users, vision + architects /4

29 November 2006, 23:32

Today we cover the section in the article by Don Norman, titled ‘static screens versus dynamic sequences.’

‘The methods of HCD seem centered around static understanding of each set of controls, each screen on an electronic display. But as a result, the sequential operations of activities are often ill‑supported.’
Don Norman

This matches my experience. My usability colleagues seem to perceive the initial screen/page/window segmentation as set in stone. That is,

  • how a system is segmented into particular screens;
  • how a website is segmented into particular pages;
  • how an application is segmented into particular windows.

In my experience this segmentation is in 99.9% of projects either very technical; very functionality oriented; or simply bollocks—but always inhuman.

meanwhile, upstream…

Instead of starting with incremental improvement of layout and display within the given screens/pages/windows, I find it much more rewarding to focus on flow.

That is, user flow. Focussing on elegant flow for essential user activity is a very powerful tool for arriving at a natural screen/page/window segmentation.

As a side effect, a lot of the initial layout and display problems have by then simply disappeared, and the right approach for the remaining ones has become obvious.

don’t call me a…

Every now and then I am mistaken for an information architect. Or worse, information architects imply we’re all one big family.

Interaction architects add the dimension of flow, to the two‑dimensional world of information, and that makes all the difference.


…stay tuned for the fifth article, on dealing with user requests.

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the wud and the chainsaw

23 November 2006, 14:09

Tuesday last week was world usability day. Apart from m+mi works sponsoring and co‐organising the berlin event, I also gave a lecture.

Our wud was held at the meistersaal. This former masonic concert and banqueting hall used to be hansa studio 2. It was here that David Bowie recorded his best work, among it ‘heroes’, his pall Iggy Pop recorded ‘lust for live’ and U2 a good chunk of ‘achtung baby.’

unified lecture

Jan Mühlig of Relevantive proposed to combine our individual lectures, and demonstrate the ideal user experience process we are implementing for the openPrinting project. After a kitchen meeting, some wiki collaboration and unified by a single keynote theme, we were ready for prime time.

We structured our lecture like our projects, with Jan covering the usability parts at the start and end, and me covering the central interaction architecture section.

So Jan kicked it off by outlining the complexities involved in the world of linux printing, and the usability process of uncovering objective user‐related facts.

the central section

Our lecture was the final one of the day. After hearing all day how usability will save the software world from user apathy, it was time for me to point out that there is a big gaping hole in the middle of every usability process, and the interaction architect is the ideal partner to fill it.

Qualification and cooperation were themes of the day, so I showed the qualifications necessary to become an interaction architect, which forms the basis for seamless communication and cooperation with the technical, usability, design and managerial personnel in a project.

gentlemen, start your engines

Then it was time to show how usability methods collect you a jungle of facts:

green jungle

To get anywhere useful with all these facts, an architectural approach is needed:


This process is one where for a moment the cooperation stops. This is pure interaction architecture. The result is a set of discrete, solvable problems:

6 solvable problems

At this point cooperation kicks in again, with usability folks first, discussing interaction concepts. Validation by usability testing can start here as soon as the first sketches are scribbled on paper.

When the interaction architect's concepts have been debugged, then the cooperation can widen with interaction/graphic/web designers and developers joining to negotiate the nitty‐gritty of realisation.

wrapping up

Jan wrapped up the session by observing:

  • how the fundamental approach towards solutions taken by the interaction architect structures the rest of the project in a profound way;
  • how the neutral position of the usability expert, and the mediating role of the interaction architect lead to solutions that are embraced by all parties in complex projects like these;
  • how a unified user experience process, combining usability and interaction architecture, delivers validated innovation.

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creating user scenarios with the GIMP team

12 November 2006, 04:09

I spend last weekend in the linux hotel in Essen, Germany, together with six members of the GIMP project team, Kamila Giedrojć and Ellen Reitmayr.

The goal was to create a set of user scenarios, a most vital tool in the further expert evaluation and upcoming redesign of GIMP. In a nutshell, user scenarios describe the essential usage of a piece of software. These are expressed in user goals, avoiding descriptions in terms of functionality or current UI behaviour.

preparation through observation

In the five days before this weekend, Ellen and Kamila had been gathering vital raw material by performing workplace observation. Half a dozen professionals in the field of photography and graphic design were interviewed and observed on the job. These participants had been selected based on the GIMP product vision.

The three of us analysed the results of the workplace observation together. This is an important aspect of a usability–interaction architecture co‐operation: streamlined discussions, and the ability to analyse interaction and usability together.

weekend kick‐off

Saturday morning, Ellen and Kamila kicked off the meeting with their report from the workplace observation. This already contained some eye‐openers for the GIMP team. I encouraged further discussion based on the findings and this lasted to well after lunch.

product vision driven

To develop the user scenarios I started with the product vision, to identify the scenario categories we should cover:

  • high‐end photography;
  • creating original art, from ‘found images;’
  • icon editing;
  • create web graphics;
  • automate repetitive tasks.

For each category, we then filled in an essential scenario with the results from the workplace observation and the ensuing discussion. We then probed if further essential scenarios could be found for the category. That turned out to be either one or none.

So I was very pleased that by Sunday afternoon, we had eight user scenarios that capture the essential use of GIMP, in a powerful way.

direct results

Along the way some hard choices had to be made by the team about what workflow to support, and what to leave to other applications. Moreover, essential functionality has been identified during the weekend and implementation of some of it started right there and then.

Soon Kamila and I will release the GIMP functionality catalogue, and the user scenarios document. We will then move on to an expert evaluation of the current GIMP, and of GEGL, that is so much a part of the future of GIMP.

…on rails

On the train back to Berlin, Ellen and Kamila were dozing off after all the hard work during the weekend. Sven Neumann and I spent the time implementing my concept for rectangle + oval selections, in extreme programming style.

While Sven was writing and refactoring code, I worked on drawings and algorithms for the next step. I went through three algorithms for the corner handle size in as many hours: the concept was clear, but the algorithm needed refinement, until I nailed it.

This all in the shortest concept–implementation loop possible. As Ellen said: extreme usability.

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7 November 2006, 23:33

Christoph Evers—masters student of HCI in Lund, Sweden— interviewed me for a class assignment. The result was this essay, and it makes for an interesting read.


Now that you have read it, I feel that there are two things I should have said a bit clearer in the original interview.

the Zen‐moment

The Zen‐moment is not when you have found just any old solution for a particular problem, it is when you have found the solution. This moment comes as a revelation, everything is suddenly very clear. You simply know the solution you have found has an unbeatable intrinsic elegance, similar to that of e=mc2.

product vision

It may seem from the interview that the product vision—that I formulate together with the management and development team of my customer—in some way contains my ideas about what needs to be achieved in the project.

The opposite is true. The vision formulated here is solely my customer’s. I am simply a catalyst in getting it down on paper. The value I create with this method is by:

  • getting it formulated at all; for most of my customers it is a revelation to see the essence of what they are trying to achieve;
  • using it as the ultimate foundation for any further UI decision in the project, and in this way ensuring I am achieving the ultimate goals of my customer.

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