Most people make the mistake of thinking design is what it looks like. People think it’s this veneer — that the designers are handed this box and told, ‘Make it look good!’ That’s not what we think design is. It’s not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works. — Steve Jobs

Thoughts on Prototyping

Prototyping is probably the most underutilised component of a User Centered Design (UCD) process. It’s the first thing to be struck off the list when budgets and time are tight. Its value is often difficult to explain and its inclusion is often seen as unnecessary. Overkill. However, when we prototype designs, we always produce a far more effective product and reduce pain points for everyone involved.

First off lets define what a prototype is.

A prototype is a conceptual model, a statement of design intent. A prototype is a low-fi rendering of an idea or a structure. It’s a grey box rendering that you can interact with to get an idea of how something might feel to use.

A prototype is not a working model. This is the common misconception.

The Benefits of prototyping

So what exactly are the benefits of prototyping and how does it help make a better product?

– A great medium in which to communicate design intention and the best stage at which to flesh out design ideas before more subjective matters such as imagery and colour come into play.

– Enables you to test early. Make your mistakes and test assumptions before it gets costly to amend them. We should always enter a project open to the fact that everyone makes mistakes and makes wrong assumptions.

– An actual entity you can click on and interact with is far more tangible than documentation or static graphics. Stakeholders not only make better decisions if they fully understand what’s happening but also make these decisions earlier in the process.

– Makes the design process more transparent and inclusive. Prototyping together with wire-framing gives stakeholders a view into the how and why of design decisions. You can take people on a journey and make them feel they are included in the process. Giving someone a finished visual doesn’t do the same job.

So Why Not?

So maybe the more pertinent question is why shouldn’t we prototype? In a way, not to include this as part of a design process seems counter-intuitive. Making sure you’re building the right thing before you get started seems the obvious thing to do. Planning at the start of a project nearly always saves cost further down the line when mistakes are far more costly to amend.

The flow of a design process is what makes great products and prototyping definitely enhances it.

Further reading

http://boxesandarrows.com/view/integrating
http://www.newfangled.com/newfangleds_iterative_website_prototyping_process
http://www.seattle20.com/blog/Prototyping-Tool-Roundup.aspx

There is no such thing as high or low fidelity, only appropriate fidelity. Bill Buxton

In anything at all, perfection is finally attained not when there is no longer anything to add, but when there is no longer anything to take away.- Saint Exupery

Perceived simplicity

Whilst working on a project for one of our sister agencies an epiphany of sorts smacked me around the chops regarding IA structures and perceived simplicity.

Yeh, what a boring epiphany, but an epiphany none the less.

Maybe there’s no need to have a rational structure. A solid structure perhaps isn’t in fact our primary goal.. Perhaps just getting people to dive in and be engaged through a perceived simplicity is a better goal.

If you’re presented with only one option you’re probably going to take it. The likelihood of interaction is a function of choice.

The ipod classic interface is a great example of this. It’s interface gives you one point access to everything on the machine. Maybe not the most intuitive interface at first, but everyone wants to press that big button and dive in. The rest of the information just flows after that.

Would anyone ever design a web interface with the same interface as an  Ipod? Probably not. But why not? Stick one point navigation at the top of the page and be done with it.

The good old Beeb is the closest I can think of that looks at this type of structure. They’ve got one big button at the top saying “Explore the BBC”. That’s it.

Obscuring primary navigation items goes against all my UX training and experience, but it seems so right.

A structure that doesn’t make immediate sense, or even seem useful, may indeed make more sense.

When a structure gives off the perception of simplicity an increase in the initial interaction is exponential.

Maybe.

Brand as a Destination

I work for an agency who produce digital marketing communications for a major UK brewer. It affords us the opportunity to do some really nice creative work. Which is nice.

But I do wonder how effective these pieces are. By saying effective, I mean effective as providing something of use or amusement to their customer base. Building relationships. Not shouting in peoples faces about brand values.

People use the internet to get information, to socialise and to be entertained. Not to be advertised at. This is not a user goal and never will be. Why would you ever want to visit a brands marketing site? Well… unless they are a brand geek I suppose. Which, admittedly, there are quite a few of.

But anyways… that right buggers up the point I’m trying to make.

As in the real world a brand should not be a destination. They should be supportive and associative rather than the main attraction. The guy who tacks themselves on to cool things to make himself look cool. Cool through association. This isn’t by any means a new idea but something that has been missed in translation from off-line to on-line marketing.

No one really cares about going to visit “what a brand has to say about itself”. This has and never will be the case. GEES, GET OVER YOUR BRAND ALREADY!

Be a corporation that puts it’s customers first and the brand second.

You’re just a self indulgent git and no one wants to be your friend.

