Notebook

I saw Dave Gray demonstrate his visual alphabet at SXSWi last year. If you haven't seen him demonstrate this, you might want to watch this video now. In the video he illustrates for us how sketching is just combining forms and lines, and all you really need to be able to come up with pictures is to see and use these basic shapes.

See also Dave's Basic Rules for Napkin Sketching after you've seen the above.

I remember drawing as a kid, feeling frustrated sometimes because I couldn't make things look the way they do in real life. I didn't really understand representational drawing until I started painting. In examining volumes, I was able to find a more basic understanding of the 2 dimensional shapes, and began drawing with ease. But it all came together when I took a Manga drawing class and started drawing characters that I really saw everything in this world of 2d and 3d shapes and polygons.

Drawing representationally shouldn't be the goal in sketching. It should be capturing an idea with rough, basic shapes. I think wanting to draw representational renderings is what held me back so much when I was younger, but embracing the basic shapes is what propels me now. After a while, you learn the alphabet and the pictures come easily if you continue to use the langauge.

I have a feeling these videos will come in handy very soon as tablets flood the market. Brushes and SketchBook Pro for the iPad will certainly provide another way for us to sketch.

The OmniGroup now has video up of the OmniGraffle for iPad showing what looks to be an awesome product. I can't wait to get my hands on it.

Jon Phillips writes about how the user experience of restaurant flow can be redesigned by illustrating the flow in a cafeteria-style space from entry, order and pickup to seating and exit. In his great diagrams he shows how the orginal flow frustrated diners (users) and could be easily re-designed to consider a flow that was immediately understandable--the design he experienced made him feel stupid. Sound familiar?

I think about interior spaces like lines at Whole Foods, where sometimes it makes absolutely no sense (I'm looking at you Columbus Circle) and where other lines seem to have considered this (Union Square sometimes feels efficient). Whole Foods has the problem of not having enough real estate to manage their volume unfortunately.

I remember experiences from my childhood, however, in places like Disney World, where the wait didn't always seem so incredibly grueling because lines are split off to feel shorter, and because distractions make the line feel like part of the experience. Ugh, I take that back. That now makes me think about creative "Loading..." dialogs in Flash. Actually, come to think of it, there are some pretty cool loading experiences in games that give you something fun to do. I also experienced the same with the credits when we recently finished Super Mario Wii.

Jon's article is a must read, if only to think about the problem solving we do and how it is applicable in physical contexts. There's so much opportunity, but I think how unfortunate it is that we don't have UX designers in important places. I think of all the time following the "hanging chad" Florida elections and how poorly designed the polling place in my district in Brooklyn remains, for instance. There's no shortage of UX design need out there.

Paddy Donnelly flips the bird at the fold.

What I'm proposing is for you to think twice about these ‘rules’ which are preached so often around the web and aim to create something original. Don't live in the old world of pushing all your quality content on the visitor at once because they've only got 4 seconds before their attention drops (or whatever other statistic is doing the rounds at present).

Think about the ultimate journey you want them to take. Entice them in, make them actively want to scroll and read on, and on, and on. Guide them with your excellent content and let them explore your site. Tell a story with your content. Space it out a little and you will have some happy visitors who actually want to be there!

A very fitting word to describe the state of web design at present would be

‘Samey’

So many sites have the same, big header, big fat call to action buttons, a sidebar, a big fat footer and the letterpress effect scattered about. Finding a bit of originality in the sea of sameyness is pretty difficult these days.

Jennifer Bove writes for Fast Company about how she and Bill DeRouchey designed the conference experience in "Interaction10: How to Design an Experience for Experience Designers." It' a great behind the scenes look at how they observed the event the year prior, and thought about every aspect of the attendee experience and designed the IXD10 event to create a service that caters to what's important to the conference-goer at every point. I'm sad I missed it. Sounds different from most conferences I've been to, for sure.

Roberto Verganti's article in HBR, "User-Centered Innovation Is Not Sustainable," discusses how focussing on what user's say they want isn't a strategy for innovation. Not news to you, but his take looks at what that means regarding innovation from a sustainability perspective. I found it thought-provoking in other ways as well. The main idea is this. Forward-looking designers and business or policy decision makers may have a greater role and influence regarding designing sustainability products than customers.

