Visual thinking is about leveraging our innate ability to see - both with our eyes and with our mind's eye - in order to discover ideas that are otherwise invisible, develop those ideas quickly and intuitively, and then share those concepts with other people in ways that make them grasp those ideas at a glance.
But which is the most appropriate visual deliverable to use? A flowchart, a diagram, or a wireframe mock-up? Obviously it all depends on what you need to communicate and on who you want to communicate it to as visual communication solutions which may be best under certain conditions, could be totally inappropriate for other situations.
If a visual communicator could see, like on a classy illustrated sushi japanese restaurant menu, all of the visualization routes and solutions available to her, she would be greatly facilitated in choosing, crafting and delivering such a visual message.
User experience guru, Peter Morville, offers in this unique visual resource collection, a wide range of visual thinking and communication solutions, inspiring thoughts and examples, ranging from simple visual stories, to reports, mock-ups, prototypes and concept designs.
by Peter Morville
It's an exhilarating time for the user experience community. Rising awareness of our value plus emerging technologies and transmedia trends have created conditions for a step change in our practice.
As an information architect, I'm enjoying the new challenges immensely, even as they sweep me outside my comfort zone. I've designed social software and rich user interfaces. I've sketched scenarios for the future of mobile search. I've mapped the user experience across channels and applications. And, I've increasingly found myself striving to clarify ideas for folks in the executive suite.
Consequently, I'm rethinking my role, redefining my deliverables, and embracing new forms of interdisciplinary collaboration.
For instance, I've ensnared Jeffery Callender as co-author of Search Patterns, a new book (in process) about design for discovery and the future of search. Together, we're hoping to bring search to life with colorful, compelling stories, maps, and illustrations, which brings us back to deliverables.
Two books have inspired me to think differently about discovery, communication, and design.
First, Made to Stick challenged me to think simple. This book reveals the power of short phrases and surprising, personal stories to change minds and shape memories:
"Proverbs are the Holy Grail of simplicity. Coming up with a short, compact phrase is easy. Anybody can do it.
On the other hand, coming up with a profound compact phrase is incredibly difficult [yet] enduringly powerful.
We need to open gaps before we close them. Our tendency is to tell people the facts. First, though, they must realize that they need these facts.
This realization - that empathy emerges from the particular rather than the pattern - brings us back full circle to the Mother Teresa quote: "If I look at the mass, I will never act. If I look at the one, I will."
The story's power, then, is twofold: It provides simulation (knowledge about how to act) and inspiration (motivation to act)."
Second, The Back of the Napkin encouraged me to think visual.
This book shows how sketching can help us discover and sell ideas: Visual thinking means taking advantage of our innate ability to see - both with our eyes and with our mind's eye - in order to discover ideas that are otherwise invisible, develop those ideas quickly and intuitively, and then share those ideas with other people in a way that they simply "get."
These two books are gems, and yet their simple ideas are surprisingly difficult to apply.
Making things easy is hard. But, for our projects and our book, we're convinced it's worth the effort. So, building on Dan's garage-sale principle: "everything looks different when we can see it all at once," Jeff and I have begun collecting user experience deliverables, and laying them all out, so we can look, see, imagine, and show.
This list describes twenty user experience deliverables with links to relevant resources and examples.
Clearly, these artifacts of the process are not the whole story. We must also think about the relationship between goals, methods, and documents. And yet, for many of us, deliverables are the coin of the realm and merit special attention.
- Stories Storytelling in Business
- The Secret Language of Leadership by Stephen Denning
- Articles by Dave Snowden
High-concept pitches, generative analogies, and experience strategies invoke existing schemas to put the world in a wardrobe.
- Experience Strategies by Jesse James Garrett
- High Concept Pitches for Startups
- English Proverbs (Wikiquote)
Portraits and profiles of user types (and their goals and behaviors) remind us all that "you are not the user" and serve as an invaluable compass for design and development.
Positioning personas in natural contexts gets us thinking about how a system fits the lives of real people.
5. Content Inventories
Reviewing and describing documents and objects is a prerequisite to effective structure and organization. The artifact (often a spreadsheet) is a sign of due diligence.
- Doing a Content Inventory by Jeff Veen
- Why You Shouldn't by Leisa Reichelt
- The Rolling Content Inventory by Lou Rosenfeld
We learn by wallowing in interaction, search, and navigation data. And, we teach by uncovering and charting the most pivotal landmarks, portals, paths, and patterns.
- Web Analytics (Wikipedia)
- Web Analytics and IA by Hallie Wilfert
- Search Log Analysis (Dey Alexander)
7. User Surveys
Asking the same questions of many users across multiple audiences can reveal existing gaps and common needs, and show how they map to customer satisfaction.
