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BEA Participate! 08 User Conference
Social-Networking & Schedule/Interest Management Application

IA, IxD,
Um... Server?!
A PRD or othersuch documentation of features for this product did not yet exist. Production started ad-hoc between marketing and engineering, and was brought to BEA's Design Director for end-of-project insights.
After the initial concepting/purpose phase to determine what the application's key objectives were moving forward, the next step was a scrub of the app's v1.0 build: creating a detailed feature inventory, followed by getting busy with the metaphorical red-pen to trim-down & tune the app to provide a less portal-ish and more streamlined, holistic & human experience.


Tracking axed features, tweaked features, new features, new features that were then axed, and design details verbally sketched-out in meetings, was a critical component to both the process, and to keeping an eye on the bigger-picture of the whole application when delving into details, at all times.


Because time didn't permit for a traditional handoff of meticulously detailed wireframes, a prototype, or a proper functional spec, the inventory spreadsheet served a double-purpose to both track and document moving-target verbal decisions that were executed upon by engineering immediately, and past/future decisions/specifications, verbal or visual, in one centralized and irritatingly anal data-repository.

• • •

Early 2008 Oracle Inc. acquired BEA Systems, thus marking the anticipated end of BEA's AquaLogic software.
BEA executives wanted to grasp the opportunity to do something experimental with their last user conference. I was brought onto the team mid-project to bring IxD cohesion, product strategy help, and a visual language, to the desktop & iPod conference application(s).

Key Usability & Design Challenges:

• After looking at concept-prototypes of what had been concepted & built to-date by the engineering team,
it was clear that the primary need was to step-back and re-focus the whole team on a concise set of goals.


• Time was too limited to create user personaes or multiple itterations of wireframes, so I looked to existing web applications to present in a whiteboard exercise to determine the central "who" "what" and "why" problem/solution equations.

• Feature names & all product nomenclature had been mostly taken from Facebook and were subsequently
deemed inappropriate for the B2B audience. Intuitive, sometimes whimsical, and business-appropriate names were created for all features, with the goal of collectively sculpting more unified, less intimidating and more encouraging experience.

• Giving the application a voice through both written and visual aesthetics that alluded to a "mob" -ish whurr of activity was divined as a top-level goal, with the hope that more user participation among the novice-level
social-software users would be subtly encouraged, yielding greater overall app vitality as the end goal.

• 2 complete design-cycles vested in creating both a robust desktop app and an engaging/intuitive partner
Cocoa (iPhone/iPod OS) app, was not within scope in our allotted production schedule.
For interaction patterns, I subsequently approached the desktop app "in reverse," and planned the full IxD with the Cocoa SDK interface tools & standards in mind... so that once complete, the transition would be easy-breezy.

I was brought-on in mid February, with the hope that by the day of the conference (April 5th)... we'd have
something great! "Crunch" was mos most definitely an understatement !


Given the timeframe challenges afoot, the full team worked around the clock and flexibility & communication
beyond the norm, were vital. Standard project protocols had to be all but abandoned, in favor of much more
agile methods of communicating directives, specs, and approvals.

After the BEA acquisition by Oracle was legally complete, Oracle wasted no time and promptly re-org'd all of
BEA, and axed (versus reducing) budgets. Sadly, this meant that just as the Cocoa design phase was to start, the budget for my services was eliminated. While I had to move-on to keep a roof over my head, the rest of the team kept the project going full-steam-ahead, despite new reporting structures and project assignments.

Conference attendees were thrilled. The "BEA Swan Song" concept behind the branding was a major hit.
Using a "visual quilt" of (available and free!) employee badge pictures as the primary element across
conference banners, printed material, PPT templates, and the application hit the emotional-note with attendees, as hoped.
Most users had never before used Twitter or Upcoming- the two existing apps that influenced Participate!08,
the most. Same with LinkedIn and Facebook. If anything, LinkedIn was probably the most used app among users, prior to the event. Both the iPod and Desktop apps were taken-to well, and user participation throughout the conference was high. Verbal feedback was positive, and BDG Group is now marketing & selling an un-branded version of the product, with great success.
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