serving brain food since 1998

brand identity, design, usability, user experience

Comments Off on Wireframes Left, Visual Designs Right

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.

design, politics, user experience

Comments Off on Learning Politics Through Design

Learning Politics Through Design

CNN Election Center 2008

CNN’s Election Center 2008 delivers not only a monumental amount of well thought out data-driven design, information architecture and Flash/AJAX wizardry, but the site itself may quite possibly represents the largest lesson in politics that’s ever been delivered to the American public in one full sitting.

Think about it.

Newspapers have tried in the past, but they’ve always been a day late and a dollar too much–not to mention totally degradable. Television, at the risk of being cliché, just reduces everything into meaningless sound bites. And radio can’t even come close to the the level of granularity needed to compare data as contained in multiple charts, graphs, and interactive widgets. While I’ve taken issue with the way CNN has egregiously presented visual data in the past, I think the job they’re doing with Election Center is for the most part exceptional.

Where else can you learn that Tom Hanks gave Barack Obama‘s campaign $4,600, while only giving Hilary Clinton $2,300? Or that the process of using delegates is completely different between parties. After digesting a good chunk of the visualized information on CNN, it’s become apparent to me that I still have a lot to learn about things I just assumed to know.

This kind of instructional reach should be especially encouraging to future generations. Ultimately, it’s their gain should they continue to consume and expand upon the Internet as it’s being used today. Because as they become more informed about the government through simple methods of user interaction and experience, they might also become inspired, if not empowered, into changing it one day.

Holiday Greetings 2007

Happy Holidays 2007 - Banjo Santa

I’m not exactly sure why, but more people than usual have been asking me about my Christmas card this year.

This one started with some direction from my wife, which she stated plainly enough to me one evening, “You’ve never done a Santa before. You should do an old-fashioned one with rosey cheeks.”

I suspect that I’m actually way off the mark of what she was thinking, but somewhere in-between what she said and what I was feeling at the time, the image of a man playing a banjo kept appearing in my head. I don’t know why, but it made perfect sense to me. And when that happens, I just follow through.

I used this photograph as a referential base, which I found simply by searching for “banjo player” via Google images. It’s actually the first image in the results, but the best one I found after scanning several pages.

The racial ambiguity of the “Santa” like figure was intentional. Also somewhat key to the delivery was my recollection of work by Jack Levine. Other than that, the actual rendering was done rather quickly with ink wash on painted wood (the same board I use every year for texture). The result was then scanned in and colorized via Photoshop. Some embellishments, such as the patterns on the suspenders were layered in, but no filters (nor any harm to small kittens) were used in the making of this card.

As always, the most pain-staking process in making my cards is the hand-deckled edges I compulsively tear from the edge of each and every card, which then get glued on the front of card stock.

It’s a labor of love, and one I couldn’t stop myself from doing even if I tried.

design, journal

Comments Off on Mac OS X Web Design: Unpublished

Mac OS X Web Design: Unpublished

The other day I came across this book proposal on my computer, which I apparently wrote four years ago and abandoned for more sensible work at the time. Honestly, I vaguely remember writing it, but I must have been pretty serious about it. There’s like, a whole chapter outline and stuff.

Where I thought I’d find the time to start or finish a book, I don’t know. But in the tradition of sharing my dashed dreams and aspirations with you (do they really count if I don’t remember them?), here’s the pitch I was apparently going to send the publisher.

Mac OS X Web Design

The Vision
The vision for Mac OS X Web Design is to act as an inspirational and technical catalyst for beginning, intermediate, and mildly advanced computer users, which targets academics, hobbyists, and creative professionals—people who Apple has traditionally marketed towards, but specifically people who are either new to the Mac OS platform or web design in general. The book is a solid foundation for modern web practices as they appear in Mac OS X (Aqua-themed screenshots of popular web design applications are plentiful).

As Apple’s Switch campaign called out for new converts to the platform, more and more curious individuals are purchasing Macintoshes and running Mac OS X everyday. This is a wildly new experience for most people, even for those who have worked in the creative industry using pre-Mac OS 9 for many years.

