Check out this core77 article that, uh, maps out the product evolution of Google Maps. I love the glimpses into their process. We get to see the design decisions that emerged over time as they built the product into what it is today. It shows that you cannot make something great overnight.
Upcoming Trends in Digital
Upstream posted a Trend Guide in preparation for this year’s Consumer Electronics Show.
Here are the “macro-trends” they listed in their blog post:
QUANTIFIED SELF & M-HEALTH
Personal biometrics and digital enabled behavior analysis will increasingly let consumers discreetly track and manage their lives more effectively.
GESTURAL INTERFACES & AUGMENTED REALITY
New natural interfaces based on movement will allow more intuitive control of tech, increasing access to information and digital content.
SoLOMo CONTENT DATA EXCHANGE
Mobile “geo-awareness” technology, will create dramatic paradigm shifts to how we shop, socialize and how we are marketed to.
Integration of Social Media and The Cult of Influence into the TV experience will transform it from a media consumption device to a content curating experience.
D.I.Y. AND DIGITAL OBJECTIFICATION
The “appification of everything”, open source tech and accessible manufacturing merge the tangible product and digital, online worlds.
I think this is a pretty good roundup of things we saw in 2011. Check out the PDF in the article to see some examples.
For 2012, I’m hoping we continue down the path of evolving things like “Gestural Interfaces & Augmented Reality”. Content is expanding into different devices, so those opportunities for improvement present themselves as huge UX challenges just waiting to be solved. Plus, if we want to use technology to help people, we need to think more about accessibility and what that means to everyone. Interaction design can go way beyond the flat screen. I wonder what will make up next year’s trend report?
Ryan Singer Designs in Real Time
UX Designer Ryan Singer from 37signals (makers of the amazing Basecamp, among other products) details his whole process in a long and informative video, which you can watch at Peepcode (it costs money, but there is a free preview). If you are at all interested in UX and Interaction Design, I highly recommend taking the time to watch this. How often to you get to see a talented designer’s thought process unfold in real time?
It is true that there is no substitute for real experience, and Ryan has a lot more of it than I do. As an observer, I was most curious to see how he would approach the UX problem and go about solving it. My biggest takeaway was that he looked at the experience holistically, rather than as a set of individual steps that needed to be mapped out one by one. The final interface and its usability were a result of him thinking about where the users start, what they can do, and where they end up. It’s a neat little showcase for both Ryan’s talent and the power of UX thinking.
Book Review: Responsive Web Design
Responsive Web Design is another one of a A Book Apart’s wonderfully informative mini-books about why and how the subject matter is both important and relevant to all web professionals. I’m glad I read this book; it’s given me a good foundation of technical knowledge in starting my first responsive project.
Doing a responsive project has its own challenges, and this book is not meant to illustrate a successful case study, or guide you step by step through a responsive project. This book is meant to provide you with a basic yet critical foundation of the subject, and explain the underlying technology in a very streamlined way. It has proved most useful to me during the prototyping phase of my own responsive project, where understanding the logic of media queries was tremendously helpful for me in defining the expected functionality. And what I love about A Book Apart’s more technical publications is that everything is broken down for you in an easy, digestable chunks.
Designers, read this book. This is the web design frontier that we should forge into. Translating flat Photoshop comps into a pixel-perfect copy in code never works anyway. Designing a responsive site means working in tandem with development, and understanding how much the design can change once it’s out there in the world, at the hands of our users. The benefit of responsive design is that we end up creating an experience that is flexible and accommodating for more screen sizes, and therefore, more users.
Understanding UI Design
I love Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics! I read it a few years ago for a class, and I still think about it from time to time. I came across this UX Mag article about realism in UI design, and it references McCloud’s book. Symbols and icons are ubiquitous in web design, but has anyone ever stopped to think about what they mean to the average user?
The point being made here is that symbols are meant to represent, rather than be a specific thing. And while too little detail can cause confusion, too much can detract. Details can be added to a point where the image becomes meaningful. And I have seen UI design go past that point, where artistic details are added and the meaning of that symbol changes.
From Realism in UI Design:
UI elements are abstractions which convey concepts and ideas; they should retain only those details that are relevant to their purpose.
If you want a symbol to be meaningful on a universal level, then the less details you add to it, the more people you can reach.
Book Review: The Design of Everyday Things
I make digital products, but a lot of my inspiration comes from product development in the industrial design world. I am a huge proponent of creativity in design, but I also believe in practicality, and this is a duality that I think can, and should, co-exist. I read The Design of Everyday Things by Donald Norman and it was eye-opening. He talks about the everyday frustrations behind things we touch and interact with every day, and — most interestingly — how we are psychologically hard-wired to blame ourselves for misuse. We think that just because we pull a door that needs to be pushed, we are the stupid ones. Not so. The door’s design has led us to believe that pulling it is the logical way to open it, so when we instinctively pull on it, it is because the door is poorly designed, and not because we are incapable of understanding how doors work. This is a wonderful book that makes a strong case for why it is crucial that designers understand people’s needs, why a clever and thoughtful design does so much in improving users’ lives.
The great thing about this book is that it has aged remarkably well, even if some of the products and case studies mentioned probably wouldn’t apply today (like the way telephone transfers work in his office). Plus, this book does not delve into interaction or web design too much, as that field hadn’t been as developed at the time. Still, I think we can take the learnings from the book and apply them to the web. The important points to remember are that we design for the user, not for ourselves, and that design error and human error are inextricably linked, so we must not forget our users are real people.
Wireframes truly are misunderstood. This article pretty much nails it on the head with two key words: a wireframe’s purpose is to “influence and guide the design process”.
“The power of frameworks is yet to be uncovered as one of the greatest opportunities for designers.” - Liz Danzico
So if we are makers of frames, what sort of frameworks are we making?
Structural Frameworks: Affect the way we move through space. Creating spaces that people live in and…