Our small, agile, quick-strike Front End Design Team was my first experience (in 1994) with a very lean interactive design & development group in a large institutional “heavy lifting” environment.
an Agile Team
We were motivated by a range of issues. Here are a few of them:
- Driven by stakeholder (high-volume stock traders) agenda
- Rapid conceptual grasp and prototyping of functional solutions
- Quick turnaround on a workable model for the ‘real’ program development team
- Responsive to stakeholder culture ( needs, desires, ways of thinking)
- advocate for usability – across the enterprise
Who we were
(from the left)
Was our Market Data and network structure expert. Mike knew how the critical financial data got to us – and where it went afterwards. Solid VB programming, as well as the structure of the enterprise.
Was – appropriately – both the Group Lead and brought the business analyst / trader perspective to the team. John was the primary evangelist and educator for ‘the business case’, as well as our liaison to Trader World. I learned a lot and – to John’s credit – enjoyed the process.
As the lead interaction designer, my focus was on human factors, ease of use, compatibility, standards, and online help. I had some modest VB programming ability, but perhaps my best contribution was in capturing knowledge for design solutions. I was also a usability advocate and ‘ambassador’, both within our project group and across the enterprise.
Was the lead programmer and Visual Basic (VB) Guru. In addition to sharing an office, Prashant and I worked closely on developing re-usable code modules, stylings, patterns, and behaviors: a “library” of best practices and modeling the UI.
As a team, we worked together efficiently and effectively. In addition to accomplishing our immediate mission (rapid design solutions) and laid the groundwork for good usability practices across the enterprise.
How we fit in
Hey, it was 1994. A team of 4 guys couldn’t crank out market-ready solutions in a timely fashion. We were the “front end” design team: Our quickly-produced, shallowly-functional VB prototypes were handed off to a development team of about 25 C++ programmers, who would then produce the ‘real’ desktop solution.
Consistency, reliability and comprehensiveness ensure that the project is under control and that all members of the project team are “on the same page”.
Our Primary Focus: the Trading Console
Provided a clickable site model (in Visual Basic) that conformed to the workflow and served as design guide for the development team.
I championed usability testing and analysis at the Reuters Usability Lab where we pioneered usability testing within the enterprise.
Reuters established some of the first (to my knowledge) corporate usability labs in mid-90’s. They also distributed a HUUUUge binder with voluminous & extensive usability arguments & guidelines. The challenge was to advocate & educate “Usability and the User Experience” (though it wasn’t called that at the time) across the enterprise.
- The extensive info in the binder was valid, but overwhelming. It became shelf fodder.
- One visit to a show ‘n tell at the Usability Lab with the beta of our product did the trick with the developer team. They became advocates immediately.
The real life traction of seeing their program code in action was a revelation for the developers – and for those of us on the Front End Design Team, as well
Value added: This also cemented the working relationship between the Design Team and the Developers,.
Solutions Beyond the App
We also had impact beyond the flagship online trading product:
Enterprise-wide Design Standards
I was called upon to provide interaction design services, interface standards, data continuity and documentation to a number of other in-house software products. I identified business needs, designed working model prototypes in Visual Basic and wrote Design Guidelines & Functional Specifications for applications across Instinet’s Portal:
- ADR Calculator
- Trading Symbol Guide
- Instinet Transaction Analysis (trading cost analysis tool)
- Clearing History
- Crossing Services
- Purchase & Sales
- Soft Dollar
- Installation Tracking
- Customer Database & Client Tracking
- Internal Billing System
My design evangelism resulted in an enterprise-wide commitment to usability which was both consistent and conformed to best practices.
I was also responsible for implementing desktop compliance with the Reuters RACE Specification. This was a platform standard which enabled drag & drop, right-click menu integration across multiple applications, both within Instinet and under the Reuters umbrella.
The next step, of course, was data-sharing.
Share Common Data
As a part of the enterprise-wide standards mandate, I also provided a content management perspective to the Customer Database Reconciliation project. Instinet’s customer information was employed by all of the applications listed above. At that early point in the process, the data was maintained separately, reundantly, and often incompatably and incorrectly by each of the software applications.
Our challenge was to collect, clarify and define a common customer database that could be shared by all: Data Warehousing.
The Design Resource Center (DRC)
To support these efforts I created enterprise-wide Design Resource Center online database in Lotus Notes, which provided a central repository for project information, design standards, and the sharing of code modules. The DRC was used by more than 50 designers and coders across the enterprise.
- Offers a common, easy-to-use and manageable design resource reference system
- Authorizes appropriate access (read, edit, create/delete)
- Acts as central clearing house for documentation and interface design standards
Organizes reference materials that are available to all teams and all projects.
- Project Team Directory
- Project Documentation Library
- Component Code Module Library
- Media Library Database
- User Interface Design Guidelines
- Documentation Templates
- Glossary of Terms
- Print Reference
I first implemented the Design Resource Center for my employer in 1996 on a Lotus Notes platform.
View this case study in my portfolio: Instinet.
Although these anecdotes about our team are informative, I really haven’t really spoken much about our collaboration. More to come…
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