Notebook

Jared Spool writes an excellent article describing how to give a good design critique.

A well-done critique is a way to step away from the specifics of the design process and better understand how to create great designs. We do this by starting with the current design and asking "What is it we're really trying to do here?" and "How close are we to doing it?"

The design crit is one of the most valuable parts of the design process to me. Interaction designers and information architects without design or art backgrounds often find themselves new to the critique, but over time learn that the practice is a necessary aspect of evaluation and assessment of the work. The dialog, reframing, and perspective offered in the critique really helps the designer working in isolation. Spool offers some good advice for how to frame comments positively and respectfully, how to develop a healthy environment for critiquing, and how to use the crit to keep designers thinking about possibilities and alternative solutions.

Seems like someone has come up with a better solution for marking my note and sketch pages in my Moleskines. Dog eared pages never suited me, and the colored tabs I get at MUJI and the occasional PostIt note are OK. But I love the idea of these magnetic page markers from Folio because it means I won't need to buy anymore sticky tabs from the stationery store. And the little pointed arrows are pretty useful for pointing out lines of interest in books too.

CollabFinder is a new community to find and communicate with other designers and developers with the goal of collaborating on future projects. Great and simple idea that could turn out to be a very useful connector.

Cunningham & Cunningham have a wiki page listing a great collection of prototyping tools.

Lawrence Najjar provides a bibliography of literature to help you make the ROI argument for investing in ease of use.

In Flow Interactive's blog, Phil Barrett offers advice for those who are considering implementing Microsoft's Ribbon in their applications. The Ribbon has received praise from usability folks who see the benefit this offers in terms of ease of use and better, more visible contextual controls. But it has also met with resistance from individuals who find the large menu-heavy approach disruptive.

The ribbon is a decent piece of interface, but like most things in UX, it's hard to design it well. And to design it well you really have to understand your users' needs, behaviours and work practices.

That's because the ribbon tries to show commands grouped together based on what users are most likely to want to do. So in Word 2007, for example, there's a tab for mail-merge, and one for page layout and one for referencing, whereas in Word 2003 those features are pushed lower down in a more generic menu structure. If you get the groupings right, your users will always find the selection of controls they need right there in the ribbon. But if you misunderstand what they need to do, they'll get an irrelevant list and you'll get complaints.

UseIt offers some advice for when to use which user experience research methods in a 4 quadrant grid.

You can't use the full set of methods on every project, but most design teams benefit from combining insights from multiple research methods. The key question is what to do when. To better understand when to use which method, it is helpful to realize that they differ along 3 dimensions:

1) Attitudinal vs. Behavioral
2) Qualitative vs. Quantitative
3) Context of Website or Product Use

Victor Lombardi discusses concept design in Digital Web Magazine, pointing out that digital designers should take some inspiration from design processes for ideation and concept generation from the fields of architecture and industrial design. I think the main idea is to learn from the practices and methods from these fields, and use that as inspiration for what might be useful in your concept design practice. That is not to say that every project needs to result in a dozen concepts that need to be prototyped at high fidelity and therefore at significant cost. But by all means it could mean spending more time in ideation, sketching more alternatives, working from various perspectives and constraints and lack of constraints, and re-framing the problem/solution space—practices that are inexpensive.

One of the reasons I take such inspiration from Sketching the User Experience is because it is filled with these such examples of concept design from industrial design. The key take away for me from that book is that generating concepts loosely and in volume at the onset in what are noncommital gestures or ideas is probably 80% of the process. The sketch as a tool is the most important part as it relates the designer. On the flip-side, the refined prototype, or multiple and different prototypes as the case may be, is 80% of the importance when it comes to the decision makers and stakeholders who approve the design. So what we're talking about here in terms of concept design for digital designers is front-loading the design process in terms of ideation and concept generation.

Victor continues his investigation into concept design at Smart Experience.

UserFix is a new community-based platform to support the open conversations between companies who make products and the customers who use them. The site is mainly focused on allowing the public to request features and report bugs.

Great sketch and sketch note collection in Dave Gray's flickr.