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Palm Foleo | nina eleanor alter
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my ongoing meditation on systems, human cognition, and how to best collaborate with teams to delight and empower both.

Palm Foleo Palm Foleo Palm Foleo Palm Foleo Palm Foleo Palm Foleo Palm Foleo

On 14, Aug 2007 | In | By ninavizz

Palm Foleo

Primary Tasks: Client-site workshops, hybrid interaction/visual design, weekly micro-usability testing, prototype building in Flash. VERY quick iteration.

This was probably one of the most full-team, highly collaborative projects I’ve ever worked on. The initial ask was to simply polish a dowdy & troublesome suite of native apps on the yet-to-launch Palm Foleo device. And maybe the OS. At the eleventh hour, before the product’s long awaited launch.

When presented with higher-touch options and findings from a quick heuristics analysis, the decision was made to go deeper than what I’d been hired to do—but the launch date wasn’t being pushed, so we had to work fast.

Traditional team workflows of presenting wires, then mockups, then prototyping, mostly went out the window—and in close collaboration with a developer who understood the 7-bit screen & OS code limitations—we just did it all, did it quick, and every Friday a new prototype was put in front of users for a month. No formal product methodology (such as Agile), but it worked—it wasn’t waterfall, and in the way a polar bear swim is great, it was.

Then I went to Europe 6 weeks, after carefully setting-up with all involved teams to work remotely for the duration of my trip. 2 days in and from a hostel in Prague, I got the call to read the NYT’s front page story announcing Palm’s decision to fully abandon the Foleo project. Despite the units that had already been produced, the printed & finished packaging, etc.

4-rounds of usability testing, 1 full project (OOBE) completed and 3 well underway; while I fully agreed with the wisdom of the decision, it was a pretty big drag seeing the whole thing just stop.

Yes, I still have my beautifully boxed Foleo deep in a closet somewhere.

Key Usability & Design Challenges: 

• Mental-models used to design the device’s existing software were those of a PDA user, by executive directive. Because users are physically interfacing with a form-factor akin to a laptop, with a QWERTY keyboard and with no stylus, this created much confusion.

• Hardware shortcomings limited the device’s ability to “pair” (wirelessly connect) with Palm Treo or 3rd Party smartphones… and a fluid out-of-box-experience wizard to introduce users to this process in an intuitive and easy to remember (in a good way) fashion, was required.

• There were very distinct flows for the paring, depending on which version of the Palm OS or Windows Mobile you had. Further adding confusion, were the provider-customized versions of WinMo. Simply creating a visually-rich, colorful, and form-factor inclusive guide for folks to navigate to pick their device, was a massive leap (ie: not even Palm employees knew which model or OS they had, even down to the Palm OS vs Windows Mobile difference).

• Existing OOBE flow was packed full of ‘slammed-door’ interaction models and dependencies on confusing product (smartphone) screen-shots. After multiple attempts over a weekend, I was almost in tears trying to just pair the fully-updated (firmware) Treo 680 and Foleo that Palm provided to me to work with.

• Hardware shortcomings limited the device’s ability to display color, there were severe pressures on the internal design team to appease Hawkins’ strict disdain for anti-alias typography, and the ovarall aesthetic of the interface had received a heap of criticism for feeling “stodgy.”

• Internal re-design after re-design had resulted in cabbage-soup variety “design fatigue,” and the full product team was hungry for fresh eyes and a disciplined approach to bringing all of the applications & the system software, back on track.