Research for me is like going to a flea market; you need to go in looking for an indefinite something. If you're looking for specifics, you rarely find them, and it's exhausting.
Aficionado App was entirely conceived from understanding of culture, the discovery of a need (one that had already been filled), and the itch to improve. Cigars culture has a rich history that could survive entirely without technology. What started with an interest in taste and smell lead to an uncanny desire to document and collect every piece of aesthetic I could find. I fell in love with cigar bands, the packaging, and even various hues of tobacco leaves. I started pairing different cigars with different foods and drinks. I started asking questions about where particular leaves came from. I made note of what I liked, what hints of flavor I could pick up, and which ones were similar. I discovered that I wasn't the first one with this enthusiasm, nor would I be the last. Turns out old guys had been doing this stuff for personal recollection for years!
I found my need; I needed the best way possible to document my findings. Enter the common cigar dossier. It comes leather-bound with blank pages ready for someone to glue cigar bands in and take notes on. My iPhone did similar things minus the smells and with a better typeface than my own handwriting. After all that, the concept came naturally and the UI design seemed obvious.
Sometimes an entire project can be flushed out on a single white board... Is something I've never said. Although ideation is a simple step, that often winds up filling only a single whiteboard. I break this out into two lanes: user needs and design requirements. Mapping out the user needs and introducing a hierarchy of provided information are the most basic steps in defining the direction of a product. As a result of ideation, often ill draw up a simple kanban board that helps me keep things moving along the design process relative to priority. 20 Life is a simple application intended to replace the use of
20 sided dice with a gesture based counting app. We didn't solve any really pressing issues in player's lives, but we cleared up space in their card boxes by replacing handfuls of dice. The app allows two players to manage a single screen, split down the middle, by tapping and sliding. The aesthetic role was an added novelty that invited players to select the color of their deck and add their name. This was more so for competitive advantage in the app market. The feedback we've received verifies that "simple" was a great solution. Simple started on a whiteboard, where pruning out unnecessary features literally only cost a few lines of marker.
All of my understanding of user behavior has come from watching my work unfold in the form of alpha products and rapid prototypes. Often times I'll wind up in a coffee shop asking strangers to "play with this thing I made" -- I get rush of endorphins when I see something work the way I expected and I snap a pencil every time my work collapses in front of me. My approach to usability relies on the non-verbal feedback you get from watching users do what they do best. I'll give users a scenario, or a task, and then hold my breath until they've figured it out. Watching them often provides invaluable insight into new directions a product could take. We can all thank Jakob Nielson for this approach, he has been preaching it for years:
"…pay attention to what users do, not what they say."
The approach that always fails because there's no better way to finding the best solution than trying all of the solutions. The quicker you fail, the more you fail, the more you learn.
Tech startups are notorious for taking the most agile approach to failure. During this phase, the biggest nightmare is to be working with a pretty interface. The challenge of integrating new features and redefining problems with a visual infrastructure that doesn't support them, is like trying to make a cube roll uphill.
All of my early failures start on paper, and often end on paper. Sometimes my failures are realized in low-fi prototypes that are ultimately clicked into the ground. George Lewis might punch me for saying that, at this point in the process, "group groping" new ideas into even better ideas is a vital step in achieving clarity and a communal feeling of ownership in the product.
Often a team won't wind up with a unanimous solution. Here begins a back and forth of A B testing and adaptation. Evaluating what has been discovered and interpreting it into a prototype or redefining the problem entirely; often starting over from paper up.
The design of something, the actual placement of pixels, the holistic visual standard that sets the tone and the voice of a product. Visual organization cannot exist without all of the previous steps in my process (research, ideation, usability, and iteration).
I don’t think of design as a “one size fits all” medium that solves problems and establishes understanding. I believe the interface of an interaction cannot inform the user through a texture or a color without first understanding what kind of user behavior can be expected. Most of my time spent designing is spent choosing typefaces and establishing a heirarchy of fonts and colors. Designing without having a hand in the user experience design is like blindly answering a multiple choice question; you might not even fill in a circle at all.
Eric B Lobdell
I'm a 20-something mobile-designer. I'm a nights and weekends entrepreneur. I'm addicted to travel and coffee. I love right-brained minimalist thinking.