Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Attention Web designers: Design experiences, not webpages

One of my biggest challenges right now is working with the concept teams in the agency. Designing for online is a very different discipline from designing for print. Even designing for TV is different because TV or video is still linear, whereas online design isn't. When I try to describe the process, I liken it to designing a choose-your-own-adventure book -- experiences branch out and interconnect in different ways; and you cater to different audiences and personas and try to give a relevant, personalized experience for each.

We have lots of good technical designers here in the country, and a lot with good aesthetic sense. But I still have to meet a web designer who I can say I'm impressed with. Maybe I haven't been around enough. Maybe designing a website takes more than one head. I believe a good web design comes from good collaboration among a collection of aesthetic, technical and stragetic heads.

Nico, our digital producer, has an interesting observation: usual advertising art directors find it easier to work with Flash since it offers a more flexible medium. Once you get into HTML web design, it gets more complicated because of all the limitations it puts on design. That's when good web designers really shine -- when an HTML-based design looks great yet works well and easy to use for visitors.

I found this material from an article by Alexander Wipf in Cultural Fuel.
He shares tips from Tim Richards of Razorfish on web design. Enjoy!


Experience Design: Why Pages Are The Last Thing You Need To Worry About

View more presentations from Tim Richards.

Here’s a little talk I put together for a UX Meetup here in LA. It’s a bit of an amalgamation of emerging experience design tenets focusing on differences between page design and experience design. Probably not a giant eye-opener for folks that are currently engaged in Experience Design. I’ll offer up what I believe to be the missing subtext for the talk below - not a script; just some stuff that isn’t on the slides, to make it easier to understand.

Originally, the context for this talk was an article I wrote for theFEED report, Razorfish’s Digital Design Outlook. The original title was “Putting Jakob on the Shelf.” Again, for experience designers, it seems like a pot-shot; most of us know Jakob Nielsen’s place in our pantheon of nerd-heroes. I guess the impetus came from quite a few client conversations that seemed to rush into page design as a primary vehicle for redesigning a web experience, to be specific.

Experiences, Not Pages
Pages are the old building blocks. We have square monitors, the Web was borne of hypertext documents, which are “shaped” like pages, pages date back to Egyptian papyrus, I suppose. Pages will probably be around for a while. With that in mind, when we design an experience, we design around the fulfillment of some human need. The truth of the matter is that these needs are very seldom solved via a “page”; folks are looking for fulfillment, conversation, connections, prices, comparisons, knowledge…that sort of thing. What I quickly narrow down to Answers and Entertainment is very seldom page-shaped - it’s smaller, and more fluid.

I think that search has contributed to our page focus - as last-click attribution has placed the almighty index on a pedestal. Image and video search are a step in the right direction, I guess…but, as we map real engagements, we know that actual behavior is quite messy. Impressions across channels build up to actions, interactions, engagement, purchase, loyalty, etc.

The last bit here, starting at Slide 16 and running through Slide 21, I guess, is a plea to all Product Managers, Marketing Folks, and other business stakeholders to start thinking about their products and projects in terms of experience and flow; narrative and interaction. As much as everyone seems to love to agree with me on this point of “Don’t Start Design with a Site Map” - I still see an awful lot of it out in the space. My only point here is that we should use scenarios, narrative, lo-fidelity UI, and map those to a system - and let an aggregation of narratives define the solution. A site map is representative of a design solution. It’s a handy design inventory. It’s not a starting point. In my mind, a lot of  the “good stuff” happens before we have a site map. Sure, designing the individual interfaces is fun, as well…but, the journeys and over-arching narratives are key to nail down before we do those interfaces. I think this goes for representative “comps” and “design directions” as a representative slice of the solution - let’s get better at designing experience concepts, as an industry; we don’t spend enough time there, I fear.

The backgrounds for these last slides of the section are scenarios and scenario maps - early site maps that evolve when we overlay several scenarios (scenarios are user segment + user need + narrative user story (of fulfillment/experience) + lo-fi UI’s.

Die, Enterprise, Die
I’ll come right out and let you know ahead of time that I think this next section is the least-baked. Sorry. It started out as an approach to Experience Design when there are already significant brand touchpoints out there - that by “Growing Organically,” we could meet emerging brand and user needs more quickly by bypassing the tendency to build every new experience in the context of the previous. That’s where that title on Slide 23 comes from, I guess. The cartoon map backgrounds were a deliverable for a big company who had hidden the most important content (according to their some-odd 16MM users) behind some impersonal promotions for prospective customers. These concept maps showed how hard it was to find the good stuff - and I even designed a peaceful town plaza/square to represent the suggested new design.

The next bit on Slide 24-25 are remnants of the first section, I guess - maybe it’s a recurring theme. The idea comes from  experiencing so many project kickoffs and requirements-gathering sessions where we were collecting “feature ideas” instead of user requirements. It’s not easy, managing the line between requirement and feature - but, I tell you, that line is representative of what I call “Design.” Slide 26 is a shout out to my man Saul Bass. I find it helpful to drop this quote from time to time to define and redefine our activities as Design, even if we’re working at a whiteboard, and not Photoshop.

The next little area may be a bit outdated - as I’ve seen so many integrated Creative/User Experience teams as of late. However, in shops where UX is highly-evolved (or devolved?) a divide sometimes grew between Creative and User Experience. My view on the division is best expressed in “Making is Thinking” recent post, “Logic Occludes Intuition.” Basically, it’s easy to slip into a solely performance-based innovation model as a User Experience Designer - trying to “prove” our way to an innovative solution.

Slides 27-34 explore some of the differences between the UX and Creative roles (even if they’re occurring in the same person) - and tries to make it OK for UX and Creative to be out of sync for periods of time, while concept catches up with insight, and such. Also, there’s a slide of a blue frisbee where I make a joke about Tron. Hopefully, you’ll get that joke.

Design Inside Out + Outside In
OK. Yes. I talk about Semantic here. Jumping the shark? Maybe. But, as the Experience Design field advances, and we learn how to measure and discuss the differences between bad experience and good experience across channels, we’re going to need to understand how Ontology Design should affect the design process. With so many experiences leaning so heavily upon good aggregation techniques, landing pages, and contextual navigation, we’ll do well as designers to know that we’ve got to be able to design very fluid experiences that allow people to move laterally (with context, as opposed to vertically “down” in an information experience) in an experience, in units that are smaller than “pages.” Slide 41 is usually when I like to drop a trip through Spock, looking for my favorite Daler Mehndi video, “Tunak” to show how Semantic Tech will change the world - and to show how rad the Tunak video is.

Slide 45 basically disallows Experience Designers from straying too far away from practical design, diving so deeply into ontology structures that they forget the “containers” for the experience; pages, modules, templates, screens, messages, videos, etc. The background for this slide and the previous were sketched by Darren Wong, a very talented experience designer in LA. I like the “Context and Container” thing quite a bit - I’ll dive more deeply into that in a subsequent installment, I am sure.

So, as I just returned from Memphis and the IA Summit 09, I reflected on this talk that I had put together - and I feel a kinship with Jesse James Garrett, who delivered the final plenary talk on Sunday, when he shouted us out - to rise, and be Information Architects no more - but, to be User Experience Designers (among other great things he said.) Yes, we perform information architecture. No, it’s not all we do. Should it be our job title? Nope. But, that’s just me.

Now that you’ve received the fullness of my approach to handling emerging challenges in User Experience Design, you are also relegated to go forth, and do good; design great experiences via storytelling, and not just information science. How’s that feel?


  1. Hmm.. did someone just use my comments section to plug their products? tsk, tsk..


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