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Sketching User Experiences, Getting the design right and the right design – Bill Buxton March 7, 2012

Posted by Sebastian Fuenzalida in Sketching User Experiences.

The first time I saw the cover of this book, I wondered: “Why that guy is rowing through a graph?” but in second thoughts, that is not a graph, is more like mountains reflecting in the water.  After a couple of pages into the book, my mystery was revealed: it was a map!

This book is divided in two parts: “Design as a Dreamcatcher” where the author developed a framework to incorporate design into product development processes and “Stories of Methods and Madness”, were we are presented with several techniques to implement the visual thinking required to make the integration in part 1.

Bill Buxton made a great introduction to thinking out-of-the-box in “Design for the wild” were we are prompted to think about good solutions to help a kayaker to navigate in artic waters. Without losing his path. Immediately,  I started to think about applications for iOS/Android with maps and routes GPS-enabled. The problem here is that I’m biased by my past and education and I was not thinking in the real environment were this product would be used. Extreme cold temperatures wont let you take off your gloves, so how can you manipulate the touching screen?  Yes, there are new gloves with special materials that let you use your touch screen but that is really what we need while rowing in artic waters? The Ammassalik, a tribe in eastern Greenland, crafted a beautiful solution and it is showed in the cover of the book. A 3D map who represents the coastline, they can be used inside mittens, keeping the hands warm, they float if they fall in the water, because they are made out of wood and most importantly, they do not need batteries nor GPS connections made them 100% reliable, making it better than any digital product we can think at this moment.

Buxton after showing us several cases were incremental solutions or “n+1” products cannot sustain a company in the long term, he introduced a New Product Development Process (showed in the picture above) in order to catalyze innovation in companies who want to survive strategically launching new products often.

Particularly identifiable is the funnel-shaped design phase, but using this scope we can see the collaboration between the different departments of the company along the complete process.

This brings me to the underlying objective of this book:

…to change the unviability of implementing a reliable way to develop new products in-house, within the corporate culture, tailored to the strategic plan of the company, in a managed (rather than bandit) process and where we can be take into account the technologies employed in the rest of the product offerings …

After several design thinking and innovation classes, I’m a complete advocate of that objective.  My problem is related with my learning style, I’m a converger, and its is hard to transform (in my head) the process, sketching and diverging into a process, where you get an innovative solution as output. The process is still a “black-box” for me, and this book does not clarify it for me.

At the same time, the book really helps to let you know the tools that designers (trained as designers) use in their daily works. The problem is  that they seem to be too design-ish oriented in my point of view.  Let me show you a couple of examples extracted from the second part: “Stories of Methods and Madness”.

  • Wizard of Oz: Technique were the design team imitates the automatic processes realized by a final system, without need to implement it completely.
  • Visual Storytelling:  Making storyboards to represent User Experiences.
  • Extending Interaction: Real and Illusion: High-Fi Paper prototypes to show interaction to the  future users.

All of them need to have a profound level of technical designing skills, specially making storyboards, which make me doubt about my possibilities to be a designer some day, because I’m really bad drawing. This contrast with the Design Thinking concept introduced by Tim Brown in his book “Change by Design” where everyone could be a designer.

To finish my blog post I want to add a “new” technique called Mechanical Turk, which is strongly related with Wizard of Oz. The term was coined as reference to the Mechanical Turk-Chess player, showed in the picture.

At that moment there was not IBM Watson to play chess with humans, to process real-time movements and strategy, that is why instead the used a hidden human who played mimic the movements of the robot.  Nowadays this technique of “getting human intelligence” into real problems that computers cannot solve is used by Amazon to crowdsource little tasks like tagging pictures or identifying handwriting.

My final thoughts are: can we use crowdsourcing to generate Fast-cheap “Wizard of Oz” prototypes?  And What is the role of managerial – engineering  professionals in the design process?


Sketching User Experiences by Bill Buxton March 14, 2011

Posted by karimcglynn in Sketching User Experiences.

Sketching User Experiences by Bill Buxton is a vast collection of historical lessons, examples of best practices, and real world case studies from the world of industrial/interaction/experience design. It is a testament to the power of design as a competitive strategy, a practical field guide for applying good design processes, and an argument for the power of sketching and experiencing ideas rather than simply thinking and talking about them.

