A dive into Rich Internet Applications

So far, none of the talks I attended on AJAX and RIAs (Rich Internet Applications) ever got past “What is AJAX?” and showcasing one or two examples. Luckily, today’s full-day workshop on the first day of the UI11 Conference in Boston covered that within the hour and went ahead.

‘Designing Powerful Web Applications using AJAX and RIAs’ was hosted by David Malouf (IntraLinks) and Bill Scott (Yahoo!). Together they provided insight in:

  • Choosing the right technology,
  • RIA design patterns,
  • Design principles for rich design, and
  • Communicating RIA designs.

Choosing the right technology

David tells the audience that it is important for (user experience) designers to know something about the technologies that are being used for RIAs. You have to be able to choose the right technology together with your development team, depending on the context in which the application will be used, for instance:

  • Will the application serve a business environment? If so, are there specific platform, browser or plugin restrictions?
  • How much does the application has to integrate with the local desktop?

RIA design patterns

Bill Scott is the man behind the Yahoo! Design Pattern Library, which lists dozens of rich interaction behaviors, all free for designers to consult. He explains the power of patterns (“a way to talk about common interaction techniques”) and concludes the topic with an important message: Don’t let libraries of existing patterns keep you from creating new ones.

Design principles for rich design

Bill smoothly switches to the next topic. He thoroughly describes his 7 design principles for rich design:

  1. Keep it direct;
  2. Leave a light footprint;
  3. Cross border reluctantly;
  4. Provide live feedback;
  5. Offer an invitation;
  6. Show transitions;
  7. Think in objects.

It’s not my intention to explain these principles on Bill’s behalf; he does a far better job at that. Go and see his presentation on these principles yourself.

Communicating RIA designs

The last bit of theory: how to sketch, communicate and document your RIA design. Since rich interactions don’t go from page to page but occur within the page, sketching the page won’t do the job. Instead, create a matrix of ‘interesting moments’ (like mouse hover, drag, drop, click) and ‘actors’ (user interface elements like the cursor, image or tooltip) and describe all the interaction possibilities.

After the workshop I got right down to designing a rich website myself. Let’s see what I come up with…
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