Sketching is not so hard. It is really interesting to sketch something with basic tools. Here is an attempt to sketch a Mind Mapping tool for iPad. It is real fun to sketch for a touch device. In fact, that was our first experience with paper animation and video techniques, but I think the end result is good enough for 6 hours of work (taking into consideration that we’ve learned iMovie on the go).
The application is pretty simple. You can create nodes and connect them, delete and move nodes — all with simple gestures.
The video goes at 2x speed. It is more dynamic this way, but maybe some details are lost…?
There are two important aspects of design process: generative and reductive. We generate a set of alternatives, then we restrict this set based on various criteria. It is impossible to evaluate a solution without its alternatives.
The best way to a good idea is to have lots of ideas — Linus Pauling
I can’t critique just one thing — Richard Sewell
That is one more reason why sketching is so powerful. It helps to generate and evaluate various alternatives. I’ve read in one article that Apple creates a dozen alternative designs for any product. Good enough…
One of the most positive form of criticism is a better idea
Acquiring positive attitude to criticism is a hard change. People don’t like to be criticized in general. You can’t get the correct reaction to criticism out of the box, but should apply every possible effort to make it a part of team’s culture.
People on a design team must be as happy to be wrong as right. If their ideas hold up under strong (but fair) criticism, then great, they can proceed with confidence. If their ideas are rejected with good rationale, then they have learned something. A healthy team is made up of people who have the attitude that it is better to learn something new than to be right
Built to Last
Without appropriate design, yesterday’s success is tomorrow’s failure, since today’s great applications are tomorrow’s legacy systems
Some design decisions live for about 20 years if product is successful. For example, Photoshop has been on the market for 20 years, and some parts of its initial architecture still exist. Can you now imagine how important architectural decisions are? On to entities framework in TargetProcess that was designed 4 years ago. How long will it live? Definitely we did not consider a 20 year time frame back then…
We should assume that technology that is going to have a significant impact over the next 10 years is already 10 years old!
My takeaway lesson is that we should pay more attention to new technologies and think ahead at the same time. This may sound impossible, but it is worth trying.
Learning is a very important thing. No, I will re-phrase it. Learning is the most important thing in your company. Surprisingly, Bill has given an interesting perspective on learner’s experience levels:
I haven’t seen this concept of levels before, and I like it very much. If we take agile, I am in transition between levels 9 and 10 (I think). In UX, I am between levels 5 and 6. This model is a good guide and may help understand and plan personal or even corporate learning process. Is it possible to apply it to the whole company? Maybe.
Story-telling and Play
A good story is worth thousands of pictures
That one is true. For example, Steve Jobs told 3 stories from his life at Stanford Commencement Speech in 2005. And this speech was remarkable indeed. I remember all the 3 stories, despite the fact that I heard them only once.
Without play imagination dies
and one more:
Stories, and more importantly, story-telling and play, are critical part of design
Ever been on a boring brainstorming session? Fun is an essential part of any creative activity. It should be encouraged, not suppressed.
Finally, some outstanding quotes on design:
Design is a funny word. Some people think design means how it looks. But, of course, if you dig deeper, it’s really how it works. To design something really well, you have to ‘get it.’ You have to really grok [understand] what it’s all about — Steve Jobs
The last thing that you should do when beginning to design an interactive system is write code
The role of design is to find the best design. The role of usability engineering is to help make that design the best.
I purchased this book at UXLX conference in Lisbon. I did not expect too much of it initially. But after several dozen pages it paid off every cent I’d spent and exceeded my expectations in every possible way. This book is for UX designers, yes, but I’d say every executive should read it. There’re so many gems inside.
I can’t resist sharing my takeaway lessons. The ones that impressed me most.
Everyone knows that Steve Jobs saved Apple after his comeback. But Bill provides a nice and somewhat unexpected perspective on iMac release lessons learned. I highlighted the points that seemed most important to me:
Design saved Apple
The design innovation was done with the existing team
Executive vision was critical to success
Momentum was sustained and rapid (the iMac alone did not save the company, repeated improvements did)
The failures were key to success (in the long term, safe is far more dangerous than risk)
The design that led to success was largely in the realm of styling, bordering on the superficial
There was almost no interaction between industrial design and user interface design.
This story re-emphasizes the importance of leadership. People haven’t changed, it was the same team, but with the great leader they managed to create a brilliant product. Which impediment have they had until Steve came into the spotlight? Lack of executive vision. If there’s no vision and you don’t care too much about design, failure is the most expected result of a new product release.
Actually, I felt the same about a year ago. That’s why I am paying so much attention to UX: reading books, blogs and articles, visiting conference and, of course, championing UX changes in our company. Bill’s book once again instilled me with passion and with confidence that we are going in the right direction.
“It is important to establish a corporate culture that understands and respects the design plan and objectives…”
“You can’t milk that cow forever” — this quote relates to old products. Company can’t survive without new products, and here is why.
“As product reaches late maturity, development cost for the next release increases at precisely the same time that the size of the addressable market diminishes.”
