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How to Create a Rich Internet Application (Screen Design)

Theresa Neil/UX Magazine

July 22, 2010

Designing a rich Internet application (RIA) can test even an experienced design team.

The hardest challenge is to blend Web and desktop paradigms to create a responsive and intuitive experience. Some paradigms that exist in the desktop environment are ill-suited for the Web, while many of the Web paradigms people are familiar with (paging, explicit refresh) are no longer necessary with RIA technologies like Flex and Ajax.

As this space matures, we are learning more and more about which boundaries can be pushed, and which patterns transcend time and technology. While working on the book Designing Web Interfaces, Bill Scott and I explored hundreds of Web applications searching for these patterns. Armed with a crazy amount of examples, we distilled the patterns into six principles:

Make It Direct
Keep It Lightweight
Stay in the Page
Provide Invitations
Use Transitions
React Immediately

But we didn’t tackle the larger topic of how to create a rich application. What is the process? How did products like Mint, Balsamiq, and Wufoo get so good?

This article will outline the process we use to create rich applications, focusing primarily on screen design. All of the content is geared specifically toward productivity applications like Software as a Service (SaaS) products and Rich Enterprise Applications (REAs).

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