Today’s post is a link to a free wallpaper design illustrating a quote by Charles Eames comes from the CAMP creative studio in southern California. This is what I’ve got decorating my desktop right now. It’s making me smile. Download it here.
This week I’ve been doing some research on prototyping tools. A discussion about these types of tools and what works best came up in a recent meetup I attended in Boston for web/UI designers and it sparked an interesting debate. Some people preferred to start designing straight in Fireworks or Photoshop, others preferred paper and pencil first, and then some people liked a few tools specifically built for rapid prototyping. While everyone had their own preferred method, I think we all agreed that succeeding in the prototyping stage is about speed, pure and simple. Quick and dirty beats slow and pretty every single time. That said, here are 3 prototyping tools that did get discussed:
This is the one I would naturally gravitate to. I’m firmly in the “quick and dirty” camp, and this tool is the simplest and is the least expensive. Keynotopia is a large collection of user interface design templates that enable you to prototype and test your site or app ideas using Apple Keynote, Microsoft PowerPoint, or OpenOffice Impress – it’s almost all drag and drop, and if you understand page transitions, you’re already on your way to mastery. Plus, you can export your prototype as a clickable pdf, which is super handy. The templates include thousands of wireframe and high fidelity vector UI components, designed from scratch in Keynote, Powerpoint and OpenOffice, and are fully editable and customizable without needing additional design tools. Again, at $49-$99, this one is the cheapest of the three.
Here’s a video demo of Keynotopia:
Antetype is an app that’s relatively established in the marketplace, and there were a few strong advocates in the room who praised it. While the learning curve is a little steeper than Keynotopia, this one is definitely better suited for more complex projects and designs. At $289 USD, you’ll have to decide how feature-rich you need the tool to be to get your job done. Students can also score a copy for $49, which is very reasonable.
Here’s a demo of Antetype:
Axure was the big boy of the 3. At $589, you’d have to be prototyping a lot with it to justify the cost, but again, there were a few happy users in the room who had good things to say about it. This tool’s learning curve seemed similar to Antetype’s and it’s clearly suited for more complex demos that require a bit more care in look and feel. If you’re in to adding visual details like rounded corners, gradients and shaded buttons, this could be your best solution. Although, I think everyone in the room I was in agreed that at this stage of the game spending a lot of time on gradients and shadows often hurts you more than it helps. That’s your call.
Here’s a demo of Axure:
If you know of any tools like that you find useful? Please let me know in the comments. I’d love to have a chat about it.
One of the videos is a 19 minute interview with Kickstarter co-founder Yancey Strickler about the status of the “creation economy”, and some of the misconceptions and challenges the Kickstarter team is dealing with. It’s always interesting hearing what founders are actually seeing vs. what you see in the media.
I’m admittedly starry eyed about Kickstarter and I’ve backed and followed a number of projects, which has been fun and rewarding, so getting to see a more personal and authentic side of one of the Kickstarter founders made for a great morning commute watch on my phone.
You may have noticed that I gave my blog a face lift this week. I’ve been having some fun working on a redesign of my site for the last few nights and I’ve been rebuilding the live site as I go. The redesign is something that I’ve wanted to do for ages now, and it’s finally getting done. I spent a lot of time this past year with my nose in design books and learning how to code better while building sites for others. Now that I’ve finally gotten around to it, I’m really enjoying the process of designing for myself a bit. I’m only a few days in but I thought it would be fun to share a sneak peek of what I’ve been working on. I’m using a fantastic baseline grid by Teehan+Lax for the design, which is free to download. The main site is going to look a lot like the blog does now – minimal, grid-based and oh-so Helvetica Neue.
In addition to the Y-axis grid, a baseline-style grid can be a really valuable X-axis alignment tool when you’re design compositing. Given that typography is so important, a good baseline grid is pretty essential for developing a nice rhythm in your designs. In this short 7 minute video, Mike Precious, a designer who contributes to Method & Craft shows how to quickly create an extensible baseline grid within a Photoshop-based web design workflow.
You just can’t emphasize #29 enough. :)
This 99% Conference talk by Yves Béhar on the design process has some great nuggets in it. I watched it on the way to the Harvard Entrepreneurship conference yesterday on the train and really enjoyed it. It’s 30 mins, the perfect length to get through on a short commute on your phone. Yves shares his seven principles for “holistic making.” There’s also a great quote at the end by Saul Bass on creativity and where ideas come from. Good stuff.
