Book Review #1. Sketching User Experience by Bill Buxton. Part I | Targetprocess - Visual management software

Brief summary of this article:

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.

Executive Vision

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:

  1. Design saved Apple
  2. The design innovation was done with the existing team
  3. Executive vision was critical to success
  4. Momentum was sustained and rapid (the iMac alone did not save the company, repeated improvements did)
  5. There were failures (hockey-puck shaped mouse [see image], Power Mac G4 Cube [see image])
  6. The failures were key to success (in the long term, safe is far more dangerous than risk)
  7. The design that led to success was largely in the realm of styling, bordering on the superficial
  8. 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...”

New Products

“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

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.

Sketches

First, it is interesting to define properties of a sketch:

“Sketches are:

  • Quick
  • Timely
  • Inexpensive
  • Disposable
  • 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”.

Read second part of the review

Related Links

Sketching User Experience Book at Amazon

Bill Buxton's web site