Michael Gaigg: Über UI/UX Design


What is Good Design?

Posted by Michael Gaigg

Let's start with a warming up exercise: Which of these 2 examples do you think is the best design? A, the airplane cockpit of an A380? Or B, the all-too-familiar Google interface?

A) airplane cockpit of an A380?

A) airplane cockpit of an A380?

Google interface

B) Google interface

The airplane cockpit is an example of a great design for its intended target audience. Sure, a pilot will need some training and I don't pretend to be able to understand it, but I don't think we could simplify the interface without removing important functionality, would you agree?

The Google interface is clean and simple with lots of white space, but the real reason why it is a great design is because it meets google's business need of selling advertisement. Google does not want any distraction or even waste of bandwidth.

Strategy: End-User Needs

So in order to create a great design we have to invest time to define our UX strategy. First we need to ask

  • who our users are,
  • what these users are trying to accomplish or in other words what is in it for them and
  • then how successful they are doing that.

This typically requires research.

Strategy: Business Needs

The second aspect is to understand what the business needs are.

  • Where are we now?
  • Where do we want to go?
  • How do we get there?
  • And most important of all how do we define success?

This is really essential for later stages in a project in order to make objective design decisions. We capture all the answers in a short document that we call the UI Strategy OneSheet (Download Word Template (.dotx)) which is literally only one page.

What is good Design?

So what is good design? What is the meaning of life of your application?

Good design is when it has a purpose, when it is useful to somebody.

Defining the UX strategy and capturing what success means is the basis for creating purpose.


Download: User-centered Design Menu

Posted by Michael Gaigg

User-centered Design Menu

User-centered Design Menu

Welcome back!

This time I literally have a special treat for you: the User-centered Design (UCD) menu. It's like a menu that your clients can choose from and range from inexpensive ($) to rather expensive ($$$$).

Tip: Please digest slowly and most importantly: ENJOY!

Download: UCD Menu (PDF)


Every Proposal is the entrance to something great.

Paper Prototyping $$

Hand-drafted mockups and sketches, carefully selected and laid out, sautéed with your ideas.

UX Storyboarding $

A portion of your end-users and their needs
topped with their stories and actual problems.

Heuristic Evaluation $

Draft designs, wireframes or fully implemented systems
evaluated by a choice of 2-3 hand-picked experts.

Survey $

Freshly picked set of questions, sliced to identify
your users and their needs, served with lots of insights.

Main Courses

Let us delight your users with our house specialties.

Rapid Prototyping $$$

Lightly functional demos or prototypes,
served in high or low fidelity, grilled to perfection.

Usability Testing $$$

Home-made end-user observations that feed
right into the next design iteration, served by 3-5 users.

Focus Group $$$

Choice of nutritional opinions and beliefs,
shared and discussed by a group of people.

Field Study $$$$

Real end-user behavior observations collected by
following people in their daily job and environment.

Card Sorting $$$

Delicious index cards sprinkled with individual
concepts, tossed into meaningful piles, served hot.

Server Log & Search Log Analysis $$

Crisp log statistics piled high with insights of
user’s navigation and search behavior. Very tasty!

Chef’s recommendation:

Make the User a stakeholder!
Involving the user early and throughout the cooking process will improve the experience and usability of your app and save you and your client money.

18% gratuity added to projects of 250k or more.

Please ask your server for the recommended selection of user-centered design methods that suits your project.


Happy 5th Anniversary

Posted by Michael Gaigg

Thanks once again for encouraging me to write this blog, this really keeps me going! THANK YOU!

The last year was amazing. We were fortunate enough to hire two outstanding and very talented individuals, Jayson Ward and Cody Lawson, which made the team stronger and better than ever before :)

I also started a blog about Map UI Patterns where I summarize and publish my experience by describing common patterns, principles, and practices when working with map apps.

Highlights from last year

Map UI Patterns


The Future of Travel Sites?

Posted by Michael Gaigg

What an amazing 2 minute video presentation of What a Travel Site Should Look Like (thanks to James Killick for sending this link) as featured in Wired magazine.


10 Design Lessons learned from my Sons

Posted by Michael Gaigg

Take a bite out of geography...

Take a bite out of geography...

The following lessons are based on my observations and experiences with my sons. I left out explaining the design meaning or how a lesson may get translated into design practice which I believe is mostly obvious but also left to ones imagination and situation.