- When to Use Which by Christian Rohrer
- American Customer Satisfaction Index
- Pew Internet & American Life
8. Concept Maps
In the territory of concepts, a good map can help us see where we are and decide what to do by establishing landmarks, clarifying relationships, and identifying true north.
- Back of the Napkin by Dan Roam
- What is Your Mental Model? (Indi Young)
- Flickr User Model by Bryce Glass
9. System Maps
A visual representation of objects and relationships within a system can aid understanding and finding for both stakeholders and users. Shift gears from "as-is" to "to-be" and you have a blueprint for structural redesign.
- Map - Territory Relationship (Wikipedia)
- London Underground Maps (Ask Edward Tufte)
- Developing Taxonomy by Christian Ricci
10. Process Flows
How do users move through a system? How can we improve these flows? A symbolic depiction can enlighten desire lines and show the benefits of (less) chosen paths.
Sketches of pages and screens can focus us on structure, organization, navigation, and interaction before investing time and attention in color, typography, and image.
- Where the Wireframes Are by Dan Brown
- Real Wireframes by Stephen Turbek
- Wireflow Trading Card (nForm)
A series of sketches with narrative displayed in sequence can tell a story and paint a picture by showing interaction between users and systems in context over time.
13. Concept Designs
Interface designs and composite art invoke an emotional response and capture people's attention by presenting a high-fidelity image of how the product could look.
From paper prototypes to pre-alpha software and hardware, working models drive rapid iteration and emotional engagement by showing how a product will look and feel.
- Paper Prototyping by Shawn Medero
- Prototyping with XHTML by Anders Ramsay and Leah Buley
- WineM (Technology Sketch)
15. Narrative Reports
Writing is a great tool for thinking and organizing. And, it's hard to beat a written report for presenting detailed results and analysis or formal recommendations. Reports can serve as a container for most other deliverables.
As the lingua franca of business, slideshows (and videos) can be great for telling a story or painting a picture. They can also be dead boring, unless you present in person, hit the highlights, and beware the bullets. Presentations can serve as a container for most other deliverables.
- The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint by Edward Tufte
- In Defense of PowerPoint by Don Norman
- IA Summit Presentations (SlideShare)
Project plans, roadmaps, and schedules guide design and development activity by clarifying roles and responsibilities.
An explicit set of requirements describing the behavior or function of a system is often a necessary element in the transition from design to development.
- Usable Software Specifications by Brian Krause
- Painless Functional Specifications by Joel Spolsky
- Just a Fairy Tale? by Dan Willis
19. Style Guides
A manual that defines a set of standards for identity, design, and writing can promote clarity and consistency.
- Guidance on Style Guides by Chauncey Wilson
- Web Style Guide (University of Pennsylvania)
- Web Style Guide by Patrick Lynch and Sarah Horton
20. Design Patterns
A pattern library that shows repeatable solutions to common problems can describe best practices, encourage sharing and reuse, and promote consistency.
Of course, compiling a list is only the first step. For each project, we must strive for the optimal mix. Since our deliverables resist a taxonomy, asking questions may help derive their folksonomy.
- Audience. Who must you reach?
- Content. What is the message?
- Context. Where is the conversation?
- Process. When is the message?
- Problem. Why are you communicating?
And, the questions never end. Should your argument be simple or elaborate? Quantitative or qualitative? We can organize and describe these deliverables until the end of time. We've made a start.
Perhaps you can help.
Will you tag a few in our collection on Flickr?
If you've made it this far, you deserve a reward. That's a lot of words about a lot of deliverables. And, that's the problem. It's hard to find the best trees when we can't see the forest. So, we often fall back on old habits. We churn out wireframes when a story may be worth its weight in gold.
Download now - The User Experience Treasure Map
Good luck exploring! And, please let us know what you discover!
Originally written by Peter Morville and first published on January 27th 2009 as "User Experience Deliverables"
Peter Morville -
Stories - Akhilesh
Scenarios - Jeffrey Banke
Proverbs - V Rybakov
Personas - Mr Pants
User Surveys - Subtik
Content Inventory - Janaka Dharmasena
Analytics - Vlad Susoy
System Map - Vicwood40 - Wikipedia
Concept Maps - College of Agriculture and Life Sciences
Narrative Stories - John Carleton
Wireframes - Mike Roh
Storyboards - Al Bar
Concept Design - Leonard Low
Process Flows - Chad McDermott
Prototype - Irina Tischenko
Specifications - Andrey Anoshkin
Plans - Franck Ito
Style Guides - Patrick Lynch and Sarah Horton - Amazon
Patterns - Lang Yan