Michael Gaigg: Über UI/UX Design

22Oct14

10 MyBalsamiq Tips & Tricks

Posted by Michael Gaigg

After having used Balsamiq for some years now I was excited to try MyBalsamiq which is basically Balsamiq on the web which allows for better sharing and collaboration with your team and clients. This blog article intents to share my experiences and gotchas of using MyBalsamiq with you.

Tips & Tricks

Set expectations

Setting the stage is key to a successful use of MyBalsamiq. Explain to your team members and clients that wireframing helps to communicate ideas and the WHY and WHAT we are doing by intentionally stripping out visual fidelity so one doesn't get distracted with the HOW.

Create Versions

I typically create the first version of any design using Balsamiq for desktop. I then upload it to a project folder, dub it v1 (version 1) and share it with the team (and client) so they can start commenting or proposing alternate versions as part of the thread. After reviewing and discussing the proposed changes, missing items, misunderstood elements, etc. I create a revised version which instead of simply adding another comment/alternative I upload once again, this time naming it v2 (version 2).

Again I open it up for a round of comments. I strongly recommend finalizing the design at this point by creating a document that states the purpose of the screen, specifies any requirements and uses the final mockup as the proposed design. Move on! If you for whatever reason you cannot move on, then this might be a strong indicator that you might have a problem in your project structure.

Involve your clients

Yes, I create beautiful designs just to see them being destroyed by ignorant clients. Well, I guess it's the other way around, designers tend to be attached to their intellectual creation more often than they should. Well, chicken or egg, involving your client in the process is always a win-win situation. So do it, don't hesitate having your design dissected, your ideas challenged and your assumptions validated!

Notes are your Friends

Sometimes I start a wireframe with an empty frame and a bunch of sticky notes. I slowly fill the sticky notes with bullet points of requirements or anything I feel belongs into this space. Only later I start designing the actual components that make up the screen.
In the same way I ask my clients to use sticky notes to annotate anything they feel needs to be said about the design, missing items, assumptions that aren't reflected, new ideas, etc. It really helps commenting on concrete items rather than abstract word constructs. Remember, sticky notes are your best friends.

Use Assets

Assets are grouped items with a name that can be used like any other sketch control. Assets can range from custom frames, re-usable templates, industry-specific or device depended controls, etc. Spend some time creating assets and share them either site-wide or on a project by project basis. Have a look at the popular free map controls I've created some time ago to see what I mean.

Holistic vs. Focused

I almost never get into too much detail upfront. That's for multiple reasons:

  • It's really easy getting hung up in details
  • More often than not you will find yourself wasting precious time on something that is still in flux and bound to be thrown away anyway
  • You lose sight of the bigger picture (navigation architecture, overall layout)
  • It becomes harder and harder to make changes without rethinking your concept/layout

This tip becomes a rule when working in an agile environment. You need to design the holistic view upfront, have a solid concept in place that describes how you will integrate the pieces later. Think a lot and validate (e.g. usability testing on your wireframes)!

Start the holistic design as soon as you have a good handle on the available user stories and (ideally) have it done before the first sprint planning meeting - I've heard the term Sprint 0 used a lot.

Encourage the sprint master to create a "Design UI" task which will be added to each epic or even user story that requires user interface design - this is the place to design details.

Outline Workflows

Many times I create a concept sheet or experience workflow diagram directly in wireframes. I use simple sticky notes or window controls and connect them with arrows to show how a user will flow through the application. Very often these boxes later become pages that I need to design which is kinda neat because I can directly link these pages from the workflow diagram. Managers really appreciate this high-level view and are able to comprehend better the overall structure of the site/application. You will see the quality of questions improve as well ;)

Create Prototypes

Your clients and project managers love this feature: launch prototype. We've used it before on the desktop but now we have it available online using a private url. There is also a great article about how to integrate with the leading user testing tools (Usabilla, UserZoom,...).

History

Version history seems to be nice to have but it actually turns out to be indispensable. A designer makes decisions based on observations and changing requirements (and sometimes taste ;)). Being able to compare versions over time proves to be the best line of argumentation when it comes to explaining why we reached this conclusion?. Sometimes it is less the "how we did it" rather than the "how we got there" piece!

Get MyBalsamiq for (almost) free

Full disclosure: I'm not getting a dime for saying this. But here is how you turn your existing desktop licenses into an (almost) free subscription: "...existing Mockups for Desktop customers will be able to apply half of what you paid for Mockups for Desktop towards myBalsamiq credit."

