Wireframes Left, Visual Designs Right

Thoughts on Interaction Design Deliverables

Eventually, I would like to share with you the design theory I’m working on (I may even have settled on a name for it), but for now allow me to explain a small part of it which at one point served as the theory’s main catalyst.

During my work as a user experience designer, I’ve become increasingly convinced that an interesting parallel exists between the two cerebral hemispheres of the human brain and two common deliverables associated with interaction design practices–specifically the development of low-fidelity wireframes into highly detailed visual designs (sometimes also referred to as visual comps or mock-ups).

This observation pronounces a fact that is usually assumed as a common goal among practitioners looking to build a strong user experience design team; find candidates who are well-rounded and possess strengths in analytical know-how and creative conceptualization.

It could be argued, as I’ll start doing now, that the need for this specialization is never more apparent during the life cycle of a design then at the transition point from wireframe (when the design is defined by boxes and mostly black and white text) to visual design (when the design is alive with color, graphics, and seductively shiny buttons, or other aesthetic elements). At this critical turning point, while the fundamental design goals still underly similar tensions, the designer(s) involved in defining and resolving these different artifacts often–although not always–derive their solutions from opposite ends of the cognitive playing field.

So, presumably then, if one is to design user experiences (or any product, such as cars, clothing, or computer animations, for that matter) by focusing wireframes into some other creatively articulated end result, it makes sense to be cognizant of how different operations get started within the brain.

Consider the widely known and somewhat diametrically opposed functions of the left and right brain hemispheres.

Left Brain Right Brain
logical creative
methodical emotional
reserved impulsive
thinking feeling
reads words as language sees images as symbols

While these attributes may not have a one-to-one relationship with each deliverable on any design project, there should be enough cause to consider a somewhat clinical hypothesis–sensitivity to and explicit focus on left and right brain functions during the design process can serve to optimize certain aspects, if not design decisions, in a predictable fashion. After all, these elements are digested by a consumer in the same cognitive way once the design has become a product.

As best I can tell from my own experience and from working with others in the design industry, specific attributes which determine the ultimate success or failure of these deliverables fall along similarly opposite sides of the fence.

Wireframes Visual Designs
mechanical expressive
instructional inspirational
cautious risky
objective subjective
agnostic believing
cognitive perceptual

There are, of course, many other deliverables such as storyboards, as well as offshoots of other design methodologies that muddy the water of this split. Adaptive Path’s advocation of sketchboards is a good recent example. I’m not suggesting practitioners follow a rigid form of design by any means. I think communication formed in any artifact which tries to engage both sides of the brain simultaneously is a good practice and probably very necessary for certain kinds of problem solving or even within the confines of a given project.

I’m only observing that certain results are highly predictable and can serve to enhance design decision-making or touchpoints, if you will, within their optimal spaces because the very nature of human brain chemistry supports it.

By isolating functions performed almost exclusively within each of these deliverables a more relevant definition of design becomes apparent. It first takes on a rational form, which is adapted and synthesized into a final product. Examining this structure overall can amplify design decisions and help further delineate touchpoints within that assumed structure.