Jean-Anne Fitzpatrick



Sun Microsystems:  Developer Discussion Forums Update Project

I participated in a long-term project at Sun Microsystems to consolidate and redesign discussion forums for developers. As the sole interaction designer and information architect on the project team, my role included both design and taxonomy development, which often intersected in overall improvement of the user experience. The following samples illustrate specific design and taxonomy changes that I produced during the course of this project.

Sun ONE Software Forums, July 2003

The following illustrates the Sun ONE Software forums as of July 2003, prior to modifying the taxonomy and design. At that time, the entry page consisted of a flat alphabetical list of product names. Although the taxonomy included subcategories, the number of entries represented by each link was not visible to the user.

Sun ONE Software Forums, October 2003

The following shows the Sun ONE Software forums after the new taxonomy and new look and feel were implemented. The new entry page groups the forums into meaningful categories and corresponds to the developer site information architecture.

Java Forums, November 2003

The following shows the initial taxonomy of the Java forums. While including some well-defined categories, the top of the page was dominated by overly general, large, and poorly organized groupings.

Java Forums, March 2004

The following shows the revised taxonomy introduced in the first quarter of 2004. The design has been modified only slightly, to introduce sub-categories and improve consistency with the overall site design. All topics are now presented in meaningful and easily parsed groupings.

Original design of Watch List feature, June 2003

The following shows the original design of the Watch List page in the Sun Software forums. This page design reflected a single level of Watch functionality, which allowed tracking of individual discussion topics (or threads). This page needed to be updated to introduce a new version of the Watch feature, which would allow tracking of entire forums or categories of forums.

Default design of 3-level Watch feature

For reference, this illustration shows the default design of the Watch List with forum- and category-level watches, as provided by the forum software firm. At the time that the Sun Software forums page was being updated, this was the only available reference design for a page of this type. While functional, it includes very little helpful metadata about the message activity being tracked.

New design of 3-level Watch feature, September 2003

The following shows the new Watch List design. Research on the current usage of the watch feature showed that over 95% of users had no more than 5 watches in their list, but a small number had hundreds. Since most users can be expected to have a short list, the new design expands the information provided to the user about the message activity within each category, forum, or topic. For users with longer lists, controls are provided to allow filtering the list to show only a selected subject area. In addition, preview information shows the number of items of each type listed on the page, and provides links to jump down to each section. The separate preferences page allows the user to limit how many items will appear in each section.

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