Any invited user to myBalsamiq can use the online version for free basically saving on desktop licenses. While not as slick as desktop, it's a nice treat.

Wishlist

Check-in / Check-out

I'd really love to see a version control system that can be connected to your desktop version. Basic functionality would be:

  • Get latest version(s) from myBalsamiq (and synchronize with desktop)
  • Check-in a newer version from desktop (and propose as new)
  • Show me changes for all files (i.e. compare your desktop version to myBalsamiq)

Right now I find it really difficult to get the latest version from the web, modify on desktop and update existing thread with newer version. Balsamiq team: any plans for such an integration?

High-level (conceptual) view of all screens

Above I've talked about sketching the conceptual workflow. While starting in v2.2 the Balsamiq team added a 'site map' control (very cool btw), this doesn't really fit my need to show the workflow. I guess for now I need to stick to my connected notes :(

15Oct8

Imagine You Are Somebody Clever

Posted by Michael Gaigg

A Vision and Role-Model

One can argue about the scientific value of the space jump endeavor which without doubt was a big payoff for Red Bull and Felix Baumgartner. But one thing shouldn't be missed: somebody with vision worked hard, risked a lot and by combining skill and technology achieved something outstanding. The jump was well prepared, a team of engineers and specialists worked over 5 years to make it happen.

"I want to inspire the next generation. I want to be in mission control with someone younger than me wanting to break my record." Felix

What seemed to look easy was a leap to remember, especially in times when we feel overwhelmed or scared, disillusioned or tired. Take a step back, zoom out, breathe and jump...

Imagine you are somebody clever

But here is the real lesson: Try to be a hero, try to be a genius, try to be somebody clever! This isn't as crazy as you think, it's actually the outcome of a popular research study by Robert Hartley where he and his team split children into two groups asking them the exact same questions except one group of kids was asked to imagine they were somebody clever, to "act as if they were clever".

The outcome was that this group performed significantly better than the other, as Hartley states: "Adopting another's perspective enables one to explore other ways of acting, thus in one's imagination one can temporarily disengage from the habitual perspective one usually assumes. This allows the person the opportunity to give considered thought to what he might do (p. 191) and actively reconstruct the situation from this other perspective." And further "[...] the sense of identity exerts a controlling influence over the intellectual choices one makes, the mental abilities one is willing to reveal and what one feels one can or cannot do in particular circumstances."

The Lesson

Remember the following picture and how Felix must have felt. He did it, you can do it too!

Next time you feel nervous...

Next time you feel nervous...

24Sep0

Free Materials from User Interface 16 conference

Posted by Michael Gaigg

Free Download! Get 9 featured talks (video/audio/pdf) and 8 workshops (pdf only) from last year’s User Interface 16 conference (by UIE).

Featured Talks

  • Culture You are Soaking In It - Steve Portigal
  • Design Challenges CSS Answers - Stephanie (Sullivan) Rewis and Greg Rewis
  • Designing for Mice and Men - Bill Scott
  • Experience Leadership - Kim Goodwin
  • Input Moving Beyond Forms - Luke Wroblewski
  • Meeting Design for the Design Process - Kevin Hoffman
  • The Business Case for (or Against) UX - Brandon Schauer
  • The Many Uses of Application Maps - Hagan Rivers
  • The Unintuitive Nature of Creating Intuitive Designs - Jared Spool

Workshops

  • Designing Rich Interactive Experiences - Bill Scott
  • Designing with Scenarios - Kim Goodwin
  • Good Design Faster - Brandon Schauer
  • HTML5 and CSS3 What Designers Really Need to Know - Stephanie (Sullivan) Rewis and Greg Rewis
  • Immersive Field Research Techniques - Steve Portigal
  • Kicking Off Projects Right - Kevin Hoffman
  • Mobile Web Design - Luke Wroblewski
  • Simplifying Complex Applications - Hagan Rivers

How to get the free recordings?

It’s easy. Just submit your email by Tuesday, September 25, 11:59 PM ET and you’ll get last year’s UI16 talks and materials for free. No tricks, no quantity limits. We’ll send you an email with details on how to access this bundle of goodness.

23Jul2

The World as we know it

Posted by Michael Gaigg

I just love the stereotypes used to create the world as we know it map of the world by Osama Haj jaj). True or not, that's what we associate with these countries and you better have a sip of Tequila and a Taco when you travel to Mexico or watch a soccer game when in Brazil.