My kids grow up in a time when content and interaction is omnipresent. Watching TV is starting a DVR recording. On-demand, RedBox, YouTube are only additional channels that allow content to be streamed at will. The "new generation" will demand immediacy, waiting isn't part of their vocabulary.

Forget the Theory

The tips won't stop, everybody seems to have their own solution and books just make it harder. Just one thing is certain, all the book-smartness won't help you raise your own children. You need to get your hands dirty, learn the hard way, improve and adjust. Become street-smart, do it and do it again. And after years you still cannot add 'Father' to your resume (unless the fact that your DNA got duplicated is enough for you) because it's not a skill or attribute, it's a state of being, you will never end learning and it will never end (hopefully).

Answer the obvious questions

I get the same questions over and over again. "Are they identical?" - People tend to ask/need to know what is most obvious. It's like walking into a personal library, you just gotta ask if the person has read all the book - of course not, it's a library, it's there to look up something when you need it. But still, people need to ask the first thing that comes to their mind and that's most often the obvious. And yet you will need to answer. Get over it and free these poor souls. Answer the obvious question to get to the juicy ones.

Stop and recognize beauty

Last summer we were walking the beautiful streets of old town Salzburg, Austria. My son stopped in front of a violinist to listen to her street performance. Having had the plan in mind to get to the ice cream store before sunset I dragged him away. Only later it settled that sometimes we overlook the true beauty of everyday things, our life is too fast. Children have this innate, pure sense, plenty to learn!

Terrible two's

It's not about the tantrum or hissy fit, that sudden outburst of temper, often used to describe anger at something else trivial. Sometimes something - like feeding pizza to the cat - makes perfect sense to him but doesn't necessarily fit into our world. We have to observe, understand the meaning of the situation and decide how far we can go and when to cut it (or sometimes just let it be).

Touch is in

If something doesn't respond to touch it is broken. Having learned to operate my Android phone my 2 y/o son was frustrated and without understanding that the monitor of my workstation didn't react to touch AND swipe. Mouse? WTH...


I want to have his patience, repeating the same video, sequence, word, or task over and over again. But one can only master something through practice, and that requires diligence and patience. Both can be (re-)learned and remembered. Or like golfing legend Arnold Palmer used to say: "The more I practice, the luckier I get".


Should be a no-brainer, but my sons laugh and enjoy the small and simple things, but mostly the words, sounds and interactions that come across pure and authentic. They feel when I'm "into it", not distracted, bored, absent, etc. This passion translates into good designs, make your users feel special. Priceless!

Feedback / Responsive

Kids want feedback, a simple repeat of whatever they were mumbling helps already to show them that we 'understood' them. It's like ordering at McDonalds where the clerk at the window repeats my order, it helps me feel at ease that the other side will actually stack my burger without pickles. Kids will continue asking for you until you answer, and believe me, they will make their voices heard if you don't answer immediately.


Imagination is basis of creativity and innovation. Being able to imagine situations is essential to understanding problem spaces and situations. "Pretending to be" is the current #1 game of my son. He is so into imagining to be "somebody else" that he can start crying when something conflicts with something that is meant for "him". Zooming into my office, bystanders probably think I am crazy when they see me staring at a blank wireframe for 1/2 hour. I'm not the type of guy that starts sketching the heck out myself, I prefer deliberating all possible situations, workflows, alternatives (at least the ones that I can come up with) in my mind first. It's like a chess player that thinks multiple moves ahead and then takes the 'best' move according to the current situation and knowledge.

What are your thoughts and experiences? Anything else to add?


Video: Map App UI Design

Posted by Michael Gaigg

Here is the video from the tech session I held at the Esri DevSummit 2013 in Palm Springs, CA.

The session teaches participants best practices for reviewing, conceptualizing, designing and building user-centered mapping applications in a competitive business environment. Methods, techniques and tools for improving the user experience and designing useful and appealing front-end interfaces will be discussed.


Top 10 Design Influencers

Posted by Michael Gaigg

Design Influencers

Design Influencers

Designing user interfaces isn't about sexy graphics, shiny buttons or slick navigation (alone).

It's about taking care of the influential factors that make or break the success of a web application or website.

It's a delicate balance of user needs and business requirements, deeply understood and carefully melted into a design that is loved by all stakeholders (the end-user included ;) )

The sum of all the design influencers are the constraints that will box your design decisions. That's not a limitation, it's liberation!