Buxton’s idea of “sketching” is broader than the traditional concept of a rough drawing. Rather, Buxton defines sketching along a continuum which he calls the “design funnel”, which starts with rough drawings (ideation stage) and increases in fidelity to the point of prototype (usability stage). Along that continuum Buxton illustrates many examples of “sketches”, including various types of drawings, 3D sculptures, storyboards, stop-motion animations, and video demos, among others.

Bill Buxton's "Design Funnel"

The central point of Buxton’s book is that there is a different level of sketch-fidelity appropriate to each stage in the design process and what you need to convey at that time. Countering the assumption that if you are going to create a depiction of an idea you will want to make it as concrete as possible, Buxton argues that making certain features of the design too visually concrete at the wrong stage can mislead team members and prematurely cut off further ideation for that feature.

Buxton’s main thesis is consistent with the increasingly popular mantra of “fail early and fail often” as a guiding strategy for any creative endeavor.  The value of his sketching methodology is in producing many low-cost sketches up front, then gradually decreasing the number of options while increasing the fidelity of each subsequent sketch.  As he points out, this methodology is consistent with Laseau’s Funnel (1980), a description of the design process as the overlap between “Elaboration” (a process for opportunity-seeking) and “Reduction” (a process for decision-making).

Laseau's Funnel

While some might find Buxton’s description of the idealized design process to be the obvious approach in a perfect world, he also provides some practical examples for how to better implement it in the real world.  One of the main messages of his book is the value that a culture of sketching can bring in the form of sharing possible solutions—an important part of the ideation and decision-making processes.  He provides several inspiring examples of how different design teams have developed spaces in which they can share their sketches and offer each other constructive feedback. Buxton emphasizes that it is important for designers to “live with their work” and discuss it, rather than waiting for formal crit sessions in order to share things.

Sketching User Experiences is an inspiring work for anyone who is interested in working as a designer, or anyone who is interested in the power of design thinking to transform business.   However, the greatest value comes from Buxton’s encyclopedic knowledge of the biggest ideas in interaction design from the past 50 years. The bibliography of this book alone is a tremendous value to anyone who wants to imagine the future of interaction design through a better understanding of its past.

Aaron Schwartz on Sketching User Experiences (Buxton) October 12, 2009

Posted by Aaron Schwartz in Sketching User Experiences.
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Bill Buxton’s book, Sketching User Experiences, is one I wish I’d read a long time ago. In my academic and professional career I have come across numerous big problems. How do I write a difficult research paper? How do we crack a difficult issue at a client? How do I tell the story of my new startup? To this point, I have always taken the “normal” steps: ask advisors; create a paper or project outline; use Excel to create a project plan; and recently, use Microsoft OneNote to lay out literally everything I know about the challenge. I’ve also prayed for help. And I’ve consistently delivered “B+/A-“ work.

Buxton’s book is about sketching, and he makes a case that this is one of the more powerful tools in the arsenal. The idea of a sketch is simple: A quickly-produced, disposable , possible solution to a problem.

1)      Quickly produced. By creating sketches quickly, the sketcher has the opportunity to see lots of iterations of the solution. If one is trying to figure out how to cook with the sun, one solution could be a tin pot, another could be a contraption to boiling water, another could be the heating of a PV cell that is then connected to a hot-pot. There are thousands of possible answers. Sketching allows you to create them all from a high-level, allowing you to survey a large set of possible answers before narrowing onto a few that are  most promising

2)      Disposable. The more work one does, the tougher it is to throw out one’s work. You do research. You think through different possibilities. You settle on one. And then you build it. It takes considerable self-confidence and discipline to decide that an answer is a sunk-cost.

3)      Possible. The whole point of a sketch is to throw it into the fire and get feedback (whether internally generated or by others who view one’s work). You are changing the goal of your work at that point from “solving a problem” to “creating solutions”. The idea is, thescope is wider if you are not worried about a specific answer.

The beauty is that a sketch is whatever is appropriate for the question one is asking. If you are thinking of creating a piece for a dance troupe, the sketch could be a set of photos of the different moves, laid out on the wall, which the troupe may move in considering different orders. If you’re writing a paper, you can make a simple mind-map to sketch out thoughts, see how the paper might flow, throw it out, and start again as many times as needed.

