Bill Buxton defines “best practices” in designing for user experiences as a combination of both methods and skills relating to ideation: sketching, testing and problem-solving. He emphasizes the importance of fluency, which for him is paramount to building a strong design team that understands each others’ practices and specialized languages. Mastering historical knowledge provides a kind of common ground on which team members can build up trust and a shared literacy. However, he points out that for every new perspective of design practice there is a need for a new educational structure as well, because to enable collaboration between designers, engineers, marketers, there must be a basic shared literacy amongst all of the members of the team.
The author outlines 10 (incremental) levels of experience and responsibility in learning, based on Gibbons and Hopkins(1980): stimulated, spectator, exploratory, analytical, generative, challenge, competence, mastery, personal growth, and social growth. “Knowing how to use them appropriately in design is where the artistry and technique come in.” (2007:233)
“The Wonderful Wizard of Oz”
[O]ur purpose: […] is to experience interactive systems, before they are real, even before we have arrived at their final design, much less their implementation.” (2007:239)
Buxton proposes low fidelity prototyping with high fidelity user experience versus high fidelity prototyping and mediocre experience. In other words, while aesthetics are important in the design of a product or interface, they are far less valuable for a user’s experience than are the functions and available cues it offers. Sketching or quickly prototyping a system will help designers, on the one hand, feel less attached to their first solution and hence more inclined to make modifications based on their test results, and will, on the other hand, provide users (participants) with an experience that is largely affected by what the system does rather than what it might look like (since it is low fidelity).
The Wizard of Oz Technique involves testing a prototypical sketch of initial and unfinished ideas while having one person playing the computer, in this way mocking up the user’s experience long before writing the code for the system. This helps reveal (sometimes obvious) problems existing in the design of a system and fixing them early on (while one still can).
“Smoke-and-Mirrors” is a technique used to create a kind of optical flow in an interface. This could work by combining an initial sketch with the outer frame of a computer or a hand-held device, or even applying a 3d software to mimic the transitional stages of an interface, thereby providing an illusion of a fully-functional model for a heightened user experience. The more one is able to iteratively use such techniques of sketching, assembling, and mimicking with a certain degree of fluency, the more one is able to effectively and rapidly assess a design’s strengths and weaknesses based on user experiences.
“Le Bricolage: Cobbling Things Together”
Sketching can be interactive in many unconventional ways. Probably the simplest way to describe this bricolage technique is that it is low fidelity and most often requires the ingenuity to pick up any available resources at home or at the office to create an interactive prototype. These resources may include, any types of paper, glue, some pens and markers, sticky notes, a camera, a tape recorder, etc. to provide an effective and simple enough experience for a full fidelity insight into implementing quick-and-dirty concept modifications.
These three techniques invite us to think in new ways about designing systems that understand our users’ frustrations and meet our users’ needs long before the systems are actually built (or coded). As Buxton remarks, the business of design is changing, and with increasingly changing design priorities (user experience), designers are now able to find increasingly resourceful tools in their immediate surrounding to effectively visualize and test an experience. With technological advancements there is now the possibility of moving the testing grounds to the physical world, and hence to enhance experience and test results by including a contextual reality into the user experience. (2007:259)
No matter how skilled of a sketcher one is, sketching can be improved through practice (of course), but the point being that sketching experiences is to include (with enough imagination) the necessary functions of a system into a working prototype: in other words the traditional notion of a sketcher need not be applied here. What is important, however, is to render realistic proportions and system requirements into the experience. The author gives the example of tracing over an image to maintain proportionate relationships between the interface and the hardware. Another example is juxtaposing a drawing with a photographed environment to provide a familiar context while keeping it rough and dynamic.
The limiting factor is your imagination, not technology or technique. There is always a way to express an idea within your means.” (2007:279)
Designing systems within our means give room to multiple iterations and approaches of a concept. To make such systems appear dynamic, Buxton suggests using a storyboard or a PowerPoint presentation to respond to user input and provide explicit feedback. While a storyboard offers a mapped experience of the system at hand, showing the entire process and its stage-transitions, a PowerPoint presentation will show a sequential frame-by-frame experience with no access to a non-linear experience (return button, click another link, etc.). In his opinion, they are both useful experiences and can amount to different plausible results. The emphasis, however, is put upon a sketcher’s ability to provide an adequate number of transitions and states for more accurate results. One useful tool would be inspired by the cinematic approach of storytelling. What storytelling offers are cues for incentive(why), motion(how), direction(where), speed(timing), which convey the properties of a system by making smart usage of the design space (adding arrows may do the trick).
Buxton, Bill. Sketching User Experiences: Getting the Design Right and the Right Design.Morgan Kaufmann Publishers, San Francisco: 2007.