This is not the case with TargetProcess so far. Our market is still growing, but development cost indeed gets higher. That is something I don’t like and want to change. There are plenty of technical debts we should pay and features we should remove or re-work to be more simple and consistent. We are already doing that. In several years we should release something new, something different than TargetProcess (frankly, we already have plans for some new products).
Sketches are very important for design process. They help to explore alternatives and quickly try them. Without sketches it is really hard to find the best solution. I like sketching and do it often, but Bill provides very good reasons and explanations why and how sketches work.
First, it is interesting to define properties of a sketch:
Clear vocabulary (style signals that it is a sketch)
Distinct gesture (fluidity that gives sketches openness and freedom)
Minimal detail (“it is usually helpful if the drawing does not show or suggest answers to questions which are not being asked at the time”)
Suggest and explore rather than confirm
Ambiguity (much of their value derives from their being able to be interpreted in different ways, if you need to get the most out of sketch, you need to leave big enough holes)”
Here are the main conclusions I’ve made about sketches:
Ability to quickly generate many ideas. Sketches stimulate imagination and you may invent something initially unexpected. That’s what’s important. I’ve never thought about sketches this way, I always use them as an ideas evaluation technique, but this side effect is brilliant.
Sketches are useful to express ideas. They do not interfere with changing and improving the ideas, since they are not “final”.
Another important thing is that “Sketches are not prototypes”.
Since I started to work for TargetProcess and use the product for my daily working routine, I’ve experienced some problems. One of these problems was navigation. All the links were grouped under sections in primary navigation level or administration level at the top. It took quite long to learn which group of links should I select to find some specific page.
The mind map of old navigation
Later I grew up to an experienced TargetProcess user as I’ve been testing new features or build every day but I still was mistaking the groups almost every time (e.g. trying ‘Tracking’ instead of ‘Planning’ group when looking for Builds list).
Since navigation was the common pain we started to think how we can revamp its look and feel. We wanted it to be flat, customizable, easy to use and quick.
Complaints and requests from other TP users have been considered as we’ve been generating ideas for first wireframes:
We’ve been thinking if we should hide or show the whole group of links as on the screen below:
…and ended up with the concept of customization by links as we enabled users either to pin each single link to primary nav tab or to keep the link in ‘More’ group, create their own groups and rename the links:
All these wireframes emerged after long meetings, hot debates and multiple changes.
As a result, by mid-January ’10 we’ve had two different navigation concepts ready to be shown to some customers, members of TargetProcess UX group. We asked the customers to review two navigation concepts implemented as dynamic and static PDF and give us their feedback on both.
Here’s the first navigation concept:
One-level menu for quick system navigation.
Configurable tabs order.
Quick access to all pages grouped logically in “More” pull-down menu.
Easy-to-use advanced tuning mode.
The second navigation concept:
Configurable tabs with the possibility to re-group links.
Easy-to-use advanced tuning mode.
Most of our customers-UXers voted for the first concept and we went along with this design. Development of dynamic prototype was started simultaneously with the nav coding so we had usability test results available by the end of implementation.
Dynamic Prototype and Usability Tests
We wanted to run a usability test with our customers as early as we could and the interactive dynamic prototype for navigation was ready in a week (with IxEdit). The prototype replicated TargetProcess tool and was available on the web. Not like in the real web app, there were just screenshots with static pages:
In this proto users were able to navigate from page to page and to customize links selection for their primary nav menu. The only major thing at that time was re-ordering of pinned tabs which didn’t work in the proto.
Test scenarios were rather simple:
As we drastically changed the layout and re-grouped some links, we wanted to check if users will find particular pages easily with new navigation . So the first scenario was about simple pages browsing.
The second scenario was related to the customization of primary navigation level.
We asked our customers from the UX community to take part in the usability testing of new navigation, and four of them agreed. The testing was done via GoTo meeting.
Usability Tests Results
Based on the results of this testing, we’ve become aware of some areas in the navigation where users slowed down.
Most of the users who saw the nav for the first time tried to drag and drop links right away and guessed slowly that tuning and re-ordering tabs works in customization mode only. After customization was done, they forgot to switch customization mode off. Also we noticed that [Reset to default] button appeared uncalled, so it was removed in the final version.
That’s why we went on and tried to emphasize with different styles when navigation is in customization mode and when not.
Now the highlighted menu background under the button [Customize] shows that the button should be pressed to start tuning (customization).
That’s what one can see in the tuning mode (check the screen below):
[Customize] button disappears; yellow background rolls up to the primary nav level where [Done] button appears.
Only the primary nav level and ‘More’ menu are active, content of the page is grayed out and disabled.
Links selected for relocation in ‘More’ change their background from white to solid blue; mouse cursor changes shape to cross.
We believe that it’s hardly possible to mess up with the navigation modes now. The navigation is quick, one-level and simple for personal customization.