Personally, I have been struggling to tell the story of my startup. The idea is to track and reward sustainable actions. No one, I mean, no one, gets it right away, in large part because I have no idea how to tell the story. So I am working on sketching it out, with a video. The idea is to show a day in the life of a member of our user community. In my mind, this is the only story that matters, and if done right, it will be a start in telling the story of why someone would participate.

By the time I finish the video, I will have put 8 months of thought into the business and a few weeks of work into the video. But the video will still be simple and intentionally have an unfinished look. I do not have the right answer, and need feedback. Buxton stresses that there is an inverse relationship between a project’s polish and the quality of feedback one can expect to receive. If there sketch is great, people will think it’s finished, so leaving it in a crude fashion – even when one has put in a lot of effort – signals to viewers that it is open for critique. And that is how one can learn the best.

Sketching user experiences October 1, 2009

Posted by Tony Mignot in Sketching User Experiences.
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Sketching User Experiences September 27, 2009

Posted by Daniel Perl in Sketching User Experiences, [Books] Visualization & Presentation.
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Buxton’s Sketching User Experiences was packed with information, so to help me synthesize what I was reading, I began writing down interesting paraphrased quotes and thoughts. I’ve reprinted some of those below, to provide a flavor for how I interpreted the book:
– Design should be human experience-centered and context is king
– In terms of stifling innovation, good ideas are far more dangerous than bad ones
– Periodic failure is good
– Sketching, as we come to think of it today, is thought to have begun in the 15th century during the Renaissance
– Good sketching is about continuous movement and the flow and volume of ideas and typically occurs very early in the design process
– Team members on a design team must be just as happy to be wrong as to be right and must keep their egos and feelings in check in order to produce the best insights and innovations
– The kindergarten classroom is the ultimate design studio, where sketches and other representations of all types are thrown up on the wall. As designers, we shouldn’t get in the habit of only putting up attractive, finished sketches up for public viewing
– Design of a process is more important than the design of a product
– If you are going to break something, including tradition, the better you know it, the better you can break it. This means that if you want to innovate, you should make yourself extremely familiar with the history/context of the issue you’re working on.
-The following are attributes of great sketches: disposable, quick, distinct, timely, minimal, ambiguous, explorative, suggestive

Deval Delivala on Sketching user Experiences September 26, 2009

Posted by Deval Delivala in Sketching User Experiences.
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He uses some good cases and examples to explain the importance of design in an organization. He states that design should be implemented in different phases of the product life cycle instead of separating it as a different function. I feel most companies get one part right and are too focused on either the design, product or marketing. Though I would have liked to see him write about what can be done to ensure that companies implement it. The author works for Microsoft and it doesn’t seem like Microsoft got all three stages right either.  Most design and innovation discussions always cite Apple and IDEO and so does he. I think these two companies are an exception to the rule. If the books on design thinking and the success of these two companies have been around for so long, what is taking companies so long to focus on design?

He makes some very strong claims in the book like “not everyone is a designer” and defends them well. He argues that though innovation in process may trump innovation in product, innovation in both can trump either. I don’t necessarily subscribe to that. I think even if you have a great product a poor process can fail you. Towards the end of the book he gives detailed explanations of how some people have built prototypes very easily in the past. I felt it was way to design focused for me even though he makes it sound simple. It will definitely help me understand others designs better but I don’t think I would be able to come up with the kind of prototypes he shows in the book.

Two great examples in the book

Experience Design vs. Interface design

He uses a very simple example of an orange juice maker to explain the difference between experience design and interface design. Even in two seemingly similar products there are minor modifications that can change the experience for the user. http://www.billbuxton.com/experienceDesign.pdf

The Wizard of Oz: I really liked the analogy.  He uses is it to explain how a good demo/prototype can accurately predict the users experience.

“Up to the point where Toto tipped over the screen and revealed the Wizard to be a fraud, all of Dorothy’s reactions were valid …To her the Wizard was real and therefore so were all her expectations”

Wizard of Oz and what it teaches us:

  • Fidelity of the experience is important
  • We can use anything we want to conjure up experience
  • The earlier we do it the more valuable it is
  • Fake it before you build it

Sketching User Experiences: Getting Your Mind Right, and into the Right Mind? September 24, 2009

Posted by Sean Simplicio in Sketching User Experiences, [Books] Visualization & Presentation.
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Charles Mingus, the great jazz bassist and bandleader, has a great quote about creativity: “Anyone can make the simple complicated. Creativity is making the complicated simple.” He reminds us that less is more; but he doesn’t say that it’s easy to do. But there’s hope for those of us non-geniuses out there.