The growth of Mac OS X users along with the web design capabilities hidden therein has the potential to grow exponentially, yet to date its knowledgebase has gone practically unanswered in book format. There simply is no definitive work for Mac OS X web design. Yet, as more and more website bloggers and interactive designers continue to follow Apple’s successful marketing lead, which challenges status quo computing, many Windows and Linux are finding themselves at a pivotal turning point.

Modern Operating Systems have started growing up.

And more often than not, the one that stands out above all is Mac OS X. Using my skill set as a professional website designer and consultant, this book instructs the reader how to use Mac OS X client as part of a new craft.

The Audience
Mac OS X Web Design looks to court the people who’ve decided to try something different. Using the power of positive affirmation and a readiness to tackle a sophisticated experience, the book will educate the user on specific areas of interest—from design basics to web standards, from designing a prototype website to scripting server side technologies—this book wants to get the reader up and running and doesn’t waste time with unnecessarily complex details.

For the beginner, who may simply be a student of music who’s lured in by Apple’s new GarageBand application and looking for a way to set up their web presence, the book is a springboard for participation and a solid foundation for an achievable skill set.

For the hobbyist, who may already be an established blogger who’s new to the Mac OS X platform, the book spotlights technologies they’ve already grown accustomed to and puts them into a new Aqua skin.

For the advanced user, who may already be a working professional using a Mac, the book offers validation for staying with the Mac and is a voice of passionate inspiration. They want and need to recognize Mac OS X as a powerful platform too.

I’d like to focus on being an inspiration, but I’d like to teach in a practical way also by using “Workshops” which will actually get the reader started in the process of dynamic website building.

The Pitch
I do not have aspirations of becoming rich from this book. However, I feel that there is a definite void in the market today for any book of this nature—using this topic or this approach—which has thereby convinced me that it will succeed in a high number of sales. Traditionally, Mac users have been creative types and Apple has made tremendous strides in capturing their hearts and minds. I hope to do the same with this book.

culture, film

Comments Off on American Gangster

American Gangster

American Gangster

I find it difficult to evaluate the movie American Gangster without some kind of compare and contrast to 2001’s Blow, which I also felt compelled to say a few words about.

Both are period films about drug smugglers, considered by some to be innovators during their time. Both are based on real-life stories. Both sport top-notch actors in some of the worst outfits ever retro-designed from a 1970’s JCPenny catalog.

Yet, one of these movies gets the highest rating I’ve ever issued for a film on this site, and the other gets the lowest.

And I think it all has to do with perspective. Where Blow failed at providing anything but a tunnel vision portrayal of a sophomoric exploiter-cum-big-time-player, American Gangster succeeds at telling an epic rise-and-fall story, all the while examining each side with intelligence–from the hooked mothers overdosing in front of their children, to the crooked cops profiting off of prohibition’s forced demand.

This movie bleeds perspective at just about every turn.

It’s a testament to director Ridley Scott’s experience that proper restraint was used in telling gangster Frank Lucas‘s unique story. After reading The Return of Superfly, a 2001 interview with the ex-con, which the movie was largely based upon, it’s apparent that more could have been told to provide Frank’s character with sympathetic overtones. Instead, the filmmakers pinpoint their focus towards an unrelenting two-sided coin portrayed on one side by Denzel Washington as Frank, and Russel Crowe as Detective Richie Roberts.

It’s a cat and mouse story between two characters representing good and evil, but as obvious as this is, both possess qualities that break down the polarization between them. While bad guy Lucas can be at times charming and sincere, Detective Richie is hardly irreproachable in private. He regularly womanizes and struggles with being a father.

The ethical rift between them becomes even more tense as details of their social status are compared, making the most pivotal scene in the movie all the more poetic. Set against the backdrop of a historic boxing match between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier, a foreshadowing is cleverly suggested as the stakes at each side grow higher and higher.

Two sides will clash. But only one will win.

Power. Corruption. Greed. Class. Race. So much is explored and executed so flawlessly that I think Ridley Scott may have one of the best movies of his career on his hands.

As for that other movie, it just goes to show that anyone can hustle an audience with a real-life story using a few cheap dramatic devices. But only the truly great can make a story as gripping and thought provoking as American Gangster.

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