Oracle: Boxen

As in the plural of box, yes. More specifically, a window management system for huge touchscreen video walls I designed and developed at my summer internship at Oracle.

Over the summer, I interned at Oracle with the Appslab team after getting to know them at AT&T Hacks a couple months before. A team like this is a real anomaly in a mega-corp like Oracle — it deals specifically with prototyping and playing with new and emerging technologies and figuring out ways to use them to enhance the corporate experience. We took tools of play — VR, drones, gesture control, and whatever else is on the plate — and explored ways that they could increase, rather than drain, productivity in the workplace.

The Problem:

My boss had purchased a huge touchscreen video wall, just to explore how such an interface could be used in an office in the near future. Problem was, to bundle in any software with the monitor would make the price rise exponentially. So we just decided to hack it instead — build our own thing.

My Solution:

Together with the various product and interaction designers in the Appslab, we found a valuable usecase for this technology in the form of a smart video wall acting as a dashboard. It would connect with various pre-existing Oracle APIs to display all sorts of information that are relevant in the day. Widgets like a Calendar applet, Map applet, and various data aggregation applets are interactive and meaningful.

Additionally, a major focus of this team is shared experiences across different platforms. While the screen is directly interactive with touch, users are also able to toss in applets from their phone or other smart IoT device, and even control the placement and size of each individual box through voice control.

a boxen table in front of a boxen wall. apps can be thrown freely from the table to the screen and back.
Process and Execution:

The project began with lots of brainstorming. Since my project is exploratory, self-contained, and would only be displayed at conferences and in-house with no outside use, this step was very important just for myself to determine what my whole summer would be devoted to creating. Product and interaction designers at Oracle were extremely helpful in this regard — they’re equipped with lots of user stories and personas that represent the integral userbase that Oracle serves.

Ultimately, we decided that we would be building a system that serves some use for a Sales Lead, a constructed identity named Casey Brown. He would enter every morning into his smart office, and his Boxen would greet him with a warm ‘hello’ and a daily debriefing — a calendar of events with actionable links, a scoreboard of his salespeople who report to him, a progress board of hot leads, and maps of the statuses of various sales theaters.

I coded the main backbone of the system in Javascript and jQuery — the idea would be that it would run in a browser maximized along the entire screen. Fiddling with various touch and drag-drop libraries, I quickly constructed a backbone that allowed apps to be affixed along a grid of 3x3, to keep the programming and organization simple as well as to keep in mind the difficulty of working between bezels.

An expanded box all ready for use :)

An interesting issue was that of how to control the placement and sizing of apps on the board, given that the video wall will often be taller than a person can reach at the top. Instead of having the user drag and throw around the applets directly, I implemented a control panel that can be summoned and dismissed at any point on the video wall with a double-tap. The control panel would be a mini mirror image of the large wall, with a 3x3 grid of small boxes that can be moved around on a small scale to affect the large boxes on a big scale. Anything on the control panel can also be pinched with two fingers to resize it in any direction, to make it take up, say 1x2 boxes, or 2x3, or even the entire 3x3 screen.

To make this project especially eye-catching at conferences like OpenWorld where it was exhibited, I have it a super futuristic look — drawing influences from The Martian, Interstellar, and other sci-fi flicks to deliver a classically space-age interface, replete with semitransparency and a underlying, shimmering grid. It felt really good to flex a little design muscle, and it elevated the product up significantly from its lesser styled-up predecessor.

All in all, this was an incredibly fun and interesting internship. Coding and whatever aside, the coworkers were genial and hilarious, the culture at this group was supporting and fun (a real surprise!) and the area was beautiful. I would not hesitate to go back :D

see ya later, pal.