The world as we know it

19Jul9

Job Posting: UX Designer & Visual Designer

Posted by Michael Gaigg

I'd like to forward two job postings by Sooriaraj Jeyaraman who is trying to fill two positions for the design team of the new Location Analytics initiative.

Feel free to submit your resume directly to Sooriaraj Jeyaraman. Thanks!

User Experience Designer

Overview / Job Description

Esri, the leader in geographic information systems (GIS) and mapping technology, is looking for an exceptional user experience designer.

Join a dynamic and energetic team working to bring Esri mapping and location analytics to the world of Business Analytics. Working alongside a focused team of product managers, developers and other user experience designers you will be responsible for setting new standards for the way users visualize their data on a map and perform analytics with maps.

The ideal candidate will be a practical-minded perfectionist who has the creative skills to grasp & simplify complex business processes through the creation of extremely intuitive user interfaces. While these are business systems, the user experience must be as easy and intuitive as the best consumer experiences.

You must be a natural collaborator who is used to develop designs in a team environment with multiple stakeholders. A passion for elegant design and incorporating new and innovative technologies is a must. Exceptional attention to detail and a good eye for aesthetics are crucial.

Requirements / Skills:

  • Strong, demonstrated understanding of User-centered design methodology
  • Experience in utilizing user research to drive design decisions
  • Solid skills in interaction design, user research, conceptual development, prototyping and usability testing
  • Experience in creating process flows, wireframes and mockups to effectively conceptualize and present detailed interaction behaviors
  • Experience in creating detailed user interface specifications
  • A strong working knowledge and experience in using tools such as Balsamiq, Axure, OmniGraffle, Photoshop/Illustrator, PowerPoint, Flash Catalyst at various design stages
  • Worked and designed Desktop, Web and Mobile applications & solutions
  • Experience with usability assessment techniques including usability heuristics, contextual enquiry and conducting lab-based usability testing
  • Worked in a cross functional team environment in an agile development process
  • Handled multiple projects at the same time
  • Experience collaborating and working closely with the UX team members.
  • Experience communicating effectively to the stakeholders
  • Experience in creatively solving complex problems within aggressive deadlines
  • A portfolio demonstrating past work experience and relevant User-Centered Design solutions

Experience:

  • A Master’s degree in Human Factors, Human Computer Interaction, Usability Engineering, Cognitive Psychology or such related field
  • Minimum two years of work experience in user experience design

Visual Designer

Overview / Job Description

Esri, the leader in geographic information systems (GIS) and mapping technology, is looking for an exceptional visual designer.

Join a dynamic and energetic team working to bring Esri mapping and location analytics to the world of Business Analytics. Working alongside a focused team of product managers, developers and other user experience designers you will be responsible for setting new standards for the way users visualize their data on a map and perform analytics with maps.

The ideal candidate will be a practical-minded perfectionist who has the creative skills to grasp & simplify complex business processes through the creation of extremely intuitive user interfaces and engaging visual and motion designs. While these are business systems, the user experience must be as easy and intuitive as the best consumer experiences.

You must be a natural collaborator who is used to develop designs in a team environment with multiple stakeholders. A passion for elegant design and incorporating new and innovative technologies is a must. Exceptional attention to detail and a good eye for aesthetics are crucial.

Requirements / Skills:

  • Strong, demonstrated understanding of User-centered design methodology
  • Experience in utilizing user research to drive design decisions
  • Exceptional skills in Photoshop, Illustrator and other layout and design tools.
  • Knowledge and experience using animation software such as Flash and/or After Effects
  • Good general understanding of web and mobile platforms and experience producing designs and assets for them
  • Excellent understanding of general design principles and practices
  • Ability to create balanced, well formed layouts in print and interactive projects
  • Strong background in typography and color theory
  • Familiarity and facility with icon creation and icon systems
  • Top-notch communication skills
  • Efficient time management
  • Strong design portfolio that shows great potential

Experience:

  • Bachelor's degree in graphic design, web development or an equivalent combination of education and experience
  • 1-2 years experience in professional interactive design capacity
18Jul5

Create your own Treasure Map

Posted by Michael Gaigg

Historical Style

Historical Style

Now this is cool (thx Nick for sharing)! An antique looking basemap (by MapBox), just missing pirates, treasures, hidden islands and tales about monsters of the sea...

