Refresh your Toolbelt

These are some of the most helpful design tools I’ve come across over the past 6 months. I keep a running list of these bookmarked in my browser, which I update about once a year during my annual “digital spring cleaning” routine. I love having an up-to-date collection of go-to design tools because they save time and serve as a good launching pad when starting a new design. If you have a favorite go-to resource please share!

Project Planner’s User Flow Gallery

A gallery of user flows for all kinds of web products ranging from sharing, signing up, photo gallery, document sharing and even gaming.

ColourLovers

One of my favorite sites! ColourLovers by the color gurus at ChromaOm Create a library of color palattes and patterns or browse the community gallery. They also have a desktop application, ColorSchemer Studio that allows you to identify color harmonies for the web (RGB) or print (CMYK), create palettes from photos, search over a million existing color schemes, mix colors, create gradient blends.

Punchcut’s Pixel Proliferation

A collection of PSD templates to guide you in designing for our multi-screen world.

Forms on Mobile Devices

A great article from our friends at Smashing Magazine on common UI design and patterns for forms within mobile devices. Takes the trickery out of creating forms that allows users to input data quickly and easily.

892 Ways to Partition a 3×4 Grid

For the computational minded designer, this poster provides a quick reference for slicing and dicing your space. Designed by Thomas Gaskin. Creative direction by Hugh Dubberly. Algorithms by Patrick Kessler. Patent belongs to William Drenttel + Jessica Helfand.

Patternry

A free community generated gallery of web UI patterns such as mega drop-down menus, transition into grid view, login and much more. They also provide businesses with the ability to create private libraries in which to share and maintain within their design teams.

Infographic on Infographics

A great place to start when you are tasked with creating infographics from variety of data types. Designed by the talented Ivan Cash.

What is procrastination?

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Found this wonderful video on The 99% by illustrator John Kelley. on procrastination. Procrastination is also watching this video and writing this blog post!

Advocate, Design, Evaluate. Part 1

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I recently read an article in 52 Weeks of UX on what makes a good UX Designer. In Joshua Porter’s post, he states that he has heard many top companies complaining they can’t find enough good UX designers. So, what does make a good UX designer? I get this question a lot from my students at California College of the Arts, particularly seniors who are about ready to graduate and enter the professional world. A common question is “What will set me apart from the rest?” The list of qualities I’ve heard used to describe a ‘good’ UX designer varies widely depending on who you talk to. “A good storyteller”, “Intuition” “A creative problem solver” “An innovator”. All of these are valuable qualities and I certainly emphasize the importance of them to my students. But as projects become more complex, the ability for designers to take responsibility for how their work lives and breathes out in the world becomes increasingly important and valuable. Doing so requires various strategies and tactics along the way which is a topic in of itself but I thought Porter summarized the difference between a good a great designer here:

The big difference between someone who is a UX professional and someone who isn’t comes back to that word: responsibility. When your job is to provide a positive user experience, you have to do whatever it takes to get it done, from imagining new designs to measuring current ones to make sure they work. You have to advocate for your users when their voices aren’t heard, and align the business objectives with user objectives at every step.

Responsibility. This seems like a given. Of course we all want to advocate for our users and follow up on how our design is being used (or not used). However, putting this into practice can, often times, prove to be difficult in the face of deadlines, lack of resources, high work loads, and client politics. How do you overcome these obstacles? How do you advocate for users throughout the process? How do you measure success? In my own experience, carefully planning strategies that allow time for iterative testing (be sure that testing goals are clearly defined), user research and communication of findings across all stakeholders and team members is key. But beyond this, having, as Porter states, “a culture dedicated to gathering feedback and improving by it, the ability to access customers and web site analytics data, as well as the scheduling ability to iterate and get things done when metrics aren’t going in the right direction.” is key and can in itself create the kind of ‘good’ UX designers that we need. Without a culture that supports this, it can be hard for designers to exercise and maintain this type of responsibility.

In the first part of this topic we would like to hear from the community on the tactics and strategies you use to be a responsible UX designer.

Until next time!

A Thousand Words

After spending some time yesterday looking at the newly-launched Path (and the tech/mainstream press coverage thereof), I found myself thinking a lot about small-group sharing, and photosharing in particular. There have been a handful of products getting attention recently that are positioning themselves in this space, whether it’s explicitly articulated or not. Facebook has also been gesturing in this direction with their recent Groups product, and with Lists before that.

