– super duper collaborative walls

Anyone who has worked with me in the last few years will know my propensity to use a lot of Post-It notes. It’s a design cliché, I know, but true. I just find it really hard to think when I look at something in a big Word doc or, worse, Excel. My eyes glaze over and my brain switches off when I view Excel docs.

The crossover from physical to digital has always been a bit of a chore though. How to go from a wall of Post-It notes to something that can be digitally shared? The general approach is to photograph the wall and/or transcribe it all into some kind of template. I know there are sticky-note apps out there, but I haven’t really gotten into them. I still feel the need for a wall too. I know others use a projector for this, so that could be an option in the future. My dream process would be:

  1. Put a load of Post-It notes on the wall.
  2. Take a photo.
  3. Have some software automagically recognise the notes and layout and text and put it into a digitally manipulatable form.

If anyone does know of anything that already does this, please let me know! (Post-It not scribbles seem too crinkly for Evernote’s OCR, just in case you’re wondering).

On the digital side, this post from Lauren Currie about hooked my interest. It’s basically a shareable whiteboard/moodboard/anythingboard. Okay, so there are few tools that already do similar things, but this is particularly easy to use and it hooks into other services well.

I thought I would have a go at seeing how easily I could crank out a simple service design blueprint with some images. In about 5-10 minutes I got this (which should be embedded, if not, try this link). It’s not going to win any design awards, but it was really quick. The nicest thing was being able to Google for images within the app and just pull them into the board. For quick storyboard mock-ups of concepts, this would be ideal. You can also turn them into presentation, Prezi style, without the annoying Flash crap.

Soon I’ll never have to leave my office at all and I can let the cobwebs grow on my shoulders.

Students, Ideas & Prototyping

Stickers on Boxes

While perusing Nicolas Nova’s post on Prototyping session with post-its and cardboard at EPFL I followed his link to Stickers on Boxes, a “prototyping tool for generating objects that communicate concepts quickly & simply,” created by Anvil. Looks like a great approach.

The other day Nicolas and I were both bemoaning the fact that our students take far too long to get to the idea and concept stage, doing lots of “thinking about the project” and then “research” (which is mainly Google and a handful of books). As the deadline approaches, suddenly all the real work is done and, of course, by then it is too late to make improvements and iterations. By contrast, when I run short three or five-day workshops, the concepts get developed really quickly – more than in several weeks of “normal” project time – but then there is no more time to polish them. It is, as Ben Pieratt notes, a creative process roughly like this:

Creative process

(Ben Pieratt’s model of the Creative Process, also via Nicolas’s Tumblelog)

I think we sell teach the design process wrong. By “we” I mean most design courses I’ve encountered. By necessity of slicing and dicing the curriculum into modules and weeks, we tend to present the process as a linear one. Do some thematic research, focus down, do the user/field/literature/market research, ideate, develop a concept, sketch, prototype, polish, evaluate (rarely makes it into the project because time has already run out), bask in the glory of what a great designer you are.

A combination of the two would be ideal. Some structure (the double diamond, for example) is okay, but something more with an iterative spiral character that expresses the simultaneous ideation-concept-making process that really happens. More back and forth from extremes, more agile, I suppose. The inputs and activities should be taught in parallel, which means restructuring the curriculum significantly and ditching a lot of what are considered correct or useful evaluation processes. (Personally, I’d always favour feedback over grades. Grades are completely useless assessment tools).

Coming up with concepts and ideas is really easy. It shouldn’t take weeks or months. Implementing ideas with a high level of polish is really hard. The whole obsession with “innovation” has given people the impression it is the other way around, as if the doing were the easy bit, if only we had some ideas to do. This is horseshit, and I say that as someone with notebooks full of unmade great ideas. They seem like they’re great ideas because they’re still ideas. As soon as you start to make them, you find out if they’re full of holes or not. With interactive and service design projects and, increasingly, products and product-service ideas, you really need to feel what they’re like and there’s nothing like sketching out a storyboard, a blueprint or prototyping, even with simple sticky notes, to get a much better sense of the idea.

Prototyping and WIreframing on paper


There are a couple of great shots of prototyping on paper over at at Cultured Code’s blog for Things, their task manager app that they’re bringing to the iPhone and iTouch.

Kudos to Cultured Code for putting these up online. It’s really great to see how other people go about it and I really like Chris’s use of hand-made stencils to draw out the various buttons and layout in pencil, pen and marker.

Much as I love OmniGraffle it’s somehow gratifying to see that an app for the most sophisticated mobile device on the market is still designed with low-tech tools. I hope my students believe me now.

p.s. In the comments there is a note from Todd Zaki Warfel who is writing a book a book on prototyping.

p.p.s. For those of you who really, really don’t want to leave the womb of OmniGraffle, GraffleTopia has a nice set of iPhone Stencils to download.