The article tells the story of the Toyota Prius, which emerged during a time when the SUV reigned supreme in the US, and customer desire reflected that interest more than any desire for small cars that had less of an impact on the environment. The proposal to produce that innovation came from a vision that started within company.

Verganti believes that decision makers "need to step back from current dominant needs and behaviors and envision new scenarios. They need to propose new unsolicited products and services that are both attractive, sustainable, and profitable." It's an interesting story from many perspectives, with environmental impact being only one.

To dumb the discussion down a little, because I feel more comfortable with my smaller ideas, I'll tell you a silly story from my youth. When I was a teenager, I used to hang out occasionally at this record shop to pick up vinyl. I, like countless male Filipinos in NJ could mix and would DJ now and then. This guy who owned the record shop, his name was Spike, would play whatever new stuff had come in that he thought I would want to play, or I would ask him if he had stuff that I wanted. He knew tracks that I would hum to him after hearing them in the city clubs I'd go to. He was like the reference librarian of the DJs to me.

In those needle drop sessions we would chat about what we had played and what the reaction was. One day I remember asking him what he did when people would ask for something he would refuse to play. As you can imagine, as a teenage boy, it's hard to ignore girls who come up to ask you to play something for them. His answer was this. "You play them what you decide they need to hear, not what they ask for. You're the dealer and they come to you because you know what's good for them." Or at least that's how I remember it. Not sure about the drug dealer analogy.

I laugh when I think about that story, mostly because it was funny. I thought, well that's what separates one type of DJ from another. But I based what I would play on that idea. A DJ is like a curator. Mixing ability is one thing, but it's nothing without taste and experience designing the vibe of the night. Or something like that.

So oddly enough, after reading this HBR article, I think back to this Spike story and think about the role of the designer and what we do with our user research. I think modeling products based on what we believe customers need to do is necessary. But somewhere in that process there's also this need to go on something else. Taste, authority, gut? It's something more like vision based on those things.

I'm a little late on getting to this one, but wanted to post before I forgot because it is a great topic for early and mid-career web designers. Matt (emenel) reacted to Mark Boulton's thoughts about whether or not designers needed to know html.

Matt summarizes what he believes:

As a designer there is a continuum you travel over the course of your career. It starts with making - crafting objects in your selected medium - and progresses through a point where you internalize your craft and can design without making. Even at that point, most designers continue to make things. It helps solidify design choices, and keeps you in touch with changes in the medium. Career wise, at this point you might be an art director, creative director, or design director… Before that point it is imperative that designers engage with their medium and craft - wether it be websites, clothes, telephones, chairs, or responsive environments.

Matt's post started with an observation of fashion designers, through watching Project Runway. These designers are judged not only on concept, but also on execution, or inability to execute. I think this is one profession in particular where the craft of constructing and prototyping are important. You see it when looking at process. Some designers make cartoonish sketches and others beautiful concept drawings. But in the end, the concept can't stand alone if they're judged equally on execution.

Learning html for Mosaic is one of the reasons I was drawn to the web. It was like taking a toaster apart only to learn how to put it back together. I took my first job basically to apprentice, even though I would be learning most of the HTML techniques on my own and through mailing lists like ALA. All that time and experience helps me every day that I draw a UI schematic. The immersion over time is what makes it become part of your language, and gives you the confidence to design without limitations.

I don't think that everyone needs to create production-quality html. I agree with Matt on the main point here. UX designers benefit from developing a working knowledge of the craft of html and css, and should at least put in some time working on prototypes to understand the capabilities of the medium. Even if new designers only work on personal projects, the experience helps them if they never use that skill in producing a deliverable. At best, it gives one the ability to personally demonstrate interactivity with a prototype resembling a working product if they have to.

The biggest point of contention may be whether they need to maintain this ability over time. I don't necessarily think that's true. I, like many other UX designers I know, are familiar enough with HTML to prototype, but are good enough at sketching or with using tools to demonstrate ideas so that someone better suited to building the interactive prototype can execute. That's not to say that we'll all let those skills drop by the wayside as our careers mature. I certainly try to prevent that from happening, which is one of the reasons I blog. But there are resources that can prototype faster and better once we select and refine an idea enough. In the end, execution for me means communicating a refined concept, and doing that doesn't always mean making html or writing code. But the process certainly is informed by understanding it.

Emily Chang rounds up the offering of iPad UI stencils. Some nice OmniGraffle and Photoshop sets in there.