These days I’m faced with a very specific problem. Is is specific to the designs of Dot Com sites for various clients. Assume that every single client who wants to design her website has an expectation of communicating as clearly as possible through her website. This communication can be achieved by bringing better architecture to the website content which suits the users and off course by careful alignment of different attention zones in the entire website. What a clients also expects is to have a wonderful nice looking stunning design to their website content. This is a common process which involves looking at goals, content, information architecture to designing templates at the end. No issues at all, perfect!
Where I find people getting stuck is the point when they have their identities which suits a different media more than the web. For example a bunch of organizations have logos in the orientation of a portrait. Conventionally such a logo suits print media and not the web. You can have a really good portrait oriented logo on a letter head. Not because it looks good on letter head just like that but more because it goes with the length of the paper. The paper bearing its imprint is itself oriented as a portrait. Now come to the web which is essentially more horizontal-landscape a medium than print. Not only a logo with portrait orientation looks out of place, it also compromises on the header space. One needs a wider header to accommodate a log in a portrait format. Eventually it happens at the expense of priorities of other stuff on the website which can be shown without a scroll (above the fold). Well hopefully they will come to understand that logo designs with landscape orientation will suit better the web media. But currently they suspect me as the one convincing them to modify their identities to a landscape format. What to do !
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!
For days I have been going through papers published by Elsevier. It was only by sheer chance that I discovered their identity. What an effort for a print based solution! Not only is it dense and full of details, it also seems to convey Elsevier’s image to its audience.
“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?