And – what’s most important – people like it as well. Out of many feedbacks, here’s just one from Igor France:
I have just installed the latest version of Target Process with the intention to start using it on my own projects (the company I worked for at the time didn’t adopt it) and I am again really enjoying using it! Apart from the positive things already mentioned, the main navigation itself in the meantime not only stopped being confusing but is now fully customizable as well!
Books by Edward Tufte are a piece of art. I’ve been savoring them to myself for a while, and now I decided to share some sketches and criticism inspired by Tufte’s high art visual designs.
Commonly, designers represent visual information by scarce means of 2D realm: screen and paper. Our universe is 3D (if not 5D, 6D or whatever more dimensions), but people got used to squeezing images into 2D flatland. Even rock paintings of pre-historic humans have their touch of 2-D abstraction and symbolism.
Our universe is not just 3D. It’s dynamic 3D. Paper is static (paper planes are exceptions). That’s another limitation of 2D.
Limitations are great. They motivate designers to find solutions. The more limitations – the harder it is to find a solution. Good designers love difficult tasks, since they view them as great opportunities to put their brains to use. Bad designers do not want to use their brains – they want to use templates.
The image below is a template solution for a weather map. View from above. Let alone template thinking, the representation of this template is poor.
The appalling hint of white shade is a helpless attempt to compensate inadequate color selection for numbers. What do you think of blue numbers on blue background? You hate that, to say the least of it. What’s the message of these pseudo-3D grey circles? Are they some grey moons? Or cavities in the designer’s brain?
Now let’s take a look at the Euronews channel weather map. One may think that this map represents the effects of global warming and Australia is completely hidden under water now. Also, what do those bold numbers show? Probably the depth of the ocean in this area. In meters. Or in miles? But the area is still lit by sunshine, which instills some hope.
As a contrast, here’s a weather map from a Japanese daily, beautiful in its simplicity. This is the same Japan as on the first weather map above, only from the ocean perspective. This map provides 0°C и 10°C isotherms. You see fine clouds on this map. The map shows sun movement. OMG, it shows stratosphere! And it’s nothing more than just a weather map from a daily newspaper - but created by a good visual designer.
Of course, Japan is well-suited for such a nice graphical representation. But you gotta have guts to catch and use this ocean perspective, instead of helplessly surrendering to boilerplate view-from-above weather maps imposed by paper sheet or screen limitations.
January 13/14 is the Old New Year holiday. Seems like today is the latest appropriate time to look back and recall the most interesting blog posts by TargetProcess in 2009 :)
Based on visitors count, the posts are ranked as follows (descending order):
1. Lean and Kanban Software Development Digest: In May 2009, this digest came along right on time as Kanban adoption started to grow. We’ve been sifting through the Lean/Kanban buzz and considering if Kanban might be a good tool for our development process, so this post has the most valuable findings we’ve made and shared with agile community.
2. Refactoring vs Rewrite: This post is a real train of thought of a Product Owner trying to make a decision on how to proceed with product development — rewrite or refactor. Can well be used in textbooks for software product management :)
4. Tale: Deadline and Technical Debt: Once upon a time… Who could ever expect that the fundamental principles of product management can be outlined in a fairy tale ? :) There we go: smart Arthur, the cunning king, quest for princess — the metaphorical expression of the danger of technical debt in software development.
5. 5 Wrong Reasons to Apply Kanban. For some reason (no pun intended), 5 wrong reasons ranked higher than 5 right reasons. Maybe it’s just human psychology — to go from “what’s wrong” instead of “what’s right” …
8. Zero Defects? Are You Kidding Me? : Can this juicy frog be sure that it swallowed the very last bug? This post is a warning against the so-called “zero defects mentality” in software product management.
Overall the recent Agile 2009 Conf. in Chicago was a good event. Unfortunately, the first two days were not quite what I expected. Combination of just “OK” sessions and jet lag left me wondering whether the trip was worth it. However, the following two days were much better, but the very last, Jared Spool’s keynote, left no doubts that Agile 2009 was totally worth coming to! An absolute killer presentation on User Experience with an excellent steak on the side (yes, Americans know good steak) – what else could you ask for? A lightning bolt, a hit, all of the above – I can hardly express how enlightened and inspired I felt walking out of the ballroom where the speech took place. And that’s when reality hit me, and I suddenly understood how bad we suck with our User Experience… I got depressed for about 2 days, but then I started to act.
I read several books about User Experience. I read countless articles, forum threads, blog posts on the same subject and finally started a process of searching for UX specialist to add to our development team (and we hired him already). I’ve dug through all the information about UX, UI, Design and thought about how we could integrate it into our development process.
In one month I came up with a vision. I created interesting presentation and shared my vision with the team and inspired them. They applauded (thank you, folks!). I believe Agile and UX is a great mix. Definitely it is not easy, but I think it is a right path to follow. We want to create the best agile PM software in the world, and it is just impossible without outstanding user experience.
We want to share all the new experience about the journey. I’ll post more about process changes, mindset changes, education and whole team involvement. Here is our first try, see how we are re-designing ToDo list in TargetProcess: