As with any marriage, designers and information architects put a lot of effort into making it work. There are highs and lows - ultimately, we need each other. But set us down together on the therapist's couch, or the project post-mortem meeting, and the same old grievances are aired. It's goes something like this: clients want to see something they can sink their teeth into as early as possible; IA's need to organize information on and across pages. Wireframes result, and despite even the most earnest admonitions against doing so, clients begin to get attached to the wires. By the time visual designers come in, the job has been stripped down to not coloring too far outside the lines. Someone turns a crank, and on a spigot towards the back of this rusty machine, a middling design drips out. Shrugs ensue. That's just how it is, right? Wrong!
In a number of meetings I've had that center on improving the designer/IA relationship, the humble wireframe, sitting quietly in the corner, almost immediately begins to get some cold stares. And, in recent history, there have been an array of efforts to supplant (or supplement) the functional role of wireframes in design. While often driven by the scenario described above, the more dynamic interaction possibilities allowed by AJAX and Flash have also strained the seams of the wireframe, not to mention blurring the line between IA's and technologists.
Dan Brown, addressing the potential for heavy-handedness in wireframes, has proposed a very useful documentation solution with the 'page description diagram.' This is essentially a prioritized list of components. The components can than be detailed on subsequent pages but it is really up to the visual designer, working within the constraints of the prioritization, to arrange the components for maximum effect on the page. Your clients are going to have to use their imaginations a bit here, but that's good for everyone. The most important part if you're going to experiment with a novel format like this is to either use it solely as an internal tool, or do it in parallel with traditional wires. Regardless, you should acculturate your clients to this system as early as possible. You're messing with an expected deliverable here, and having something that vaguely resembles an interface can be important for your client's internal sales process.
Andres Zapata has an alternate solution in 'the guided wireframe' - a solution that addresses the design of more dynamic interfaces. This is a good solution for narrating an interaction to clients, and not really a huge modification to the traditional process of wireframing. At frog, and probably elsewhere, we've experimented with a number of ways to document dynamic interactions. In the New York office, we had developed a tool which would allow for easy specification of HTML components that could then be easily swapped in and out of pages. This had the advantage of being able to create real links that can move through a series of simulated states. It also allowed changes to ripple out into whole systems of documents very easily. Quick and dirty Flash animations work - and I've found you can never underestimate the importance of making a well-chosen sound effect with your mouth to illustrate how something works. The difference between an object "bloop"-ing or "merrrrr"-ing into place, is actually quite profound.
If you haven't tried an alternative documentation system, it's worth it. It's worth it even if only to expose deficient areas in the way you work that may have been masked by adherence to a single way of doing things over the years. However, I've found that a well-considered process is as or more important than almost any documentation. Obviously your process is going to be suited to the particular dynamics of your team - here are a few points on process that I have found helpful though:
1) Get the visual designer on board with the project as early as you can, and get as much information into his or her hands as possible. If you did ethnographic research, make sure the designer knows how the target customers decorate their apartments. I've often found design insights to hinge on very specific details gathered about the people who are intended to use the product. While these details may imply interaction possibilities for an IA, for a good visual designer these same details can be a treasure trove of cultural cues to inform visuals. Everyone works better when they have a more complete sense of the challenges and opportunities.
2) Make a description of the priorities and components, then let the designer come up with a rough grid for the components. This can require some negotiation. One of the biggest flaws of over-IA'd design is a lack of consideration for the timeless wisdom of the Muller-Brockmann grid system and the potential to create dramatic space with it. Over-IA'd grids tend to be regular, or scaled on a fairly smooth continuum wherein the most important thing is about 15% larger than the next-most-important thing. I like to let the designer shoot first here. If well briefed, the designer will probably get close to the mark IA-wise in the initial round, and you begin with something that's had a little room to breathe. Once you can compromise on a grid that is both dramatic, well proportioned, and appropriately prioritized, you're more than halfway out of the swamp.
3) In my experience, once you have a smart grid, you can pretty much write the name of each component in the appropriate box, and this is enough to communicate the most basic gist of your plan to your client. More detail will undoubtedly be expected in short order, but you've pretty much abstracted a lot of what needs to be talked about in the first round. This is very lightweight prototyping in a way, but I've been surprised how good people's imaginations are when they see a box with just the words "video player" in it.
If you're designing a highly dynamic Flash or AJAX application, you can iterate on this process quickly and generate a series of lightweight grids whose function is not unlike a story board. Ultimately, what I've learned from my explorations is to pay more attention to the process and relationship. It seems simple enough that when good collaboration happens, good work follows.
