Coherent Vision and The Sustainable UX

by on Mar.20, 2009 , under UX Design Solutions

My very good friend, Daniel Szuc, of Apogee HK recently published an excellent article titled “Designing for Positive Impact”.  It’s a great look at how UX skills and perspectives can be applied to the longer term  to help businesses create a more positive vision.  It seems the way our brains work is becoming quite valuable. :)

What struck me about the article was a thread that wove through the text with words like “holistic views”, “coherent vision”, “long term sustainability” and “design thinking”.  These have been recurring themes that I have noticed brewing over the last few months.  My initial foray into this “thinking view” was the work of Roger Martin in “The Opposable Mind” where he talks about a holistic thinking paradigm that designers use as being a valuable tool for business problem solving.

Here’s the good stuff before you get bored:

Moral of the story?  Envisioning the whole to support individual parts is the key to creating a sustainable UI/UX. 

 Long term?  Lower costs and happier users.  Win, win, win, win.

So where am I going with this?  It’s important to develop a coherent vision for your user experience to create sustainability.  Let me explain…

Here’s what Roger talks about  when we approach design solutions as single items to be addressed:

 “…the Frankenstein approach to design … a negative thing that happens when integrative thinking is not employed …a bunch of disjointed, disassociated parts and details being plunked onto an object.

In fact I find this particularly in Agile situations where the software has been born out of many different threads that are then integrated to produce a whole.  As  you might imagine that can result in a very disjointed user experience.

An approach that I have found to be tremendously effective to beat the “Frankenstein” pitfall, whether in an Agile environment or not, is twofold:

1. Develop a “medium term” model for your UX – hopefully based on a long term vision – that will provide direction over a 9-12 month period.

2. Empower developers with understanding and a solution library.

By developing a model of your user experience to be reached over a medium term period you provide the “coherent vision” that your developers can work towards.  I’m not recommending that you then fall into a waterfall approach (pardon the pun!).  

What this model will give you is the integrated thinking that allows developers to make decisions about individual parts with an understanding of the whole.  That’s the key to avoiding Frankenstein.  In addition to the model,  a library of best practices solutions(widgets, UX definitions and principles, etc.), that developers can choose from when in need of, say, an edit process or how to implement search,  will support a strong UX at the micro interaction level within the product.

What this does is to give developers the ability to just “run with it” knowing that it WILL all fall into place in the UI.  That’s efficient and empowering.

Now for the sustainability part.  I know “sustainability” is all the rage these days with our eco-crisis.  Here’s the definition:

The most widely quoted definition internationally is the “Brundtland definition” of the 1987 Report of the World Commission on Environment and Development – that sustainability means meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.    from

What does that mean then in terms of software development?  It means that by creating a UX that has a solid foundation you can continue to build upon it.  It is sustainable in that you aren’t compromising future development efforts with a UX that has to be rebuilt or deconstructed each time you want to release a new version or add features.  

Now your dev efforts are focused on value add projects rather than re-hash, rebuild tedium. It’s a much better and “sustainable” place to be. 

Interested in how this can work for you?  Drop me a line, let’s chat.

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Leveraging Mental Models – The synergy of input, search and view screens

by on Feb.06, 2009 , under UX Design Solutions

It’s been a bit longer than normal between posts for me, but, have been well engaged! Great activity for me :).

Recent projects have had me doing a lot of work on search. Highly complex query builders for searching big databases… 72 million plus records a day. Yeah.. That’s big.

OK, big deal.  Well, there’s a small concept that is easily overlooked in these scenarios that will greatly increase the usability of your product:

Input is as Input does… take advantage of the mental model established by the data input form by reflecting  it throughout when searching for, or displaying that data.


There are a good number of reasons why this strategy pays off, not the least of which is the leverage you get from repeating the users mental model:

…the advantages of mental models all begin with 
the letter “C”:

♦ Confidence in Your Design—guide the design of the solution 

♦ Clarity in Direction—make good user and business decisions

♦ Continuity of Strategy—ensure longevity of vision and opportunity

-Mental Models by Indi Young Rosenfeld Media, 2008; version 1.1

The huge win here is that once your user has entered the data seeing it in an edit or read only view that reflects their input screen creates IMMEDIATE recognition.  In a search form, it also allows them to trace back mentally to specific values they may have entered in particular fields and speeds their search process to find the records they’re looking for.

Next is the ease with which standards can be created for developers to work with.  Starting with the selections or number of data inputs allowed per field in your input form allows you to easily define rules for searching that data.  Those rules could look something like this:

Free form text values:  text input box


 Choice between two options: radio buttons


Selection of one or many values out of 1-5 options: Checkboxes or Dropdown  menu depending on transparency and space requirements


Selection of one value from up to 20 values: Dropdown menu

Multiple value selections from a list over 5: Add/Remove Select Boxaddremove

Now you’ve got an easy to replicate, easy to follow set of standards to use for input , edit and search.  Instant design patterns library!

Ultimately you have developed a very efficient cycle that promotes patterns, supports the users mental model,  and reuses code.  Nice job. :)

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From Obama to UX – Creating a Shared Vision

by on Jan.23, 2009 , under UX Design Solutions

We’ve got a new President who has given us a vision of hope as a nation.  We have had many “visionaries” prime our imaginations with fantastical thoughts that have sparked  some of the most creative solutions to problems that face us on a daily basis.

So too is the role of a vision in the UX realm.  I’m working with a client right now to develop a user experience vision for their product.  And as Jared Spool (yep .. my fav go to quote guy) notes:

We’re finding having a solid vision is really key to success. Do you know what the experience of your design will be like in 5 years? In 10? Does everyone on the team share the same perception?

– from The Experience Vision, UIE Brainsparks

Fundamental truth.  When everyone is marching to the beat of the same drummer towards a shared goal/vision  it’s amazing the energy and quality that comes out of their work. 

Convinced? (continue reading…)

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Reasons to be Cheerful – Outsourcing your UX efforts

by on Jan.06, 2009 , under Need a hand?

Yes, this is a shameless plug for using my services (well sort of…).  My objective is to give you some ideas for how you CAN have UX integrated into your project or dev team without a large expense.  Part time UX could be just what you need:  

If you only need one, why buy a six pack?  The key is that not all products and teams NEED a full time UX person, and being able to engage a resource on an as needed basis is the best answer in most cases.   (continue reading…)

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The Cathartic User Interface – Have a UX Laugh!

by on Dec.19, 2008 , under UX Pain Points

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Disciples or Detractors – the pitfalls of UX language

by on Dec.18, 2008 , under UX Pain Points

We would benefit by clearing up how we communicate and simplifying our message organizationally.

My good friend Dano (Daniel Szuc, ApogeeHK) posted the above comment on my opening post Ready, Set, Go!.  Thought a lot about it.  Then I happened to pick up my fav quick read, Science News, that I’ve been reading since I was 12, and tried reading an article about the Hadron Collider (CERN) in Switzerland/France. As I continued on the words became so unfamiliar that I couldn’t even grasp the concepts:

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Increasing Sign-ups for Bloggers

by on Dec.12, 2008 , under UX Design Solutions

A little less wit today in my headline, but I think the topic is so clear that I don’t want to taint it. I’m sure it’s near and dear to all bloggers’ hearts!

Yesterday I attended an outstanding seminar by Joshua Porter produced by those great folks at UIE (yep shameless Ak’ing there.):) The topic was Designing for Sign-up. What struck me the most about the presentation, as a UX geek, was that the issue was not about the mechanical process of making the sign-up easier, but around the socio-psychological issues of helping users make a commitment.
(continue reading…)

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