May be things aren’t the way I observed but nonetheless I must tell what is making me to even write so. I am seeing a lot of people around me spending hours entertaining calls. Either they are answering calls or many a times are making calls to all different sort of people. And with an oxygenated penetration of mobile telephony, people aren’t simply making calls to all different sort of people; they are making calls from all different sort of locations as well. Finding people with earplugs and talking to gods and demons while they walk on road or virtually at any place, no matter how bizarre the place itself is, isn’t such a spectacle any more. No doubt we are connected better than ever before perhaps in the history of human race but what about the clarity of communication. What is it that drives these conversations? Does it compose of statements followed by further set of statements or by an endless clarification of the anything being spoken of? Does it include more of confusion or clarity? Although I have no access to what people talk about on their phones but with some inquiry and with couple of persons who shared their experiences of talking at length, few interesting things seem to be emerging.
It is off course subjective to an extent to see a connection between clarity of communication and the communication medium i.e. mobile telephony in our case. However the agencies, the people who are talking, which drive communication do have an effect on the clarity of communication. Whether one is able to communicate to the other, does depend on one’s ability to articulate his thoughts. No doubt about this but the case doesn’t simply rest here. What about the loss of signals during a mobile conversation or a sudden disappearance of battery power? What about the continuous noise that disrupts our talk sometimes? And what about an accidental push on the ‘red button’ when you are trying to switch between your ears? All of these and similar others random factors do affect our perception of the caller or of the subject being talked of. I have come across people testifying how they have been mistaken for someone who is arrogant or egoistic when for reasons, similar to the ones mentioned above, a call broke at some critical point in the conversation. And even when they resumed the call back, how hard they had a time clarifying their stand or explaining the reason for the ‘break’ in communication. This might happen between two people fixing a deal on phone, or between duos who are on the verge of resolving a crisis. And this might be worse between a couple.
Apparently none other than script writers or storytellers have made a note of any such behavior, truly spontaneous and random, but many a times critical. We can accept this! We can term these as ‘misunderstandings’ and can assume that these have ever existed between people, and can conclude that communication technology can’t really handle it. However I do feel somewhere that technology isn’t simply mean to enable communication between peers but rather it is there to sustain it in an intended form; in a form which humans decide.
Yeah.. I mean you would ask such as question, as the one above in the title of the post, to yourself when you probably had worked really just a day before and today you happen to be comparatively a little eased. So in retrospection I am posing this question to myself, “So what is it that I did yesterday?”. Apparently the answer to this question is relatively simpler than I imagined. It is either one activity or the other… something with a well define goal to be completed in a shorter time. However what is interesting me more now, as I look back, are a bunch of new things which I discovered. I was involved with an UI assignment where I was struggling to produce quick prototypes. For those who are not familiar with the domain, UI is an acronym for User Interface. The assignment demands me to create sufficiently detailed prototypes which I can use to illustrate the workflows and individual screens. Fighting against the time I tried couple of things, right from Photoshop to Illustrator, Balsamiq, Pidoco and so many of these. Every link got me to a new product page where I am shown a tutorial video telling me how to use the specific tool. Come on.. I have no time to view tutorials, give me something easy to understand and operate. At least for god’s sake please don’t ask me to Sign Up to try. Soon I realized that perhaps I’m asking for too much or I’m knocking at the wrong door. I could also be blamed as a hurried user who wants things at his finger tips. Whatever, my reality stays with me at the end. I just could not use these tools.
Anyways lets come to the interesting bit. At the time when I started putting off with this show I came across, almost accidentally, a webpage. It showed me simple tools to help one creating paper prototypes. Let me insert that link here. It is simply amazing. What they provide is a set of layouts as PDF files which you can print. These include different graph layouts like equally spaced dots, grids, storyboard etc. These layouts are flexible enough and one can feel at home while creating paper prototypes. The layout which I used is a dot graph. I printed several copies of dot graph on A4 papers. Paper prototyping was so quick with these dotted graph papers. I think I discovered something simple, yet highly effective yesterday. BTW, if you notice the image that I have used at the beginning of this post is one of my paper prototypes 🙂
As I ponder on UI design, I am reminded of some of the assignments which I have encountered while appearing for a UX design position with one company or the other. I think these are interesting to list and to share with the audience of this blog. Here are some of those;
1. Design an application interface which could let people plan their circular journeys. The interface should deliver a seamless user experience which will allow users to plan their circular journeys, seek availability through a specific mode of travel (bus, railways or airways) and book reservations. The users should feel in control of the process and close to requisite information as they plan their itinerary.
2. (Re)Design the interface of a social networking game hosted on FB. Start by re-evaluating the existing interface and move close to identifying usability failures. Note down the breaks in information architecture and task flows. Present a complete picture of few of the redesigned task flows and illustrate the user experience.
3. Design the user experience for an online application that lets user browse for a specific medical specialist in an area. Lay emphasis on the geo-tagged medical facilities and their possible discovery by a user who is new to the town.
4. (Re)Design the IRCTC* web interface. Suggest improvements and focus on moments of frustrations and delights that a user goes through while using the interface.
5. Design an interface and list user experience for a universal remote to be used in home settings. Consider the product design of the remote as well. Imagine that the remote has to be used to control an interactive television, a personal computer and a set of multimedia devices.
