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Archive for June, 2011

Present It Like You Mean It

Being able to present your own work is a core design skill. If you’re working somewhere that won’t let you present your own work, get out of there.

Though I believe in designers presenting their own work, let’s face it, some of us are better at presentation than others. I’ve been presenting design to clients and internal teams for years, and I still get nervous about it. Here are some tips in presenting creative design that help me get to my happy place.

Braindrawing: Another insight from UPA 2011

UPA 2011 Designing for Social Change

The last session I attended at UPA 2011 Chauncey Wilson’s “Brainstorming and Beyond: Ideation, Innovation, and Insight.”  The slides from his presentation aren’t yet available online (I’ll update this post with the link when available), but I’m including an earlier version that he presented with Amy Cueva. In the session he shares a number of alternatives to the traditional brainstorming techniques, including variations to ensure that all participants feel comfortable contributing.

One alternative technique that I particularly liked was braindrawing (see slide 26). Chauncey noted that this is a useful way to develop conceptual designs, ideas for icons, screen layouts, new feature designs, and even requirements. As I presented on the topic of usability requirements, this last benefit caught my attention. Early in my usability career, I led JAD sessions with SMEs, capturing their input in the form of white board drawings that they added to. The meetings were very successful and generated good design concepts and requirements. Still, What we might have created if we had used an approach like braindrawing to gather individual ideas and then combine the best rather than working on a single concept as a group.

I’ve also used conceptual drawings to test requirements as they were being developed. With a braindrawing session, instead of my presenting conceptual design sketches (usually in the form of incomplete user interfaces that I refer to as “sketchlets”), participants could sketch their interpretations of gathered requirements to test the soundness and completeness of requirements.

Another great application that Chauncey shared is to extract ideas from collected user research. I spoke about using user research in collaborative requirements workshops. Braindrawing would be a great technique to add to to the toolbox with analysis techniques such as affinity diagramming and relationship diagrams. Read the rest of this post »

Flex Your Risk Muscle

Do you hit the bull’s-eye every time?

If so, you are standing too close to the target.

As Woody Allen puts it:
If you’re not failing every now and again, it’s a sign you’re not doing anything innovative.

Everyone has a “risk muscle.” You keep it in shape by trying new things. If you don’t, it atrophies and you’re no longer able to take chances.

So ask yourself: How can you exercise your risk muscle?

Roger von Oech’s Creative Whack Pack #53

The need for a broader perspective in user experience design

UPA 2011 Designing for Social ChangeLast week, I attended UPA 2011. The theme this year was Designing for Social Change. The opening keynote speaker Paul Adams, Global Brand Experience Manager at Facebook, shared his research (an earlier version of his presentation available on Slideshare) into social networks. Among the many insights of the presentation, his research showed that the change agents today are not the thought leaders or the “influentials,” but regular people connected in clusters of individuals who themselves are linked to other clusters (see slides 93 and 9). A single, regular person had the potential to reach millions people at the Friends of Friends of Friends level.

But the real challenge is not to connect individuals to the world, but connect individuals more richly to their own networks and in turn connect those networks in a way that influences social change. The potential of social isn’t that I can read 1000 reviews by strangers, but that I can read reviews by people I trust already in my network, strengthening my trust in the product or service and prompting me to spread that trust to other members of my networks. It comes down to relationships.

This points to a growing need to rethink the way that we design. The term “user experience design” (UXD) has gained currency, but is still being defined. Work is still needed for UXD to reach its full potential to deliver richer experiences to increasingly sophisticated and demanding users. Read the rest of this post »

Give Yourself a Whack on the Side of the Head

A followup to my graphic standards and style guide post:

The more often you do something in the same way, the more difficult it is to think about doing it in any other way. Break out of this “prison of familiarity” by disrupting your habitual thought patterns. Eat ice cream for breakfast. Wear red sox. Visit a junk yard. Stay home in the morning. Work in the evening. Take the slow way home. Sleep on the other side of the bed. Such jolts to your routines will lead to new ideas.

So ask yourself: How can you whack your thinking?

Roger von Oech’s Creative Whack Pack #1

Tablets Need UX Love Too

Now that the newest Android tablets (Motorola XOOM and Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1) have come close to matching Apple’s iPad in terms of fit and functionality, I expect the demand for Android tablets to show a marked increase in sales.  There has been a considerable amount of material written around Android smartphone  User Experience (UX) designs and how to deal with the many shapes and sizes that they come in.  However, the Android development community and UX design experts creating the wireframes and mockups that we developers work from have been slow on providing material on how a particular application would look and function on a tablet.  I was reading some material on tablet design considerations and the author made the statement that I thought was relevant in that the “Android tablet is not a giant phone”  He went on to state that a developer should not be simply reusing the Android phone layouts for large and extra-large resources files. A mobile development project that plans to include tablets as a deliverable need to take into account additional UX considerations (this is where iPad developers have a leg up due to a year’s head start of experience) when creating the tablet application and not rely on the developers to just “supersize” the smartphone app.

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Photoshop: Make a photo a sketch in 3 easy steps.

In working with architects and the St. Louis Landmarks Association, I have often ran across a need to render a building or represent a landmark as an architect’s conceptual sketch. Trying out some technics in Photoshop one day, I discovered a wonderful filter called “Find Edges.” With this filter, you can make almost any photo look like a pencil sketch in just 3 easy steps. I will show you how.

Pimp Your Logo with JQuery

The challenge:
Design a logo for a special company event with several color schemes. On websites, the logo needs to subtly change colors as someone visits the site. This would be an easy solution using Flash but because many users have iPads or iPhones that do not support it, those users would not see the desired effect.

An animated gif is a possibility, but animations can be choppy, the colors get dithered and the file size can get very large depending on the number of frames and colors.

Solution: JQuery
We have all seen the popular rotating carousels that change between marketing and promotional images on a company’s website homepage. So we asked ourselves, “What would happen if you created a rotating carousel like these with a fading effect with the exact same image in different colors?”

Ease up. Don’t Force It.

An architect built a cluster of office buildings around a central green. When construction was completed, the landscape crew asked him where he wanted the sidewalks. “Just plant the grass solidly between the buildings,” was his reply. By late summer the new lawn was laced with paths of trodden grass between the buildings. These paths turned in easy curves and were sized according to traffic flow. In the fall, the architect simply paved the paths. Not only did the paths have a design beauty, they responded directly to user needs.

So ask yourself: What are you forcing? Where could you ease off?

Roger von Oech’s Creative Whack Pack #31

Marking required fields on forms: should you or shouldn’t you?

When I first started working in user experience design, the thought of designing a form filled me with dread. It’s something that seems like it would be so easy, but creating a really good form requires a lot of thought (which is why poorly designed forms still abound). Many Web conventions exist around form creation, but that doesn’t mean that they always make sense. One of those conventions is the required field indicator.

Luke Wroblewski, the master of web form design, devotes several pages of his book Web Form Design: Filling in the Blanks to the topic of required fields. He argues that there should not be an absolute rule about marking fields as required or optional, but that the more important question is whether to indicate anything at all.  If you have a form where all fields are required or all are optional, Luke says that indicators aren’t particularly useful and are actually unnecessary information that users have to pause and consider.

Read the rest of this post »