Update (thx to Aileen Buckley): Esri has "a style you can use to do this -- it is the Historical style on Mapping Center -- it has ships, sea serpents, etc... (thanks to Jaynya!)".

Download: create historical looking maps (scroll down to 'historical' style)

10Jul7

Lifespan is an important Design Decision

Posted by Michael Gaigg

Mayan mahem

Mayan mahem

The lifespan of a planned application or website is an important (and often overlooked) requirements influencer. Many questions come to mind that appear to be technical in nature but have to be understood by the designer to optimize their design decisions on capabilities and known limitations of the target technology. Designs can never truly be technology agnostic and in my opinion if they are, then this fact will create gaps between design and implementation later on. So you better be aware of them.

Typical Questions to ask:

  • Will the app be likely be superseded by something else within the next 6 months?
  • Is another known technology catching up and soon more prominent than our current target technology?
  • Do we rely on third-party tools/plugins that need to be maintained or maybe will render our application unmaintainable?

Especially the last question bares high risk of failure. If you rely on a JavaScript's front-end framework - like we all do - say, jQuery UI, chances are that our designs will a) be limited and b) sometime be stuck in the middle once a major redesign hits us. If the redesign happens before the end of the planned/anticipated lifespan of our app, cost and effort to upgrade might not be feasible and thus we cannot upgrade to the latest versions anymore. The End.

Scalability

Amount for various cases where your design needs to be flexible enough to handle changes over time. These can include:

  • Administration: more objects (users, items) are added over time. Does the app provide pagination? Search? How easy can they be plugged in?
  • Load: processing times increase. How will the system display delays in page refreshes? Download times?
  • Client requests: more functionality needs to be added. Is the design flexible enough to accommodate another button or menu item? Etc.
  • i18n: multi-language support needed? Now? Later? Maybe?
  • Accessibility: is it worth the effort?
  • Support for MVP (minimal viable product) and incremental improvements?

In many ways the Maya calendar and it's associated 2012 phenomenon are a good example for design decisions based on lifespan. Who cared back then that after 5125 years the calendar would need to be reset (or cannot handle more combinations), like many software systems didn't take into consideration what is now known as the Y2K or Millennium bug which was caused by the practice of abbreviating a four-digit year to two digits for pure storage consideration, which nowadays in our abundance world of storage is really hard to follow. But hey, it costed an estimated remediatioin of $416.- in today's currency world-wide.

Lesson

Take into consideration the lifespan of your app when designing it. Any negligence is careless design and may result in increased cost or even an unmaintainable or unusable product later on.

What are your experiences with lifespan?

8May28

Mapping Stereotypes: Europe according to Americans

Posted by Michael Gaigg

Europe According to USA

Europe According to USA

...and other stereotypes by Yanko Tsvetkov (thx to Rob for pointing me to this site)!

Working under the pseudonym "alphadesigner" which (according to him) makes people usually think that his work is really important. Regardless... Yanko hits the nail right on its head when it comes to stereotypes.

You gotta love the European map as seen by different states/cultures. And if you really think that everybody in Austria eats Apfelkuchen for breakfast and Italy is infested by Godfathers... then you either watch too many movies or ...are American LOL.

29Apr42

Amazing Paintings with inlaid Maps

Posted by Michael Gaigg

Patriarch (original), 2006 Inlaid maps on panel

Patriarch (original), 2006 Inlaid maps on panel

What an amazing find (once again thx to Nick Furness).

Matthew Cusick created these astounding paintings and collages using inlaid maps.

I love map art (does this word exist already?) - do you guys know more? Send it to me and I'll post it here, can't wait for maps to enter urban culture, maybe some map graffiti or street map painting on a sidewalk...?! ;)

4Apr32

Multiline TextBox control (TextArea) in Silverlight

Posted by Michael Gaigg

This is one of those things that can drive you crazy. There is no 'TEXTAREA' equivalent in Silverlight. One needs to use the TextBox control with some tweaks instead. I'm terrible in remembering details like these, so here for my records:

<TextBox TextWrapping="Wrap" Width="300" Height="80" AcceptsReturn="True" HorizontalScrollBarVisibility="Auto" VerticalScrollBarVisibility="Auto" />

Some remarks:

  • TextWrapping=True will make sure that any text entered will actually wrap to the next line
  • Height is important
  • AcceptsReturn is useful to avoid accidental submission of the form
  • Horizontal and Vertical scrollbars are set to "auto", but feel free to set to "Visible" if that's your preference

Enjoy!

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