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I was fortunate enough to go to three workshops. Monday was How to Make Information Beautiful with David McCandless; Tuesday was Usability Bootcamp: The Essentials of Usability Testing with Christine Perfetti; and Wednesday was Tapworthy Mobile Design and User Experience with Josh Clark.
Thursday and Friday was the Conference.
Information design is a way of solving information problems. David showed us some of the thought processes that trigger his interest in creating an infographic.
One way to generate an infographic is to start with a stub, the seed of an idea; then to develop the concept, an idea you can explain to someone else.
A stub is an image, idea, question, dataset, problem, or subject.
Concepts require two personas: the creative director with a huge time and budget for exploring ideas, and a news editor with no time and who needs quick explanations.
It is the ideas in relationship with other things that makes them beautiful.
Design needs form and function. Information needs interestingness and integrity. An infographic needs all four. When two of these overlap, you get a good (sketchy) result. When three overlap, you have a something that is noticeably lacking. When all four overlap, you have a successful infographic. Avoid anything too cool, too complex, or too busy. These usually fail to be usable infographics. David demonstrates this in an infographic on his site.
In the workshop, we came up with stubs, brainstormed concepts, sketched out how our infographic would look. (The data for our infographic would use sentiment analysis on twitter to see how the presentations by different speakers generated a buzz over time, and how the twitter buzz changed through the day. The infographic would also show how much bandwidth was being used, as an indicator of overall engagement.)
A product is usable when a user can accomplish what they want to do. A more usable product is one a user can easily accomplish what they want to do.
Usability testing is observing real customers in front of the system, performs real tasks, and seeing what works and doesn't work for them.
Christine had us perform some tasks on difficult sites, such as attempting to book the cheapest hotel on the monorail at Disneyworld. We did this in groups of three, with one searcher explaining their process of thought and investigation, and the other two of us as silent observers.
The workshop covered how to perform usability testing, instead of just trying to use best practice when designing the site. There are many steps, but none of them too difficult.
We later had to come up with tasks for someone to perform our own websites. We facilitated that test, observed another test, and were the user on the third. It was eye opening how many things the user does not notice. I intend to use all I learn at this workshop.
Making an app worthy of your customers' taps depends on several things, and Josh covered many of them in his workshop. As part of the workshop, we started mocking up the interface and interactions of a new application.
Understanding your customer is a key factor in this. I've often said that developers consider the command-line interface a usable interface. Androids are advertised as cool technology and cutting-edge experimentation, as opposed to iPhones advertised as human interaction, policy, and friendliness. Androids are "good enough", inexpensive, and best suited for technically suited users. IPhone users see apps as content and/or media. Androids are seen as customisable tools.
Apps need to be sensitive to the conventions of the devices and a single app will not excel on multiple platforms. Create different versions of the app for each platform.
Luke Wroblewski says build for mobile first, and then build the website. Josh disagrees, saying build the APIs first, then mobile. Either way the website comes last. A generic API will provide consistency of content in your product across all platforms, while still allowing an experience suited for the platform.
An important thing in a mobile application is understanding your user's mindset. Phones are with us more often than laptops or desktop computers. We're doing more things in places where we only have the phone.
Sometimes users are micro-tasking to capture time while stuck in queues or on public transport. These users want to quickly get into the app, perform their task, and exit. 1-2 primary tasks need to be available on every screen, and the call-to-action must be obvious. The best productivity apps work this way.
At other times, users are mobile, and their local environment plays a key part in their experience, whether it's identifying what's around them, or reorganising their shopping list based on the aisles in the nearby supermarket. The sensors give personal context without needing to be a key aspect of the application. The Realestate app is a great local example.
The third mindset is bored users. Games dominate the Apple app store. News feeds and video are other ways to keep users occupied and entertained. Apps like Runkeeper allow you to explore your history.
Apps have different lifespans. Some apps are temporary, usually with a limited amount of content. Books and games etc., are for consumers, not doers. Other apps need replenishment, such as news feeds. Content that grows will each trip or event will help keep an app long lasting. Communication and competition helps keeping people coming back to your app.
Josh then covered some practical principles for designing for touch.
The last part of app design covered the personality of apps. Josh recommended never letting your app's personality emerging be accident. You need to decide if your app is an efficient, no nonsense app, which may end up being a bland app. Standard controls can be adjusted to give personality to your app. The illusion of a real-world object invites touch and guides the user in manipulating the app.
Finally, Josh talked about tablets, which are introducing a new series of interface gestures.
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