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Oracle ergonomics for online screens

Oracle Database Tips by Donald Burleson

The term "ergonomics" refers to the quality of the end-user interface.    The goals of online screen ergonomics are simple:

  • Improve user productivity

  • Improve user comfort

  • Minimize keystrokes and mouse scrubs

No matter how elegant the internal database may be, a failure at the presentation layer can doom your application project.  The converse is also true.  The term "putting lipstick on a pig" refers to taking a poor database design and making it look stunning on the front-end.

At the end of the day, it's end front-end and the usability of the application that people see, and it's critical to the success of any custom development project.

Correct tab order grouping

Most Oracle professionals understand the technical mechanisms of Oracle tools such as SQL*Forms, HTML-DB and JDeveloper to write applications but many are not aware of the rules of ergonomics.   Even simple things like tab placement make a huge difference in screen usability:










Fundamental of screen ergonomics

When we talk about end-user interface quality, the yardstick for quality is all about efficiency.  An interface must be efficient to operate, delivering data with no unnecessary input.  It's amazing how poorly online screens are designed today, and we need only look at web application to see examples of poor interactivity:

  • Unnecessary data entry - Instead of choosing your state from a pull-down windows, and entering your town name, why not just enter your Zip code?
  • Mixing mouse and keyboard - Most efficient online screen in Oracle are either mouse-centric or keyboard centric.  Nothing slows-down interaction more than having to stop keying, grab the mouse, and then go back to the keyboard.  Mixing access methods can slow-down interaction by over 100%, a real problem for screens that are used thousands of times per day.

Bad ergonomics are called "annoyances", and there are even books dedicated to workarounds for poor online screen design.

Winner of the world worst web site award


Some screens are re-used millions of time per day (eBay screens get 20 billion uses per day) and even the tiniest efficiency improvement goes right into labor cost savings.

Avoid the mouse trap

  • Time is lost every time the end-user has to grab the mouse. 

  • Create mouse-less interfaces for super-fast entry.

Using dropdowns with AJAX

?       The Google Suggest page uses JavaScript to send your keystrokes to its servers, which send back formatted responses.

?       This transfer is done using the XMLHttpRequest object, also called AJAX.

?       The JavaScript that does the work is contained in this file: 


Using dynamic select:




The 90-day wonder

When online screens are used by thousands of people everyday, the Oracle application must optimize the interaction and allow the end-user to complete their task with a minimum amount of work.  

In this example we see how a simple improvement in the end user interface saves our customers 90 days of time.  Let's assume that I have an online Oracle "shopping cart" application where I process two transactions per second.  Each end-user must choose the state name from a drop-down, and then type-in the town name and zip code.  Assume that this takes 50 seconds.  However, a better design that only solicited zip code (and automatically fills-in town and state) only takes 5 seconds.

Individually, the sub-optimal interface only wastes 45 seconds for each transaction, but at two transactions per second, we have 172k transactions per day:

    120 transactions per minute
  7,200 transaction per hour
172,800 transactions per day

When we computer the total lost time (45 sec. each), we have lost 90 full days productivity:

7,776,000 seconds
  129,600 minutes
    2,160 hours
       90 days

So, little things add-up and our goal is to design our end-user layer to maximize productivity via ease-of-use.  Let's take a closer look.

Help screen design

A properly designed help system should be intuitative.




Leveraging full-functional dependency for screen ergonomics

Screen designers understand the power of using full-functional dependencies to reduce end-user work and improve productivity.  Here is a classic example of a poorly-designed Oracle interface.  Assume that the database requires the city/town name, the State and the Zip Code.   If you take the time to load the cross-reference tables to gather the town and state for a given zip code, you same the end-user tremendous work.

Wrong approach #1 - Choose a State name with a mouse

Wrong approach #2 - Choose a State name from a drop-down

The proper interface is to use zip code only.  We see lots of examples of zip-code driven applications.  Knowing the zip code gives us useful information (town name, state name, longitude & latitude) allows the savvy interface developer to derive important information on behalf of the end-user.

Using Google, we see this super-efficient application interface where we only enter the zip code and the string "movies". 

Google derives all movies with a geographical radius and display them quickly.  Note that the Google movie search displays within a geographical distance and you can change the movie sort options by movie rating or movie title:

As we see, understanding that location, city and state are fully-functionally dependent on zip code can greatly improve the end-user interface.  We also see similar issues for other data entry, especially data entry.

Calendar Ergonomics for Oracle Applications

Applications that accept date are also problematic.  For a screen where the end-user must use the keyboard to enter characters, grabbing the mouse to click-off a date is a huge waste:


Repetitive strain injury

The carpal tunnel injury is classified as a "repetitive stress" injury, common in people who spend all-day in front of a online screen interface.  All correct lone screens should have these characteristics:

  • Mouse friendly areas (drag & drop, radio buttons, check boxes)
  • Keyboard friendly areas
  • Auto-fill interfaces with Oracle
    • Autofill
    • Drop-down-menu
    • Pop-up box

When we talk about end-user interface quality, the yardstick for quality is all about efficiency.  An interface must be efficient to operate, delivering data with no unnecessary input.

?       American's with Disabilities Act (ADA) - The web is a ?place of public accommodation?.

?       The Web Accessibility Initiative (WAI) - WAI is an international group that has published guidelines for web content, web authoring and web usability.

?       Rehabilitation Act Section 508 - Section 508 is important to any company that develops Oracle systems for use by US Government bodies, and many analysts believe that Section 508 may soon expand in scope to cover non-Government systems.

Tips for blind screen design:

  • Provide an Access Instruction Page for Visitors (include email hyperlink for visitors to communicate problems with web page accessibility)

  • Provide support for text browsers

  • Attach "Alt" tags to graphic images so that screen-readers can identify the graphic

  • Hyperlink photographs with descriptive text "D"

  • Caption all audio and video clips by using "CC" hyperlinks

  • Provide alternative mechanisms for on-line forms (such as email or voice/TTY phone numbers)

  • Avoid access barriers such as the posting of documents in PDF, table, newspaper or frame format or requiring visitors to download software.

Help screen design:

All system help should be both intuitive and intelligent, anticipating and actions of the end-user:

Help functions should be intuitive

If you like Oracle tuning, see the book "Oracle Tuning: The Definitive Reference", with 950 pages of tuning tips and scripts. 

You can buy it direct from the publisher for 30%-off and get instant access to the code depot of Oracle tuning scripts.



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