It’s precisely that hope that designer Bill Buxton attempts to explore in his book “Sketching User Experiences: Getting the Design Right and the Right Design.” Buxton exhorts those who participate in a design process to spend enough time at the beginning of that process to allow for creative ideas to come to the surface. Sketching, he argues, is a useful tool to allow such ideas to flow—both generative and reductive ideas—given that the very form of a “sketch” is informal enough to invite criticism, simple enough to be easily adapted, and cheap enough that it can be scrapped with no hesitation.

The book is many things, but Buxton is clear about what it isn’t. It isn’t a book with practical “how-to” tools on sketching (somewhat misleading from the title). There are no tutorials about how one with no artistic ability might begin to sketch out a process or a new product. Fear not: the good news is you don’t need any! The book is essentially a “state of mind” piece: a set of principles (followed up by myriad real-world examples) that allow design teams to help generate good ideas and involve users in the design process.

Essentially, sketching is more about capturing the experience of user interaction with a product, and less about the product itself. Learning how people would actually use a product is paramount. Buxton takes great pains to communicate that this type of user involvement must happen in such a way as to promote honest feedback. It is key, therefore, that a proposed design not look too “finished” so as to imply a lack of interest in significant feedback. That’s where the sketch comes in.

A sketch should invite criticism due to its ambiguous nature, and only suggest an idea instead of dictating a solution. Sketches can be made easily, quickly, and cheaply, and have a fluidity and openness with minimal detail so as to invite whimsy and creative thinking. These attributes enhance participatory creation—the foundation upon which successful designs are built. And sketches don’t have to come only in the form of drawings on paper. A sketch can be a physical mock-up, a video of a user interaction, a photo montage, etc. We’re only limited by our creativity.

This is definitely a thought-provoking book. It’s clear that Buxton (a researcher at Microsoft) has mostly interactive technologies in mind as he’s writing the book, but he does a really good job of incorporating many product types into the book to make it relevant for multiple disciplines. But it is predominantly principles-based. And, to my delight, he’s quoted (or coined) some great aphorisms that I would like to share with you:

“A problem properly represented is largely solved.”
This is the biggest rationale for sketching: getting ideas on the table early allows the bad ones to be thrown away early, instead of fixed (at a high cost) later.

“Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.”
A corollary to the above: sketching allows so many ideas to be generated that you’ll likely anticipate a variety of possibilities that you hadn’t before.

“The future is already here…it’s just not very evenly distributed.”
An interesting insight about product development—essentially that everything that’s being introduced now has been around for a while. So, when approaching creating a sketch of a product, you might be able to create a simple model with materials you already have (or processes you already know).

“Success every time implies that one’s objectives are not challenging enough.”
This is a variant of the “fail early, fail often” mantra that you no doubt have heard. Apparently designers are a little better about dealing with failure than most of the rest of us. It’s not just a professional hazard for them—in some cases, it’s a professional requirement. Failed ideas (or ideas that don’t stand up to criticism) are necessary to help you advance toward those ideas that will succeed. Embrace it.

James Bender on Sketching User Experiences September 24, 2009

Posted by James Bender in Sketching User Experiences, [Books] Visualization & Presentation.
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This past weekend I read Bill Buxton’s Sketching User Experiences. A fantastic book, it took me on a thinking journey through avalanches, tribal norwegian navigation, ipod development, trek top fuel mountain bike design, the wizard of OZ, and convergent vs divergent thinking. I enjoyed the manner in which Buxton used historical quotes and relevant products to help me better understand effective design. In a sentence, iteration and pencil on paper design produce amazingly fruitful results. Buxton is not afraid to pound his chest claiming that few can design in the way that he can. But by the end of the read, one starts to believe him.

My takeaways are that design can be hard and is paramount to the success of products and processes. Attempting to design solutions before the problem has truly been defined will cause headaches. However, taking the time to sketch the entire process will pay dividends in cost savings and quality. Moreover, truly understanding the challenge is usually the greatest design deliverance.

Lastly, the most important takeaway: simple is beautiful. So, make your blog entries short. 6 words on a power-point slide are more powerful. Brevity is next to Godliness.