This isn’t such an exhaustive list of assignments but it seems that these are the latest obsessions of UI design industry in India. I am documenting these for two specific reasons. First to gauge the entire gamut of assignments companies ask their candidates to attempt. Secondly I hope that with this explicit understanding of assignments it might be possible to stretch the imagination of UI design scenarios. May be readers will suggest more!
“I worry about Interfaces”.. I guess I could say this after being for a while in a state of utter discomfort with narrower definitions of Interfaces. Such a state has often brought me to say that “I’m not going to do UI design at all”.
But now I’ve come to believing that the definition or rather an understanding of User Interface is a problem. Most of the UI designers deal with Interface design at levels of digital interfaces, Web applications, Mobile and Tablet apps. What they deliver is a set of Wire-frames and UI screens depicting task flows and user interactions. And perhaps that’s where the idea of User Interface design seems to cease. This cease of imagination is often coupled with a bit of bitterness of doing the same job again and again. It is precisely here that the industry and the UI designers need to expand the understanding of User Interfaces. Probably with an expansion of the definition industry will be able to find diverse clients and could discover newer sectors. On the other hand it would for sure bring some satisfaction to a UI designer’s job.
So what this expanded notion of User Interface is? I would introduce you to Bruce Balentine here. I’m bringing him in this discussion not because what he explains as Interface is music to ears but more because it encompasses a larger picture of Interfaces. He says that interfaces can be thought of a layer sandwiched between two different and incoherent systems. These systems are incoherent to the extent that it would be unimaginable for these systems to communicate without the presence of an Interface layer. Thus, in a sense, an interface layer is a double sided tape that sticks to one system at one side and to the other system at another side. It exists on the condition that it can facilitate better communication between the systems at either sides. It ought to have connections for each system. Maintaining this differential while supporting communication between two incoherent systems at either sides is the primary function of the Interface. This is quite insightful indeed. Imagine a washing machine where at one end is a complex circuitry of electric motor, driving belts, washer and drier and at other end is a human agent. In an absence of Interface i.e. a series of buttons, knobs, scales and readers; it would be almost impossible for a human agent to operate a washing machine. The interface layer carefully hides one system from another but assists communication between them. With such a lucid but flexible idea of Interfaces one can say that we have always been designing interfaces if not the products. Most of the things that we see around now, ranging from transportation, household appliances, safety appliances to numerous other discrete products are simply Interfaces in one way or the other. Isn’t it?
For days and days it has been occurring to me to reflect back on my school days and on the education I had. The curriculum included natural sciences and languages along with slighter glimpses of other subjects, resigned to be termed as extracurricular. One can look at the curriculum and can be best assured to say that everything ought to be known is well there. But I guess the larger question is how to approach this knowledge. As I have come to believing that approach to know changes or alters the knowledge itself. My teachers were competitive and interesting, and they perhaps had tried telling us what all they knew. However I feel that few factors were always acting in opposition to the entire process of knowledge acquisition.
First, it seems that the entire process of acquiring knowledge is somewhere inflicted with a flawed notion of timing. The fact that there is a course to be finished by a particular deadline doesn’t allow much room both for students as well as teachers. Teacher wants to finish the course on time and then moves on to setting a paper for students to attempt. How rubbish! Can’t the process of knowledge acquisition be more fluid and continuous. Can’t be free from parametric identifiers of percentage and rankings? Having time bound milestones often results in an environment which is competitive for no reasons. To make things worse, it’s not just the timing rather the valorization of being on time that kills individuals at the end. There is so much of shame associated with not being on time that it doesn’t even allow many to say NO.
Second, it seems that the teachers themselves work under a huge pressure of abiding to a particular syllabus. Any aberration from a prescribed syllabus is hugely suppressed and demotivated. The position a teacher holds, not only in the society but even with in the education system itself, doesn’t give him much power to defer to the popular notion of syllabus and prescription. There is so much of onus bestowed on people who set the syllabus rather than on those who teach the syllabus. I have seen and met few people who work as advisory members to curriculum committees and not all the time are they correct. But any communication which suggests so is seen as a wild act, often intolerable.
I am raising these questions as I still sense same forces at work. What do you guys say?
There are always few who deserves a mention more than by just Google in this digital age. We often call them one’s favorite or inspiration or a better adjective always. Today it is Gustav Klimt’s birth day. No wonder Google has one of his paintings on its search engine. When it comes to Gustav I am not so fortunate. I came to know about Gustav and his excellence as an artist quite recently. It is somewhere in Jan 2008 when I was wandering in a book store and had put my hand on one of the table top books with paintings of different artists. I went through the book, turning it page-by-page glancing through all different paintings, giving almost equal time to every painting. This continued till I came to a page where I saw this beautiful nude women, well painted with bright colors, though quite an unusual combination of colors with golden shades here-n-there. I had to halt. I had to stop. It was Gustav Klimt. It was him. That’s was my first meeting with dear Gustav.
Gustav seems to be a musician and a painter at the same time. He seems to infuse his work with a strong sense of performance. A performance of the kind which is lucid, breath taking and yet carried out with patience. The layers of robes of Gustav’s women unfold before you almost with an elegance and charm of the superior kind. Gold showers as it would have showered in the heaven. His themes seem to be divine and mortal at the same time. It is in his paintings that these two extreme ends of divinity and mortality meets. Gustav’s “Zeus came to Danae in a shower of gold”, is an marvelous work where he does the same. I can’t attest any further how much I like this painting. I don’t know Gustav much but he is the one who welcomes me to know him more. Happy Birth Day Gustav!