When we were working on Radar (Radar.net was a mobile photosharing service for ‘your favorite people and no one else,’ which is sadly now in the place where missing socks and the light from burned-out lightbulbs go), we spent a lot of time thinking about small groups — specifically about things like privacy and context and conversations and how when you manage to get the mix just right, a little bit of magic happens. People’s attitudes and expectations towards social/sharing products have been skewed in an odd way by their experiences with large mostly-public platforms — to such a degree that when users encounter something that’s been designed with them in mind it can be a truly compelling experience. Even the phrase ‘small-groups’ is ill-fitting in this way — they’re only small in comparison to groups that are artificially large.

These are just some thoughts on what I think makes this such a difficult problem to get right.

PRIVACY

Privacy is a really funny thing. I really believe that people do care about privacy. Recently a lot of services have interpreted that belief to mean ‘people care about privacy settings’ — which they don’t. Even worse is that when users do periodically cause a fuss about privacy, it’s often interpreted as ‘the privacy settings should be impressively complex.’ This would be funnier if it weren’t such a common translation.

Privacy has something in common with myriad other complex, important, difficult-to-define aspects of life: you know it when you see it. Put another way, you know it when it’s been violated. Privacy is less about secrets and more about control (not controls). Privacy and private are not the same thing. Similarly, ‘public’ is not the same as ‘publicized.’ Privacy becomes a problem for people when a product betrays their intentions.

Dave Morin had posted a while back that “the devil is in the defaults,” which I think is a very smart way to put it. I also think it’s true.

CONTEXT IS KING. CONVERSATION IS QUEEN.

Context is crucially important to what makes all these products tick. Context is why your Mom cares about a picture of your breakfast and no one else does. Context is the ‘inside’ of inside jokes. This means that context is about who gets to see a post, but also affects what kind of content users choose to post in the first place. Make the context for sharing clear, and intuitive/easy to change (if it’s changeable). Minimize the opportunity for users to make mistakes, and make actions ‘fixable’ if people do make them (they will).

Context is clearest when the user controls it. Path has an asymmetric ‘active sharing’ model – while this approach loses some sense of group/context ‘continuity’ (e.g. the people you share with are the people who share with you), I think it’s a really smart one inasmuch as it gives the user a sense of deliberate control with respect to their audience. Making sharing deliberate is a productive friction.

Incidentally, the way that Path has chosen to limit the size of users’ audience, even if slightly gimmicky, is completely brilliant and I’m really glad they built it into the product. Limiting the number of people you can communicate with makes attention a scarce and valuable resource — just like it is in real life. This is something I’ve heard several people talk about in terms of context but never actually put their money where their mouth is for fear of hampering growth. My guess is it doesn’t.

Conversation is something that was completely constitutive to what made Radar a successful product. Comments helped to establish context but they were really the lifeblood of activity on the service in their own right. Mobile photos were a means to an end — they were an easy medium through which to share everyday moments, as they happened, with the people who cared about them, and to capture the conversations that emerged around those moments. When we finally shut Radar down, I didn’t really miss any of the photos, but I missed the conversation a great deal. Still do.

Conversation these days usually means comments (but doesn’t have to) — making conversation easy and fun and a first-class citizen of the product is critical.

SMALL GROUP COMPLETENESS

One of the specific challenges of designing a product centered around small groups (especially one that skews private) is that it’s difficult for new users to understand the value proposition in isolation. Put simply: it’s only fun when your friends are doing it. How am I supposed to know how fun/valuable it is if I’m the only one at the party? This presents a really unique timing challenge since the perceived value of the service to a new user is directly related to ‘small group completeness’ (the percentage of the group that’s actively using the service, and connected, when the new user arrives). The trick is not getting biggest fastest but getting enough small groups ‘complete’ enough in a sufficiently short amount of time. Small network completeness creates value, not critical mass.

A related dynamic that’s similarly challenging for services of this type is discovery. Platforms like Twitter are really great for discovery because they’re public, which allows new users to discover interesting content/people without having made an explicit connection with the content owner beforehand. Both Facebook and Twitter have proven to be useful tools for ‘bootstrapping’ new users by siphoning in friend graphs — but if you’re designing a product to support communication between small private groups, showing users huge lists of weak-ties on the first run isn’t a very instructive experience. Even if you’re able to quickly generate friend suggestions from another source (Path’s use of the iPhone address book is a nice fit even if a little unnerving), with a private service new users still have to wait for their friends to accept requests before they can begin to explore the product in a meaningful way. Even if this process only takes a couple hours, it often makes for a cold, lonely, confusing ‘first run’ experience for new users. You know what they say about first impressions.

LONG TIME COMING

Really smart people have been trying to design products to facilitate this kind of sharing for a long time. Path is by no means the first – and by no means complete – but I think they’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the product long-term, and built a platform that will support emergent behavior and evolution. And they way they talk about context and sharing makes me optimistic that they have a smart understanding of all the moving parts.

