Friday, December 9, 2011

Diagrams from Designing Mobile Interfaces

For most of my design career I've kept files of good ideas. Actually, that's not true. Sometime in junior high I started keeping cool images from magazines and putting them in folders by category, in an old file cabinet I had in my bedroom. As soon as computers came, I started doing the same with cool digital imagery, and scanning some of those old clippings. Google image search, and being less of a graphic designer means I don't do this anymore really. But I do gather process, and keep good track of all the things I draw myself. Process documentation turned into an entire book. Since at least 2006 I have designed in a specific scale, in a specific way, and gathered all the widgets into a document (and often, library file) for everyone on the team to use. Since about 2009, I've been sharing my Mobile Design Elements document with not just teams, but the whole world. Long ago I lost track of how many times it's been downloaded, but a lot. The page where you can get it (and every other stencil and template I know of) is always the most visited one of my (professional) websites. This is key reason I wrote a book. I am happy to share the knowledge I have, and with it already well-organized, it just wasn't that difficult to reorganize all the information I had already gathered. Okay, that was foolish. It still took /forever/ to get it done, but I think it would have been patently impossible if I wasn't already gathering this sort of information.
As we say in the preface to the book, very shortly into writing it, we faced a serious decision about how to illustrate the book. The all too typical answer for pattern libraries is to use screenshots. So, I tried that. Our trial pattern was the Carousel for several reasons. And the first thing I did was snag some examples, and put little green circles and red x's on them to indicate good and bad examples. And... it didn't work that well. Not just to me, but as I showed it to Eric, and others, it wasn't clear what you were looking at. So, I added in the bullet lists to describe what is good and bad. But really quickly I figured out this wasn't that much better. Readers could still be confused, or draw the wrong conclusion about what makes it a good pattern. It might encourage rote copying of specific solutions, instead of approaching them as patterns. And also, I was trying to solve a problem that I feel has already been solved. We all write up UI/IxD design specifications all the time. Why not wireframe the examples? I already had what I called a "mid-level" diagramming style, which I had used for essentially this exact purpose; when building IA diagrams, and having to depict modular elements in a system, this is enough detail Sure, some of these are so simple they are almost painful. I actually have one that is a featureless blue rectangle! But that's all because I am trying to show off only what is most important about the pattern. If it's about the arrangement of icons, and the interaction between frames and other elements. The icons themselves will just clutter things up and confuse the issue so they are blue circles. Blue because there's a code to the colors, and blue is graphics. Yellow is available page items. Orange is in-focus. Gray is, well, grayed-out. If it's about an icon itself, sure, I'll have an illustration showing those details. Here, how it can be overlaid with more information. But mostly, they are screens. And later on in the book the patterns start building on each other, and getting more and more complex themselves. Many items are on each screen, as well as sometimes things like gesture (or here, pen) overlays to explain the input. But they are still as simple as can be to communicate the key parts of the pattern. Well, usually. The example above has a detailed annunciator row because... I forgot to remove it. But it is extraneous detail. Oops. And we did after all include some screenshots and photos. We didn't avoid screenshots just because they were a pain to find and deal with. I ended up capturing over 1,500 images of devices, and their screens. And a huge number are photos of odd devices and featurephones. Just follow that link to the Flickr set for that hard-to-find screenshot.
Anyway, what I am doing today – aside from telling you all about this – is sharing that document with you. Not just reminding you of the Mobile Design Elements document, but I have also posted the document I used to draw all the diagrams for the book. Not just as a PDF to browse, but the actual Adobe InDesign CS4 file so you can copy and edit them and use it in your own drawings. If anyone wonders if I have library files, Graffle templates or anything else: no. I work in InDesign, and I know a lot of others who do also. I get good download rates off InDesign. But, since it's freely shared (with attribution, read the CC disclosure on the document) you are free to convert it if you want to. People better at those other tools than me have done so in the past for my Mobile Design Elements. And for those who don't know, you can also open PDFs in Illustrator, and can use PDF images directly in OmniGraffle (not place them, but open and edit in Graffle directly). If you need help or anything, ask. I also did export all these images as individual Ai files, so if someone thinks that they could use those instead, tell me and I'll zip them up also. One caveat is that I'll be tweaking this a bit over the coming days. Well, maybe weeks, but hopefully just days. I am adding in the Figure numbers from the book, and otherwise cleaning it up a bit. But that is taking kinda forever, and it's 95% good, so instead of making everyone wait more, you can get it now. If you didn't notice, there are two links above to directly download. Though I don't promise to remember to keep these up to date. It will always be posted in the same place as the other design stencils, you just go there for the latest copy.

1 comment:

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