Most people that know me know that I love reality TV. Not many people will admit to that these days. The Amazing Race is my favorite of all of them. But next week there is a new show starting that looks to be hilarious. It's called Armed and Famous and itÂ stars Eric Estrada, Latoya Jackson, Jack Osbourne, Wee-Man, and Trish Status. The show puts these quasi-celebrities through police trainingÂ in Muncie, IndianaÂ and they end up as official sworn police officers by the end of it. It's such a ridiculous premise that I think it will do big ratings.
CBS is being very savvy by uploading clips to YouTube on a regular basis. Click on the image at the left to see the recruits getting tasered.
Which company has established a successful design language based on simple rectangular forms with rounded edges, finished in white and monochrome color schemes, with exceptions made for style-oriented portable products that come in multiple colors? I'm talking of course about...Nintendo.
Have you heard of virb? If you haven't, then let me be another voice in the growing clamor of the buzzmachine. Virb comes from unborn, the makers of purevolume. Virb is a social networking site with a decidedly musical slant, offering band-specific pages and last.fm-like integration with iTunes to help you tune in to music you may enjoy.
Some are claiming that virb will be a myspace killer and some are scoffing at the obvious hyperbole of such statements. Virb has two points of comparison with myspace: it is a social network that is centered around music. Most say the music aspect of virb is far superior to that of myspace, but that really isn't much of an achievement and may not even be relevant anymore since myspace is large enough that it could probably drop its music support altogether and still chug on.
I received my invite to virb today and I must say that it sure is pretty but I don't know what I'm going to do with it. My social networking workflow usually goes something like this: sign up, search for my friends, add friends, click around at my profile, leave. A quick survey of my various social networking sites shows they are all the same. My friends are the same, my profile is the same, all of them are woefully under-utilized.
When do we hit the saturation point on social networks? Has it already happened? Virb is pretty, it's customizable if you're a web geek and understand CSS, and is incredibly usable. But is it compelling? Maybe. Last year at The Future of Web Apps in San Francisco, dogster CEO Ted Rheingold gave a presentation on what he is calling passion-centric communities. The basic theory is that myspace has a stranglehold on the "social network without any discernible purpose" market, but there is room for other players if they cater to a specific need, ala flickr. If virb can stay focused on serving the passionate (and large) musical community, it will undoubtedly succeed. If it tries to kill myspace, it will be come JASN (just another social network).
This post can't ever live up to that over-hyped title. When blogging it is always important to get people excited by the title and then let them down when they get to the actual post. But I did create a 3D carousel of all of the new CS3 icons that identifies nearly all of them. You can click on the image below to check it out. There are still a couple of mystery icons that haven't been deciphered yet. (You may need to disable your popup blocker)
Burger King has released some of the weirdest and most disturbing commercials that I have ever seen. They have joined the ranks of Jack in the Box and Carl's Jr by creating commercials that often have little to do with the actual food itself. Some of the commercials feature a life-size chicken performing motocross stunts set to a soundtrack of "Big hucking chicken. You are big, you are chicken." By far the creepiest commercial features the Burger King "King" mascot who wakes up in bed next to some unsuspecting victim.
Burger King has raised the level of weirdness however by offering Xbox 360 games featuring the "King" for only $3.99. The only catch is that you have to purchase a combo value meal. Seeing as though most Xbox 360 games sell in the neighborhood of $60 each, this is definitely something that caught the eye of a lot of people. I had to see how cheesy the games were so I took the plunge. I usually steer clear of Burger King because of an article I once read in Maxim magazine. They tested the beef quality of all the various fast food joints and Burger King landed dead last. They even found bug carcasses on the beef. But for a $3.99 Xbox game, I'll eat a carcass or two.
There are 3 games to choose from, but I chose "Big Bumpin" in which you play as the King in a series of bumper car games. The graphics were actually really good and the game play was somewhat enjoyable. The best one is where you and an opponent can play ice hockey with your bumper cars.
Like it or not, Burger King is coming up with some original ways to get people to come and eat their bug-ridden hamburger patties.
John Hagel has a terrific post on "The Economics of Attention," a must-read for anyone who's interested in the genesis of this concept. Hagel revisits the seminal thinkers, starting with Nobel prize winner Herbert Simon, who in an 1971 article was the first to grasp the economical implications of "attention," long before "attention economy" became such a buzzword.
All the eating, yelling, and gift giving isÂ officially over in my family. This year, my mother's dog (Oliver)Â received an ipodÂ for Christmas. Why? I'm not really sure. I am still a little stunned. During the holidays, some people like to hide out in the living room to watch football;Â I'm ducking out in the kitchen and checking flickr for dogs with ipods.Â
What do theseÂ dogs listen to anyway?
Adobe has released a graphic showing all of the icons for their new CS3 suite. These icons are nothing like the flowery illustrations that we have gotten used to over the past couple of releases. They simply consist of a gradient background and the application's initials. They obviously are fashioned after the Periodic Table of Elements. The image below shows all of the icons arranged around a color wheel.