A super method to check if brand is communicating in a non selfish manner is to give the brand a personality (Around half way down the page). How would you describe them? Are they selfish. Is everything all about them. Me me me!! They don’t really care about what I need! I would definitely attribute a lot of these negative personality traits to most brands I work on. In fact I want to slap some of them in the face with a large haddock. That’d learn them. That’d learn them good.

You’re a real super guy?

Burger King get this right and I suspect are very effective in digital brand communication whilst garnering a barrel load of email addresses too boot. Subconsciously and irrationally people think Burger King are a nice guy for giving them such entertaining play things and not putting up a “brand barrier”. Most importantly, not putting their brand first.

These sites are great examples of putting the brand second and the customers first;

http://www.petmoustache.com/
http://www.subservientchicken.com/

Though these pieces might not on the surface seem to effect the bottom line for these brands they do an amazing job in building reciprocity and concession. People can’t help but feel they are indebted to Burger King for giving them such wonderful and amusing gifts. Again, not a new technique, but something that’s been lost in translation.

To summarise, we need to guide brands in how to communicate online. They know how to do all this stuff already. It’s nothing new, they just need to apply the same strategies online.

Neuro Web Design

neuro-big

I’m currently occupying my mind with Neuro Web Design. This is perhaps the best book on web design I’ve ever read… hmmm.. maybe apart from dont’ make me think. One of these books that you read and wonder how you ever got by without this knowledge.

I’m unstoppable now.

Waterlife

waterlife-big

I just love this site. The most engaging piece I’ve experienced in quite a while. A lovely playful and exploratory navigation down the bottom and just generally a joy to explore and discover the amazing content on offer.

Best soundtrack ever for a website an’ all.

http://waterlife.nfb.ca/

Observations

“What’s wrong with how we engineer things is that most of what we accept as the proper order of things is based on assumptions, not observations.” – Matthew E. May

Antoine De Sainte-Exupery

“A designer knows he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.” – Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Antoine De Saint-Exupery

“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the people to gather wood, divide the work, and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.”
Antoine De Saint-Exupery

5k Space Invaders

I loved the 5k challenge back in the day. This is one of the reasons why.

http://sylloge.com/5k/entries/41/s.html

Show Me What’s Hot!

activity-menu-FW

I’m very much enjoying non-static menu systems.

The BBC uses this very effectively by showing a best bet – we know you’re probably on this site to look for – menu running along the top and highlighted. I bet this is super effective for the Beeb.

Yahoo food uses a really nice system based on what’s happening on the site at the moment. A what’s hot menu system. This serves as a super effective way for getting people involved with the content even though it may not be what they’re there for in the first place.

Get ’em engaged, then work out how to best to meet their needs after.

Also gives a great way to show the content available on the site and that other people are engaging. The sheep principle. The mere fact that others are doing something is often enough for us to do it as well (slide 44).

Harry Patch (In Memory Of)

harry

Radiohead’s tribute to the late Harry Patch. http://download.waste.uk.com/Store/did.html

Harry’s original interview http://www.bbc.co.uk/radio4/today/listenagain/ram/today1_ww1_20051224.ram

Harry Patch (In Memory Of)
I am the only one that got through
The others died where ever they fell
It was an ambush
They came up from all sides
Give your leaders each a gun and then let them fight it out themselves
I’ve seen devils coming up from the ground
I’ve seen hell upon this earth
The next will be chemical but they will never learn

Master Oogway

“Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery but today is a gift. That is why it is called the present.” – Master Oogway, Kung Fu Panda

Nil by interface #2 WESC

wesc

Loving this interface for the new clothing range offered from the fantastically funky WeAreTheSuperlativeCompany. Key navigation isn’t always the best and I suppose and if at least alluding to accessibility there should be another away of having a sniff around theire latest tees. But bugger it. It’s super nice.

http://www.wesc.com/

Augmented Reality hairdoo

Nice use of Augmented Reality. Just imagine if you could check out your new doo before you have a chop. Could also apply to glasses. Hmm… might try and punt this to Vision Express or somit. Hmm… yeh.

flash s(h)ites

I have no flash based sites whatsoever in my favourites. Not even one. I checked again, as I though I must have even bookmarked a couple of fancy dan flashers for reference, but nope, all clean.Out of nearly 200 links in my del.icio.us account there’s only a couple and they’re only there because I myself am in the business of making the aforementioned fancy dan flash sites and like to er… seek influence whenever I can.

Are flash sites basically useless as an information tool for users, or at least as a tool to entice repeat users?Are they just one hit wonders, all style and no substance.

Even with the back/forward thing sorted out with excellent swfaddress script it still seems a bit more work to use a flash site than an html based on a regular basis. For the record, I’ve got tons of ajax based tools in my bookmarks.

I’m off to find some decent flash sites to use regularly, just so I don’t put myself out of a job.