.

Roles and Expectations

After the break, we talked about roles and expectations. Given the changing tools and processes, we wondered what should be expected of different roles.

We noted how “designer” is a “suitcase word” that carries many different meanings. Susan saw all these “people” in the Venn Diagram and just wanted it to be clear that in real life, it’s often all a single, multi-faceted “person.”

(Design) Surface

Most of the panel are, or have been, involved in Infusion’s Surface projects, so we took a moment to talk about design and user experience as they relate to that platform.

Susan remarked that Surface development demands UX design skills “to the extreme.”

The Surface design challenges include: attracting the attention of casual users, encouraging users to overcome the novelty of simultaneous multi-user interaction, and embracing the lack of an “up” direction. It’s “hyper-real,” and there is a need to consider the affordances of design elements used on this multi-user touch-table application.

What can we learn from games?

We had Dan Wilcox from the games industry, so we also asked him what we can learn from the gaming world if we’re trying to build line-of-business apps instead.

Dan agreed that a significant challenge is showing users what they can interact with, and how. That “affordances” thing again. He talked about how the games industry has improved in its ability to guide people through 3D landscapes, and perhaps similar cues could influence navigation through user interfaces. He gave examples of where games are blurring the boundaries between user interface and game world.

The Future of User Experience

Then we talked about the future, because that’s always fun.

But the twist here was: what kind of UX considerations will come into play as we design for new kinds of interactivity?

We ran out of time because we wanted to run down the street to see the Surface app before Rogers closed, but now you have time to explore, and add your own thoughts below…

Four Perspectives on Delivering ‘Return on Experience’

Metro Toronto. NET Users Group
Meeting, 16 sept, 6PM, Bloor East, Toronto (click)

I’m looking forward to the conversation at this Metro Toronto .NET Users Group meeting:

Four Perspectives on Delivering
‘Return on Experience’

We’ve heard a lot recently, from Microsoft and others, about the importance of user experience (UX) and delivering ‘return on experience’ to clients. Tools like Sketchflow for prototyping, Expression Blend for visual design, and frameworks like Silverlight and WPF, are designed to change the way we deliver software projects that incorporate rich and intuitive user experiences.

The reality, of course, is that there are many stakeholders with different perspectives on this process. This evening, let’s talk about how things really work during project delivery “in the wild.”

We’ll discuss the process of enhancing user experience from four perspectives: a designer, a developer team lead, a client, and an account manager.  (not personas, but thoughts from real people who have performed or are performing these roles).   Their perspectives will begin a conversation about the tools and processes, challenges and rewards of delivering ‘return on experience.’

(September 16th, Manulife at 200 Bloor East, Toronto, 6:00PM)

[Update, 17 Sept – I really enjoyed last night – and a huge thanks to all 4 members of the panel (Susan Greenfield, Ernie Taylor, Daniel Cox, Bill Baldasti) and everyone who came out. I will post slides and follow-up either later today or early tomorrow!]