The digital branch of the 2013 Halifax Pop Explosion (HPX) was quietly inspirational. The conference ― practically hosted in the lobby of the Atlantica Hotel ― perhaps appropriately reflects the stature of our still-growing digital community. Talks were informative and inspirational, and it was in gatherings between sessions that lent the impression many felt underwhelmed.
On the other hand, a glimpse into trending projects at this years conference was encouraging to see applications of technology relevant to the directions explored at Ad-Dispatch. It is also encouraging to see our industry collectively approach clarity in design; beyond the betterment of user experience, this serves to showcase the content that matters. An emphasis underlining the HPX Digital talks was “process” and it’s a natural next step from the previously explored industry trend of art-directabilty. Many of the talks were framed in the context of start-ups looking to advance the user experience for game design, web design, virtual displays and client relations.
Framework over Process
Here’s a place to start: who are your users and what is the usage context?
Outline software tools within the project pipeline, knowing that new techniques require new processes. Take a journalistic approach when assessing scope, budget, and time. And be transparent. Maintain scheduled sessions for plans, updates, and reviews, and raise questions that spark team awareness of foreseeable challenges within the project plan.
Retrospection is iterative. Handing off work without dialog or iteration ― otherwise known as a waterfall pipeline ― will stagnate process. Tying post-mortem panels more directly to process promotes responsive design. Reviewing work after the project has been submitted is too late. Determine the definition of done. Keep internal communication clear, simple, and concise. Understand the deliverables as a team and save lingo for the client.
Erik von Stackelberg
In a presentation on responsive design, Erik von Stackelberg of My Planet Digital described the active process in achieving meaningful user experiences. He outlined responsive design as an ideology. An agile and tailored experience necessitates research, flexibility, and clarity to embrace the environment and the form factor with intent on presenting clear, ideal design.
As designers, we first examine user needs, and prioritize goals as a stable point of reference. Utility-focused design choices then establish a display that can retrofit, such as layouts driven by typography, a grid system, and content modules.
Design a paradigm for the architecture of information. Consider the scalability of a design ― how is your content presented across devices? Stackelberg reminds us that building a flexible system implies designing the system rather than the specific case. Flexible design is an intent to subvert control. We accept proportional layouts over pixel perfection due to variability in form factor. This can sacrifice focus and alignment. Stackelberg describes these designs as creating “stretchy-jeans experiences” that are built content-out so that the interface fits a range of displays. Design based on an information architecture is inherently lean and neutral, and simplified content lends a focused user experience. Minimizing artificial barriers, such as keeping language simple and clean, encourages accessibility. The most continuous interfaces disappear. As we move into natural interfaces ― think creatively, we are already designing for multiple displays and soon we may not be designing for a screen at all. An interface should be easy to slip into; “UI should be pop, not high-art,” said Stackelberg, “people need to just get it.”
Jon Lax, Erik von Stackelberg and James White
Understanding the nature of process within a framework and the ideology of responsive design are fundamental to Adam Kruszynski’s seven steps to create innovative experiences.
Know what you want. Simplify user, client, and contextual requirements to clearest representation of system functionality. Collectively ideate and eliminate ideas based on comparison. Amplify, pilot, and user test selective ideas for a more integrated understanding.
Choreograph the user journey. Understand the context of the user experience. What is the first thing they need to know? What do they learn next, and how will that guide their next experience? Once we understand context, we can visually layout the journey.
Storyboard each experience.
In Adam’s experience, by the time he’s built a prototype he’s removed 80% of the risk.
Build a single experience, and frame it within the journey.
Proto-test with real users, and adjust before going public.
Execute and measure. Examine social impact.
Ultimately, your product journey will be shaped by all of it’s contributors. And as Kruszynski reminds us, expect it to change.
Johnny “Cupcakes” Earle, 2013
Some independent entrepreneurs also shared processes that have encouraged their early success. With his experience-based t-shirt brand, Johnny “Cupcakes” Earle focuses on creating a memorable customer experience. He’s been skeptical of distributing merchandise through a retailer as this forfeits control over product presentation and likewise brand representation. Everything from the store window to the product packaging provides context within which you can curate that magical feeling.
He similarly discouraged “labels”, so as not to pigeonhole brand outreach. Labeling a product or service can detract an audience before having considered the investment.
Lastly, connectivity has revolutionized marketing programs.Social media offers networking opportunities that were traditionally non-existent or unaffordable to small studios. Cloud services facilitate global communication and deliverables. The individual is now able to represent an identity on a global scale. As a result, networking industry-wide has seen creative heads becoming more often exposed to the marketing discussion; encouraging opportunities to address challenges early on and to clearly grasp context of client, consumer and company objectives.
Studio software includes Adobe® Creative Cloud, Autodesk® Maya, Serif Affinity Designer and Affinity Photo; operated on Microsoft® Windows® 7 Professional with NVIDIA Quadro® and Intel® Core™ processing; and, powered by 80 Plus® Gold electric energy.