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“We map the terrain of domains using research and empathy, see opportunity spaces, create definition around solutions that makes change manifest in the world. ”—Sarah Brooks on what Interaction Designers and User Experience Designers do. Sarah has issue with her definition —”Wait. That’s as vague as the rest of the descriptions that drive me nuts. ” — but I happen to like it. :)
Axure: wireframing and prototyping
Last week I got my hands on a licence for Axure, a wireframing and prototyping tool that has been getting quite a bit of buzz in the UX community. I’ve used Fireworks for this purpose previously which I have always felt comfortable with: likely because of its similarities to Photoshop. But where Fireworks was lacking, Axure seems to pick up. Although, at this early stage, I’d be reluctant to use it for visual design; managing (nested) pages and prototyping has already saved me many hours. I thought I’d list a few pros and cons in this post for those looking at investigating this tool for their team(s).
- Rapid wireframing with ample flexibility for all sorts of interface layouts and interactions.
- Masters: recycling commonly used elements/sections which only need to be modified once for site-wide changes. Much more versatile than shared-layers in Adobe Fireworks.
- Rapid prototyping: It’s almost like a programming-for-dummies type interface allowing you to set conditions, events and interactions very easily. Interactions can even be animated with simple slides, fades etc. I’m still getting my head around some of the more complex interactions, but from what I see it’s entirely possible and the learning curve isn’t too steep. Obviously the code created is not at all meant for production use.
- There’s a Mac version that is (so far) very stable, unlike Fireworks.
- I’ve been building an eCommerce site and prototype in Axure and simply thanks to the speed we can create, we spend more time on deep discussion on interactions and usability, which has already led to some good decisions that we may have missed otherwise.
- There are still a few little bugs and inconsistencies, e.g. onMouseOut events don’t quite behave like expected.
- Z-index management is still a little difficult, i.e. when elements are stacked over other elements, such as hover menus, the underlying elements can be difficult to get to and modify without moving things around or modifying foreground/background positions. This is where layers are ideal - viewing, hiding and locking layers. Axure’s ‘locking’ of elements still covers elements that you may need access to.
- Automatically generated UI specifications are not really readable when you get to complex projects. A table of contents 40 pages long is not human-friendly in my world, but I’m working hard to show that the prototype can replace documents entirely.
- Collaboration: I’m yet to try Axure with an SVN hooked up, but otherwise it’s a one-driver program. We’ve tried splitting a site into three files covering different sections, but this has proved nothing more than a headache.
As I’m still getting to grips with the software, I’m sure I’ll discover nice little tricks and tweaks to maximise my use of it. So far I’m quite impressed and will likely be using it on projects from here on.
User Expectations with Mobile
- Mobile is a critical part of overall brand experience
- Usability and experience are more important to mobile app users than brand name alone
- Experience is important - mobile app users look to others for recommendations on mobile apps
- 38% are not satisfied with most branded apps
- 76% want ease of use
- 69% of users have a negative perception of the brand if the app is not helpful or useful
As with all user experience understand the problem space clearly and provide usefulness through your product or service. Ensure you do a few things exceptionally well and be known for it rather than extending your brand into fringe territories you cannot win.
10 Favourite IxD Books
Interaction design (or user experience design) is a craft. I learnt it by doing, without proper mentors: creating multimedia presentations, CD-ROMs, websites and games by observing other products, using common sense and trusting my gut. Back in those days, interaction design wasn’t really a specific job; it was something a concept designer or graphic designer did as a part of their job. As a result, the products sometimes lacked understanding of user motivations, or performed poorly in usability tests (if there were any).
While working on Habbo, I decided to check if anything useful was written about this topic. Over the years I have found some books really useful. I wish I had read them earlier.
Here’s my top 10 IxD books:
Designing for the Digital Age
How to Create Human-Centered Products and Services
by Kim Goodwin
The number one. It contains a comprehensive explanation of Cooper’s goal-directed design process with material on design principles, research, personas and scenarios. With 768 pages it’s not an easy read, but for me it built the big picture of how to think about the design process.
About Face 3
The Essentials of Interaction Design
by Alan Cooper, Robert Reimann and David Cronin
This book comes from the same school of thought as the previous, but focuses more on design principles. Solid stuff, but it gets a bit random towards the end. There are some fun things, like Mac OS X Lion’s auto-save feature described some 10+ years earlier.
The Inmates Are Running the Asylum
Why High-Tech Products Drive Us Crazy and How to Restore the Sanity, by Alan Cooper
The third book of “Cooper-school” to complete the trio. This book is aimed at business and technical people. It paints a picture of why it’s valuable for products and services to be designed for people. The book was originally published in 1998, and luckily the situation has improved a bit since then.
Don’t Make Me Think
A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability
by Steve Krug
A really easy and entertaining to read from Steve Krug. It’s a great book for anyone who has something to do with developing a website. The best effort vs benefit ratio!
Rocket Surgery Made Easy
The Do-It-Yourself Guide to Finding and Fixing Usability Problems
by Steve Krug
Another Steve Krug book, this time explaining a simple process for running usability tests yourself. Usability tests are seen as slow and difficult, but here’s a model that makes them quite easy. Being involved in testing yourself helps you make better decisions next time.
The Fast and Easy Way to Design and Refine User Interfaces
by Carolyn Snyder
A bit old but, as far I remember, a really useful book. It explains how to build and test rough paper prototypes on users by role-playing a computer yourself.
Sketching User Experiences
Getting the Design Right and the Right Design
by Bill Buxton
How can we sketch interactions – something that happens over time? A bit of a rambling book, but with plenty of interesting ideas, techniques and historical perspective on interaction design.
The Design of Everyday Things
by Donald A. Norman
The usability classic.
I have to say, it’s been a while since I read it, but I remember it as an eye-opening experience. Door handles won’t look the same after you read this.
Web Form Design
Filling in the Blanks
by Luke Wroblewski
Good best practice for web form design. A surprisingly large amount of our interaction with websites is done with forms. Luke Wroblewski has distilled plenty of experience and research results into a concise book.
Designing for the Social Web
by Joshua Porter
A bit uneven as a whole, but outlines good methods and patterns for designing social software. The book contains a light description of activity-centred design as an alternative to Cooper’s goal-directed design.
For some more, see books tagged ‘design’ in my LibraryThing catalogue.
Do you have a personal favourite that is not on the list? Please let me know in the comments.