An Event Apart: Idea to Interface

by March 31, 2011

In his Idea to Interface presentation at An Event Apart in Seattle, WA 2011 Aarron Walter encouraged Web designers and developers to tackle their personal projects by walking through examples and ways to jump in. Here are my notes from his talk:

  • What should we do about the ideas we have? We often think “wouldn’t it be cool if we did this?”. But jumping in and doing our own thing is risky from both a time and money perspective.
  • We need to give ourselves permission to be the person with an idea. We all deserve a shot at making our ideas real. Don’t just think about your ideas but carry them through.

The Creative Process

  • The creative process is how our brain works.
  • Ideation: have ideas, go through them quickly, think about lots of stuff in short order.
  • Incubation: time to think and digest the idea. Our brains solve problems when we are not actively thinking about them.
  • Evaluate: look back at ideas, evaluate them, and see if they’ll work.
  • Around second grade we realize people are looking at us and we are being judged. So we inject an internal judge for ourselves. This often limits what we are willing to try to pursue.
  • Ideation means let the ideas flow, let them be crazy, sort them out later.

Tips for tackling Your Ideas

  • Tackle the whole design. Design is more than elegant layouts. It’s about understanding our users, organizing our content, interaction patterns, and more. It’s not about little d = decoration. It’s about big picture designing covering everything we do.
  • Go with what you know. You won’t have to learn a bunch of new things if you start with a domain you know and love.
  • Team up. The buddy system not only gives you complementary skill-sets but it also gives you someone you are accountable to.
  • Prototype. Creating a prototype helps you coalesce your idea and see if you can get other people on board. You have to get things out of your head a soon as possible, draw it write it, or build it. When something is only stuck in your head you can come up with many ideas about why it is not working.
  • Don’t be afraid to shelve ideas. Failure is OK just getting an idea out is ok. You may find a better time and place for an idea to come back out. It’s ok to put it back on the shelf for a while.
  • Get a personality. From the very beginning you want to be thinking about personality. As interface designers we create the windows between people interacting. Software has human attributes and you want to make the right introduction. A design persona: put as much time into thinking about the persona of our product as we do for our users. Think about the brand traits you want your application to embody. Make sure to include what something is and isn’t as well. Can include a visual lexicon, a personality map, and characteristics.
  • New ideas have overhead. When you are working on your idea, design patterns can help you lower the learning curve for users and save a lot of code. Coming up with custom solutions for every interface adds a lot of work.
  • Put your ideas up. Sketchboards are big pieces of paper on walls that allow you to idea rapidly. Paper on the wall is non-committal. You can rip it down and start over. You can bring people in to work with you on the evaluation process. This allows people to work together –it changes your culture because you are working together on a problem. Incubate on your walls and ideate quickly.
  • Start coding. Wireframes are frequently not enough because they are just static images. Its possible to skip over the wireframe stage and just jump into code to test things out. But if you can’t code you can use Keynote to model out interactions. It’s quite fast to iterate ideas.
  • A prototype gives you clarity. It helps to give shape to your idea. When you have clarity, you have confidence.