Even when we were working on Radar this idea was by no means a ‘new’ one. The press from a few years ago sounds eerily like some of the press I’ve been reading in the past couple days, though this should come as no surprise. The pendulum of over-sharing still hasn’t swung back this direction with quite the rushing force countless articles reported it already had. I’m not sure why it should until someone builds something better. Here’s to hoping.

(This post was originally published here by Kevin Twohy)

Feed on this! For the week of 10/15

What Can You Learn from 7 Awesome Corporate Blogs?

We’re inspired by Let’s Make Better Mistakes Tomorrow

Ever wonder Where Good Ideas Come From? This is a great video!

Improv Everywhere – MP3 Flash Mob experiment

Scoble talks about Self-Driving Google Car

We loved Banksy’s Simpson’s Intro

And then, Al Jean talks about Banksy intro

Feed on this! for the week of 10/8/10

Dan Saffer launches The IxD Library.

Grandma-proof your websites.

If you haven’t heard about the new Gap logo… Don’t forget about the fake Twitter account.

The Desk, Taking A Look At The Desks of Creative People. Now we’re going to go check out everyone’s desk here. Have a great weekend!

Feed On This! for the week of 10/1/10

Walt Disney’s vision for Disneyworld. He had a vision and never gave up.

Why Wesabe lost to Mint. Lessons for startups – make people people happy immediately, first.

Meet the FontFont Type Development Team.

10 ways people are using the iPad to create content, not just consume it.

Did you miss Stuart Karten at Kicker Studio’s Device Design Day? Now you can watch the video.

The full program for Interaction11 has been announced. We’ll be there!

Design Principles

Today’s design teams have to move at a faster pace than ever before. The rise of real time everything has companies changing directions on a dime as they try to keep pace with competition and consumer demand. This forces their strategists, designers and engineers to innovate at a rapid pace.

The positive affect of all this has given deserved attention to things like iterative design and development processes and simple, focused product strategies. And, while the negative affect of this shortened design window varies depending the product or service, design teams face an increasing need to compromise in an effort to produce relevant products.

These compromises take shape in many forms. All too often, efforts in research are the first cut as business prefer to stake their success on what they already know about their customers. Other times, the development of proper design and visual patterns fail to reach maturation in the rush to get something out the door.

Whatever the case, compromise is a reality in design and designers often spend time compensating while trying to do their best work.

There are a few parts of the design process that should not be ignored. For example, it’s imperative that designers understand who they’re designing for and what problems they are trying to solve. One of the most effective tools for maintaining the vision for a project is through the use of design principles.

Design principles are the guiding lights that designers use to guide them along the way. These are the things they base decisions on, vet ideas against and inspire their designs.

These principles are more than just requirements or specifications. In fact, they are very non-specific in nature. They combine the structured findings of research with the best ideas that come from ideation sessions. Ideally, design principles are focused and catchy making them easy to remember and share with the design teams. Principles are used to determine which concepts to move forward with and help assist in making decisions during a project.

Every project should have at least one design principle, preferably more. These principles should be socialized within the design team, with your client partners and, most importantly, with your client or customer. They are a part of the design strategy for your project and should be referred to during the design process and at key review milestones. When challenges to the designs are raised, recall the design principles as a way to vet your ideas. While they are not hard and fast rules, they should keep people on track and reduce scope changes.

Design principles allow distributed teams to work together more cohesively. With a shared understanding of the vision, teams of experience, visual and technology designers can work independently for a while knowing that, when they regroup, they will be closely aligned.

The establishment of design principles at the beginning of a project encourages rapid iteration as it provides a properly constrained environment for the design work to happen. Having them in your corner reduces confusion, provides a point for reflection and guides you to design with confidence.

Feed On This! for the week of 9/24/10

A massive list of the Essential Interaction Design Essays & Articles.

The force is strong with Dark Patterns: user interfaces designed to trick people.

A thoughtful article on designing for the space between physical and digital experiences.

“It’s sort of a tragedy of the commons where the tragedy is our attention.”, says Peter Rojas.

Jared Benson talks shop with “10 Best Practices in Mobile Design“.

Is it time to rethink the T-Shaped Designer?

Watch this beautiful video of David A. Smith’s glass artistry. Reminds us about how deep craft is so important.

SXSW 2010: Is App-vertising The Answer?

By request, here’s the presentation that I put together for my SXSW panel on the future of mobile advertising and “app-vertising.” Thanks to Allison Mooney (MobileBehavior), Tristan Walker (Foursquare), Jake Marsh (Big In Japan) and Sean Galligan (Flurry) for playing along.SXSW 2010: Is App-vertising The Answer?

View more presentations from gschmitt.