The Design Influencers are:

User Needs

Whatever it is that you are planning to build, it needs to be useful to somebody and has to solve a real-world problem. This end-user need is the reason of existence, it's the meaning life.


In which context will your users access the site? Is it through mobile devices on the road? Then a shopping cart will be less important than driving directions or store hours and screen elements need to be more prominent.
Do users typically enter your site through search? Then your landing pages need to convey who you are and what you do because users won't have seen your fancy homepage (and probably never will).


Even though cultural difference across the globe become really important if you build an international site, I rather mean business or sociological culture, i.e. if you plan on building an intranet site but the company's culture doesn't encourage to report failure or spending time helping other employees, then a forum probably isn't the right choice to offer.

Business Needs

While your client is ideally well informed about their end-user's needs, they also have to run a business, satisfy stakeholders, fulfill legal mandates etc. And that's when compromising your perfect usability is sometimes necessary and important.


What's the available technology? Very often the vendor or client platform of choice dictates the choice of technology, e.g. a Microsoft shop will prefer .NET and Silverlight (oh, long time I haven't mentioned Silverlight so I mention it again) or Flex.

Market Opportunities

If something isn't viable or possible today that doesn't mean it won't be in a year. So think ahead and design your site accordingly, i.e. extensible, modular, maintainable.
What I've found is that sometimes it's worth including an "upsale" item into your mockups, something that the client hasn't explicitly asked for but may open their eyes and hopefully wallets ;) Mostly you may defer these items to a later phase but it gives everybody a long-term vision and as a side-effect supports designs that are extensible.


It's been said that anything can be done if you only have enough time and money, but the real world doesn't spin like that. Your design is constrained by a budget - and that's a good thing because it forces you to stay realistic finding the right balance between innovation and familiarity.


If the main sponsor is Esri (my current employer) I better make sure that there is a map on the interface. What sounds like a designer's nightmare is the name of the game.


How long will your design need to stand the test of time? Is it 1 year or 10? A demo doesn't need to be as polished or thought-out as a content-management system that will take over the client's communication platform. It is the classical "let's get it done" versus "let's think about this a last time". I've written a more detailed article about Lifespan as an important Design Decision.


Accessibility is a law and therefore cannot be removed from the equation. Your fancy design elements might just not be (or too expensive to be) compliant with the law. Acquire knowledge about accessibility laws (e.g. section 508 in the US), their implementation specifics and know how that translates into your design.


T-Shirt: Trust me I’m a Designer

Posted by Michael Gaigg

Here is a must-have for all design geeks out there: Trust me I'm a Designer Tee Shirt!

And believe me, it's not only a vision test, it's a test in your faith as being a designer :)

Btw. I'm a designer and I approve this message.

Trust me I'm a Designer Tee Shirt

Trust me I'm a Designer Tee Shirt


Web Mapping Application Interface Design – Best Practices and Tools

Posted by Michael Gaigg

These are my slides from the tech session held at the Esri DevSummit 2013 in Palm Springs, CA.

The session teaches participants best practices for reviewing, conceptualizing, designing and building user-centered mapping applications in a competitive business environment. Methods, techniques and tools for improving the user experience and designing useful and appealing front-end interfaces will be discussed.


Redesigning our internal Team Site

Posted by Michael Gaigg

Paper sketch draft

Paper sketch draft

I could have titled this post "The importance of sketching" or "Paper and pencil are still hip". The truth is, I didn't even realize about the fact that I do a lot of sketching on paper, as a matter of fact I just recovered my beautiful drawing from going into the shredder. I think the beauty of sketching on paper is that the ink just flows. Sometimes you don't even know where it will lead you when you start. It keeps you minimalistic, not too much detail can be crafted on a tiny piece of paper (at least I can't).

Graphical Design

Graphical Design

Once I had the draft in hands, it was just a matter of whipping the right amount of bootstrap with some custom HTML and funky JavaScript, voila, our internal team site came to life... So you could say that prototyping can be done in HTML without the need for wireframes, I still doubt that. Without at least the genius idea on paper I wouldn't be able to code as efficiently as I did.

The coding part was only the cherry on the pie, a quick logo, a menu, a hero unit, some blocks and fancy graphics, tadaaaaa. I used PHP to create a 'controller' with content being included on the fly. Yes, good old content, still working on that piece, but no worries, I got it under control ;)

How do you design? Do you sketch/wireframe? Or straight to code?

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