I just finished Brian Miller’s new book Above The Fold: Understanding The Principals of Successful Web Site Design. It’s a great read for aspiring web designers who are looking to start taking on professional projects. In fact, my only complaint (if you can call it that) is that I wish it was longer. At 255 pages already, that’s more of a compliment than anything. Brian clearly put a lot of thought and careful consideration into the structure, content and flow of the book. It’s well done. I usually re-sell the books I buy on amazon when I’m done, but I’m planning on keeping this one.
I’ve been building websites for 4 or 5 years now and this is the first book I’ve found that does a good job of walking the reader through the entire thought process of planning and creating a structured strategy for designing websites. If you’re sold on the idea that smart thinking and great design thrive on a methodical approach, this book will delight you. That said, it’s not a how-to book on building code or using tools like Photoshop, so if you’re just getting into web design and you’re itching to learn specific skills for building stuff, you’ll probably want to hold off on buying this for now and come back to it later when you’re ready to start doing professional projects. Just do so knowing that, when you do eventually come back and read it, you’ll probably kick yourself for not reading it first ;-).
For those of you interested in buying the book, here’s a quick list of pros and cons:
- There’s zero fluff-factor. Brian did a solid job of explaining things simply and succinctly and moving on. Every page gets straight to the point. You’ll get through it quickly without feeling like you wasted any time.
- It’s easy on the eyes. There are plenty of visuals to support the content. If you surf though CSS galleries a lot looking for inspiration for your projects, you’ll also get a lot of value just from flipping through the pages.
- It’s an ideal start for aspiring design professionals because it provides a comprehensive, horizontal look at the design process end to end. If your goal is to learn how to manage big design projects, the book helps you develop an essential vocabulary and a broad awareness of things you need to consider (and why you do) before you get started.
- The information in some sections is a little “light”. I said at the beginning of this post that I wished the book was longer. And again, I’ll say that at 255 pages, that’s not really a knock. There’s plenty of great info to chew on. The book was clearly designed for breadth, rather than depth, which is why it succeeds in giving the reader a complete and broad awareness of the design process. Depth needed to be sacrificed in order to cover everything. Entire books have been written on each topic covered in this book (like SEO, usability etc). The good news is that being aware that these are critical steps in the process will aid you in your search for deeper dives into how this stuff is done.
- No suggestions for further reading. Recognizing that this book was designed for breadth, it would have been useful to have had a short list of suggested resources in each section to guide the reader to deep dives. For example, Daniel Pink’s book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us includes a vetted list of “further reading” after every section. This isn’t a make or break by any means, it’s just a nice to have.
So in wrapping up I just want to acknowledge one last thing. Funny enough, I actually found this book while searching the iPad app store for web design tools. It has an accompanying iPad app with a neat grid building function and a few short interviews with Brian that are tied into a sample of the first chapter. If you’re still wondering whether this book might be for you and you have an iPad, download the app. It’s only a buck, the tools are neat and it’s a great way to figure out whether you want to spend an extra $20 on the paperback. I doubt you’ll be disappointed with either. The paperback is collection-worthy.
I must have seen the original TV commercial for the Motorola Xoom tablet over 100 times now and I still don’t have a clue what the darn thing does well. If you’ve watched any mainstream TV in the last few months, you’ve seen the commercial I’m talking about. The one where the guy grabs the device and the next thing you know it’s like you’re watching Iron Man battle a transformer. Why Motorola decided to double-down on a copycat version of the same strategy they used to launch the Droid is beyond me, and I’m certain they’re paying for it in sales. That’s not to say that the Droid strategy didn’t make sense. It did for a phone. I think Motorola just incorrectly assumed that a phone that costs a couple hundred bucks is the same as a completely different device that costs 4 times as much.
Even more confusing is why Motorola chose not to go toe to toe directly with Apple in their first commercial. So many people were waiting for a competitor to show up and just say “we’re better than the iPad, and here’s why”. Motorola is really the only company that could have done that. The Xoom beats the pants of the iPad in several really important categories. It’s got a faster processor, it runs on Verizon’s brand of 4G, it has a bigger screen with better resolution, it’s cameras are better and it does just about every (basic) thing an iPad does….and none of that was in any of their 30 second spots. Why? You just can’t expect to compete effectively with an ad strategy that relies so much on special effects and so little on demos when such a dominant player like Apple is doing so much to define the category with their advertising. Forget the razzle dazzle and the fireworks. You have to show people what the thing does better than your competitors.
