INTERACTION DESIGNERLet’s start with my effort to figure out what exactly everyone is doing in the studio here at DesignMap. Interaction design. What does that mean? This required just a quick trip to DesignMap’s website to find out that “Interaction design is about determining how an application acts. How many screens are there? What do they do? How do they interact with the user and with one another?” So that’s what Interaction Designers think about all day long. Contrast this with the misnomer “Interactive Designer.” Pretty much all designers are interactive; they carry on conversations, respond to email, ride the bus, use the Internet, pick up the phone… Specifying that a designer is “interactive” implies that other designers went and got themselves cryogenically frozen so that they can be around for the launch of the iPhone 400.
INFORMATION ARCHITECTURE“Information Architecture” has nothing to do with how earthquake safe your local library is, or the cool stuff you can build out of books (like this guy’s desk). Richard Saul Wurman, who coined the term (as well as founded the TED conference), IA refers to “the creating of systemic, structural, and orderly principles to make something work--the thoughtful making of either artifact, or idea, or policy that informs because it is clear.”
WIREFRAMES[caption id="attachment_401" align="aligncenter" width="600" caption="“Wireframes?” I had a pair of those in high school…"][/caption] Nope, wireframes are not eyeglasses. They are a tool for designers to identify structural and functional elements of a website, as opposed to graphic elements. They’re sometimes quick conceptual sketches of a navigation menu and major buttons, and sometimes very detailed blueprints of websites ready to be built.
NAPOLEON’S MARCHWhen I heard “Napoleon’s March” in the studio, I first thought of Eddie Izzard running across the stage (5:07) shouting “I have a better idea!” and then retreating immediately with “Oh, it’s the same idea!” I imagined that “Napoleon’s March” might be a complex historical metaphor for a project that has been attempted before, disastrously, (Napoleon, 1812) and then reattempted with new fervor and hubris but the same result (Hitler, 1941), because the underlying challenges are still present and insurmountable. As much as I like this definition, that’s not what designers are talking about when they mention Napoleon’s March. Cartographer and civil engineer Charles Joseph Minard created a chart of Napoleon’s attempted attack on Moscow in the War of 1812. The infographic combines the geographical map of the offensive and retreat with a visual representation of the number of men remaining in the French Army. It has been called “probably the best statistical graphic ever drawn.” This representation was groundbreaking in its time, and the design community is still pretty excited about its ingenuity and clarity. [caption id="attachment_404" align="aligncenter" width="600" caption="Click on the image to see the map in more detail."][/caption]
LOUPE EFFECT[caption id="attachment_405" align="alignnone" width="225" caption="I was pronouncing this “loopy” effect, and imagining our studio full of over-caffeinated designers."][/caption] The term “loupe” (really pronounced “loop”) is not a new invention for the digital age. Jewelers, watchmakers, photographers, opticians, dentists, and stamp collectors have been using them for centuries. A loupe is a magnifying lens – different than Sherlock Holmes’ magnifying glass because a loupe does not have a handle. Some loupes use multiple lenses and mirrors. [/caption]
PACE LAYERINGPart of what’s so disorienting about some of these terms is that they are English words that have always been in my vocabulary, but the interaction design field has put them together in a way that means nothing to me at first. “Pace” is easy: speed, rate, how fast something goes. “Layer” is simple enough, in the context of hair, clothes, dust, cake… Okay, time to Google it – and it turns out this is actually a two-part definition, so buckle up. Part 1: Architect Frank Duffy originated the concept of Shearing Layers to describe buildings as a composition of several layers of change. From the “eternal” site or geographical setting on which a structure is built, to the skin, services, and space plan, to the uber-mobile stuff like furniture and hairbrushes, these architectural layers each have a distinct lifespan and rate of change. Using the building architecture analogy, it’s clear that the more basic the level of architecture, the more difficult it is to make changes to that level because of the interconnections between that level and others. For example, to rebuild the foundation of your home, you might need to tear down the entire house and start again. Projects on other levels are easier – rewiring the kitchen, for example, or replacing the roof. Easiest of all is moving the furniture. Part 2: Steward Brand elaborated on this concept with the idea of Pace Layering in Information Architecture, presented at the IA Summit in 2003. concept maps to root our work in those deeper layers. While logos, colors and even the interaction itself may change over time, the constancy of the underlying concept helps us to make sure the fast-moving outer layers reflect that deeper truth. For more on pace layering, check out usability.com’s article “The Evolving Web.”
SKEUOMORPHI have to admit, I had no charming misconception of what this word might mean. When I first encountered it, I copied it right into Wikipedia’s search bar. A Skeuomorph is a defined as a “derivative object that retains ornamental design cues to a structure that was necessary in the original.” The word comes from the Greek for “tool” and “shape.” For example, your digital camera is programmed to make a sound like a shutter click, even though the noise is made with a recorded audio file and not a physical shutter. And have you ever seen a chandelier with flame-shaped light bulbs? Another skeuomorph.
In user interaction design, skeuomorphs can be used to equate functions of a digital interface of a product with the functions of that product’s physical-world counterpart that users may be familiar with. For example, your email program probably has a “compose message” button marked with a pencil and sheet of paper, even though neither of those tools are used in writing an email. In image editing programs, many tools are shaped like the brushes a painter would be familiar with.
THE LONG TAILI must be finally getting the hang of this UX lingo, because the term “the long tail” did conjure an image similar to the one below. Then again, the lucky connection could have something to do with the great number of times I’ve heard my dad quote Monty Python’s “Theory of the Brontosaurus” sketch. Chris Anderson popularized the term “The Long Tail” in his book of the same name, subtitled “why the future of business is selling less of more.” Businesses like Amazon.com incorporate this principle into their strategy of selling a wide variety of items, rather than a large number of very popular items. In the classic Zipf demand distribution, the area of the curve under the long tail is equal or greater than the area of the curve to the left of the head. That is, the volume of sales/revenue potential of many hard-to-find items is at least as great as the volume of sales of in-demand items. Information Architect Lou Rosenfeld argues that interaction designers should steer clear of this almost-infinite tail of data, and instead focus on the most frequent search terms to discover what the majority of users are looking for. Rosenfeld asserts that this focus will make the biggest difference to the overall usability of a website or application, rather than “chasing the long tail” of infrequent search terms in an attempt to design for all possible user objectives.
FTUX[caption id="attachment_412" align="aligncenter" width="600" caption="Maybe a teenager would think “FTUX” as he creates a duct-tape prom outfit in his parents’ garage."][/caption] Turns out, FTUX stands for First Time User eXperience. (Sometimes it’s abbreviated to FTUE, which is almost as much fun to say.) User experience designers are concerned not only with how the product works once a user is all set up, familiarized, and ready to go, but also with what it’s like to get started using a new operating system, new software, a new smart phone, etc. Have you ever heard someone say “It’s great, once you get the hang of it?” That “get the hang of it” is the First Time User eXperience.
So that’s my FTUX with these new terms and concepts. Please leave a comment below with any other lingo I can look up… I think I am starting to get the hang of it!