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7 posts from September 2009

The Object-Verb Problem in Augmented Reality

Depress Me

I can see into the immediate future. It will consist of millions of people standing around looking at their phones. On their phone screens will be information regarding what they're looking at, and based on what verbs are provided to them, they will either be smiling in delight and pressing the appropriate button overlaid on reality, or cursing in great frustration, wishing doom upon the designers who tried to cram too much functionality into the next great augmented reality application.

While reading a recent article by Luke Wroblewski about the benefits of creating first-person interfaces, I had a realization that one of the most intriguing challenges we're going to have as interactive designers is dealing with verbs when designing first-person interfaces.

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Do You Use Ideation Questions?

Tough Questions

Don't try to chop down a difficult design problem with one swoop of your mental ax. Instead, chip the problem apart using ideation questions.

In their simplest form, ideation questions are restatements of issues that form the basis of a systemic problem. As an example, it would be difficult to attack the following challenge provided by a client: "We want you to improve the health care system." The problem, as it is currently stated, is much too wicked to approach with a measure of intelligence.

So, you'd start to try and approach that stated problem by breaking it down into questions. First, we'd restate the problem as, "What should we do to improve the heatlh care system?" Answering that question, from at least one angle, might be the broadly stated goal of your effort with your client. At this point, you can start to break that massive question down into a series of ideation questions that surface latent issues. How do people access health care services? Who provides those health care services? What people are not currently served by health care services? And so forth.

From here, the fun really begins. Select a key question out of those that you've written, then start to ideate around a key component of it as a tightly focused question. If we choose "How do people access health care services?" as our starting point, then we generate a series of questions that directly address the root cause of issues within it. "How can signing up for health care become easier?" "How can we more quickly admit people to emergency services?"

You can see how these focused questions speak to the initial challenge posed by the client, but have tangible outcomes. You could spend hours writing and answering questions when using this process, but the trick here is to be very selective in ideating against the questions that are most specific and most intriguing to you. The resulting ideas that emerge from your brainstorm will be more actionable as a result.

This approach may sound like common sense, but there is always a point in the design process where we begin to build our design execution off a set of baseline assumptions. Using ideation questions will force you to face assumptions buried in big, messy problems that we'd like to try and solve, but don't quite know where to begin.

And you can already see where this is helpful when you're working to frame the desired outcome of a client project, before you even begin...

Timeboxing for Creative Professionals

Creative ideation

Being creative is a mind game.

No matter how much time you have for ideation, you can always come up with a good idea. It just takes extra time and energy to identify which of those ideas is the best one to pursue, then iterate on it to achieve some polish. This can be accomplished through the use of timeboxing. This is a technique that is regularly used in agile software development, but is also quite adaptable and useful for any creative professional to improve their speed to an idea.

Timeboxing is also excellent for defeating procrastinators. Most designers—myself included—ruminate subconsciously on a possible solution for days on end. This is a luxury of time that isn't feasible if you're working regularly to tight deadlines. And besides, most designers have trouble meeting their deadlines no matter how far off they twinkle in the distance.

So, what is timeboxing? And how can you use it on your next project?

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How to Conduct Your First Client Call

Run Away

The first fifteen minutes of conversation with a new client will often tell the story of your whole business relationship.

Just gauge the difference between these opening ripostes from two potential clients:

"Hello, my name is [REDACTED] and I'd like to see if your firm would be interested in taking part in an RFP for Big Fancy Technology Client's new website redesign."

"Hello, I was passed along your name by our mutual friend Lorrie. She said that you create amazing websites, and since we're looking to overhaul ours, I thought I'd give you a call."

In both cases, the budget and timeframe could be exactly the same. You just don't have any context yet for how the conversation will progress—except in how business and personal relationships are already being cued from their tone and assumptions.

So, how do you conduct your first client discussion to set yourself up for success?

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Nine Proofreading Tricks for Designers

Rare Mistakes

No one likes a typo. Especially clients.

When it's the 14th time we've made revisions on the 128-page magazine and you need to get the files off to the printer, it's inevitable that a typesetting error or grammatical mistake is still lurking somewhere in the document. The same issues apply when completing content for a website and porting it into a CMS, where gremlins always seem to lurk in the hallways of our code.

Mistakes happen, but we can catch them. Try out the following tricks from the proofreader's playbook.

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An Unfinished Portrait

Men of Progress, Portrait

A pay telephone ringing in the midst of a crowded subway terminal. A woman in hospital scrubs, dark bags under her eyes like smudged blue paint. Young girl looking away from a red plastic BlackBerry into the blur of lights whipping past the window. Smell of nectarines, humid air, irises and gerbera daisies poking from a Trader Joe's paper bag.

This is history, and we are living it in perfume and thoughts of recent wreckage. Arthritic hands fidgeting with a laminated ID attached to a lanyard embossed with the GTE logo. Never-ending scrape and racket of train-track wheels against steel. Recorded red-black ringtone automated to sync with the closing doors. Balled-up newspapers dated Thursday and stuffed into the gaps between mustard-yellow vinyl seats.

Clammy cold handrail. This carpet has been inspected by 30. Baby is crying. Mother is crying too.

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Remembering to Say Thank You

Curtis Steiner Handmade Thank You Card

It's not just what you say—it's how you say it. This maxim could not apply more to sending thank you notes to those people who've supported you most: short- or long-term clients, vendors, colleagues, friends, and family. And as designers, we're quite well equipped to trump the usual off-the-shelf rote cards and send out simple, elegant cards that transcend the Hallmarks of the world. Clients don't just remember the results you've provided. They always remember that you thanked them for the opportunity to do the great work. And while you shouldn't expect anything discrete back from a thank you besides appreciation… often great things will happen as a result that you couldn't have anticipated.

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