Notebook

Requested Reading Recommendations from the School of Visual Arts, MFA in Interaction Design program.

Upon the request of readers, we asked faculty to recommend books for an interaction design reading list. These could be landmark texts, underdogs, or critical reads, or stepping stones to other fields. The following is what resulted from our request, comprising in part: a sneak preview of what will be assigned in courses; what some consider to be cornerstone interaction design texts; and what some consider important connections to other fields.

Joshua Porter's post about whether good design can be replicated is fabulous. What I like is the idea that there isn't a solid set of methods that you can reuse in every case and think it might guarantee success or "good design". There's an interesting thought in there about process:

I wonder if the real issue is that most of the time designers simply don’t know if what they’re building is great, and they end up relying on process to get as far as they can. If they go through the right process, they think, then they’ll produce maybe not the best solution, but the best solution possible. This may be true…and it is comforting, in a way, because if you feel like you are doing it right then you can sleep soundly.

Couldn't we just say that all this activity that leads to design, whether it uses one methodology or another, just helps frame the problem and start the discussion about understanding what you're trying to solve before the eureka moments hits. We're not talking about sticking to rigor here, but maybe using tools and methods to get to some moment of clarity before carrying on to the design that can now be given focus.

The Michael Bierut passage is a great one, in that he suggests that he works at the problem in one way or another until the solution manifests almost magically. And Joshua suggests that perhaps it's just hard work, and I would say experience, that makes good design. I'd side with that opinion, if I had to side with anything.

I love what tiny gigantic has written in this great short post about designing by writing (or the non-iterative design process). I agree wholeheartedly, although I think of writing as part of design to be accretive and/or iterative.

A few choice bits from the entry:

[W]hen someone asks you why you used green, or why you included that crumpled-paper background, or why there’s a bird in the logo, you’re gonna need to know. What’s more, you’re going to need to be able to articulate it in a way that makes them care. I’ve been in graphic design classes in which I’ve asked students presenting their work why they did what they did. And 90% of them have said something like: “because it’s like, I don’t know. It’s like I thought that color looked super good right there. And I like birds.”

...

It’s not enough to make pretty things. You’ve got to be able to talk about them, to present them, to parse their meaning. And the truth of it is that if you can’t articulate what the thing you’re making means, you’re gonna have a helluva time making it mean something to someone else. Which is a problem, because that’s the job.

I like to write before I do anything related to interaction design. I like to read, gather and summarize loads of user feedback, to talk among my team about ideas we have to solve problems, and then distill it all into statements of the problem, proposals for design concepts, and stories (use cases and scenarios). This is all the intellectual work of design. Where I work now, it happens in a wiki article with users adding paragraph comments, all before I start to sketch. Then it continues to happen when my team annotates sketches.

In any case, the point is that the thought process that leads to design is what's important, and if there is none, then maybe writing can help in that case. Perhaps not everyone needs to write so much as communicate and capture in some way, even if it's only in discussion and notetalking or what have you.

Interesting discussion in M. Jackson Wilkinson's blog about the altnernatives to hierarchical sitemaps, and the use of concept maps or user flows as alternatives when hierarchy doesn't work in your documentation.

I have to agree with one point, in that site maps don't always serve documentation well when the notion of a strict hierarchy just doesn't exist. But I think there's utility in sitemaps at conveying the organization of a site or application at some level. It may be a very high level visualization that maps concept model/mental models to navigation or application menus, and provides a way for a team to visualize the connections between what the user sees and what the system represents in UI.

I don't do sitemaps very often anymore, especially when working on application design. They get you far enough in terms of conveying a 1,000 foot view of the landscape, but the meat of the documentation seems to be in uncovering topography. And that can be the stuff of quite a few deliverable types, including user flows, use cases. A nice list of deliverables that might be suitable is in Peter Morvilles' UX Deliverables run down.

Creatica writes about the redesign of FaveUp, which will be relaunched as Creatica Inspire. The lengthy article discusses the process of designing Creatica Inspire and includes links to HTML mockups for the new site, and for illustration purposes shows the evolution of PSDtuts, which will also come in line with the new Creatica family of sites. Great read for anyone considering redesigning an existing site with an established set of users, especially with regard to improving funcitonalities, IXD and IA, without upsetting users.

Smart Experience has posted a 5 minute video showing different kinds of carousels in action and teaches you the three key design criteria you need to know to create your own. Excellent stuff and the best discussion of why carousels are effective, and a thorough review of the different kinds of carousels you might use. Check it for free now. This micro-seminar goes on sale soon.

The Wireframe Icons have been updated. PNG versions and contact sheet has been added for all icons. New icons including User (silhouette from front), Groups, Microphone, Clock, Phone, Printer, Power, TV Widescreen, Remote controls, Volume, alternate versions of Cart and Image, and much more have been added. Additionally, some icons have been modified for stylistic consistency.

If you've previously purchased these icons, you can update your set by logging in and heading to your Account page where you will see a "Files" link under your user name. Clicking the Files link will display your download. If you need assistance, please contact me.

Dan Saffer gave a fantastic NYC IXDA presentation, Tap Is the New Click, discussing the rise of touch interfaces, their place and adoption in society, and the role of the interaction designer in designing these direct manipulation interfaces. Every IA and IXD needs to watch this. A summary of the talk below:

Even though the technology has been around for decades, only now are we starting to see mass production and adoption of touchscreen and gestural devices for the public. Jeff Han's influential 2006 TED demonstration of his multitouch system, followed by the launches of Nintendo's Wii, Apple's iPhone, and Microsoft Surface, have announced a new era of interaction design, one where gestures in space and touches on a screen will be as prominent as pointing and clicking.

But how do you create products for this new paradigm? While most of us know how to design desktop and web applications, what do you need to know to design for interactive gestures?

This introduction to designing gestural interfaces will cover the basics: usability and ergonomics; a brief history of the technology; some elemental patterns of use; prototyping and documenting; and how to communicate that a gestural interface is present to users.