In the last month, Motorola seems to be taking corrective action and revamping their marketing. Their latest set of commercials are a much-toned down homage to their target market – a young guy in a business suit folds a laptop until it becomes the Xoom and then he uses it a bit. He flicks through a Google map, does some basic gestures on the screen and you see a momentary flash of a video chat, although it’s unclear what app or service he’s using to do it. A B+ idea with a B minus execution. Then there’s the one where the young guy falls in love with a girl wearing all white, who is listening to white headphones – heavy handed anti-Apple symbolism. Before our eyes, Romeo creates a nifty animation on the Xoom that makes her smile and snap out of her (assumed) “Apple-induced” coma. Again, a pretty-good idea with “meh” execution. You’re still left wondering “how is it better than an iPad?
The most notable change Motorola has made with the Xoom marketing plan, within the last few days actually, was with a complete redesign of the Xoom website. Instead of featuring the commercials at the load screen, they’ve buried the two most recent commercials on inner pages, eliminated the original commercial completely and focused on slideshows with big product visuals that directly compare the Xoom’s features to those of the iPad. Better. They’re even highlighting apps for reading books….finally!
In the next round, I’d like to see Motorola use its marketing department to start highlighting the emotional and situational aspects of what having a tablet is all about. They need to show people the joy that comes from video conferencing with family and friends in high def on a bigger screen, and how they’ve innovated around the reading experience, educational applications and with short spurts of on-demand entertainment. This is what having a tablet is about. They’ve got to recognize that even though the screen is capable of many of the same things a regular PC is, the situations and ways in which we use tablets are different. Tablets make their way to the kitchen counter top, on to the couch in front of the fire…they’re in waiting rooms, in our hands on our commute and in coffee shops. We use those moments to play, to learn, to create and connect. Historically speaking, these are all places and contexts no one has ever had a 10 inch touch screen in their hands, and they are all places where having a tablet at the right moment is a joy. How about showing us some of that Motorola?
This morning I started seeing a message repeatedly hit my Twitter stream from friends. “Just requested an invite to @Yobongo, a new way to chat with people nearby. Join me! [LINK]“. So I clicked through.
I don’t even know what Yobongo is, and I already want to share it with 3 friends because it’ll get me an early invite faster (Yobongo knows it’s me sharing because it uses a personal trackable link). Apparently, I’m not alone. A quick search on Yobongo on Twitter shows pages of results for the automated Tweet that’s sent out when you click “post to Twitter”. I’ve never seen this done before, but it’s smart. It’s a perfect blend of immediacy, the chance for exclusivity and a simple call to action that spreads the word.
This morning I got sucked face-first in to the productivity-killing vortex that is the Vimeo Staff Picks Channel and found something pretty awesome. It’s a two-part (soon to be 4 part) video short on remix culture by Kirby Ferguson. With some smart, creative editing he explores remix techniques involved in producing films we all know and love. The message is that we all stand on the shoulders of giants, even giants themselves. The second video’s star wars montage that picks the movie’s sources apart is particularly interesting, because so many people consider it ground breaking, but that’s just one of the many great examples.
I’ve included Kirby’s videos below, along with a TED video of Lawrence Lessig, who is a champion of the movement for protecting remix culture. Lessig’s video is one of the best, easily-digestible talks on the web that provides good arguments for why, in the age of YouTube, we need to recognize that even the greats borrow, remix and re-purpose to produce great works, and that the right to do so should be protected by law.
Cheers to you, anonymous Vimeo curators!
Everything Is A Remix: Part I
Everything Is A Remix: Part II
Lawrence Lessig: Re-examining the remix
Maybe we’ve all gone iPhone and iPad crazy. That’s what all the buzz is about right now and it’s one of the only good reasons I can think of for why more people aren’t talking about the wave of innovation that going on right now around the TV.
Wait, the TV? Did he really just say that? You bet I did. TV 2.0 is coming, and it’s going to change everything. Here’s why:
When most people think about link campaigns, they have solicited links in mind. They have heard about the process of contacting strangers and wheedling and cajoling a link out of them. If it sounds like hard work, you’re right, but it can pay big dividends, both in terms of visitors following the links to your site and raising your search rankings.. Those benefits are yours, however, only through careful selection of the sites to link to yours. Here are the kinds of questions you’ve got to ask yourself before soliciting a link from another site: