InVision Sync (for Mac)

December 5th, 2012


InVision Sync is out (for Mac) and they have removed another hurdle from their online protyping tool – that of having to manually upload screens through the browser. It’s a simple yet powerful improvement which streamlines their prototyping workflow. Designers can now simply set local InVision project folders and then save and manage screens directly to them. InVision Sync will do all the burdensome work of then syncing and uploading the screens to the server so that hotspots can be assigned (hotspots still remain after an existing file has been changed). And yes, if you have a team of designers working on the same project, InVision Sync will upload and download screens accordingly both ways in order to keep things, well, in sync. Way smoother!

InVision Sync runs in the background on the MAC system toolbar and surfaces a few additional quick options to end users. One of these is the ability to quickly grab URL links of projects that can be shared with others. Another feature directly accessible from the toolbar is the ability to see recent comments. Finally, when working with a team, Sync provides system notifications on all files which have been changed. Definitely a move forward in many ways that improves the online prototyping experience.

Ryan Duffy, one of the designers on the project, also released a great Vimeo screencast which explains the full process. Pretty slick!

Ready to try it out? Grab the DMG file.

Interactive Sketching Notation v1.3

November 21st, 2012

ISNv1.3
The next version of the Interactive Sketching Notation is out for those who like to sketch electronically and tell stories with big canvases. The Adobe Illustrator template has been mostly extended to include more icons, device screens, and components amongst a few other minor fixes.

There are now 80 common user interface icons in a sketch based style. Proportionally sized screens now include devices such as: iPhone 4 & 5, two popular Windows 8 phones (Nokia Lumia 920 & HTC Windows Phone 8X), Samsung Galaxy Nexus, Samsung Galaxy S3, iPad, iPad Mini, Nexus 7, and a bunch of browser screens. Newly added components include such things as a: video player, map, chart, two new tooltips, and tabs. Finally, I’m also am trying out a second user story style which is composed of a: user type, scenario title, scenario description, need, and problem – still experimental. If anyone has any symbols, components or feedback to be included in a future release, please let me know. Enjoy. :)

Purchase & Download here.

Credits: Jakub Linowski

FoldTester & Scrolling

November 13th, 2012

FoldTester
FoldTester is a free tool that allows you to enter a URL and see numerous viewable areas as percentages based on world internet users. It’s a simple testing tool for determining viewport areas (minus the tabs, window borders, scroll bars, etc.) as well as determining where the fold might fall. I’m not sure if the tool uses up to date numbers considering the common pattern is that screens are getting bigger.

The fold, beware! Looking at this tool one might quickly fall into the trap of trying to squeeze everything above the fold. It should be noted however, that the fear of users not scrolling is an old fashioned myth. To prove the point, Paddy (the author of FoldTester) also created Life Below 600px, which shows that scrolling should be looked up to as a fundamental UI interaction and basic user behavior. The fold then gives way to scrolling as an immense opportunity for building up a story which leads to a powerful call to action.

One term which I heard being thrown around at work was the notion of a “False Bottom”, that I think is still relevant. The idea is simple. If scrolling is to be relied on, designers should always give the impression that more content is present further. This can be achieved by repetition (showing multiple repeating elements) or continuity (cutting an element in half with the fold). In other words, if there is scrollable content, one should try to avoid showing closure near the fold (ex: lots of white space that suggests completion).

Anyhow, enjoy …

Credits: Paddy Donnelly

PowerMockup v3: Wireframe with PowerPoint

October 30th, 2012


PowerMockup v3 is out. The new version of this awesomely simple PowerPoint plugin comes now loaded with a total of 100 UI stencils and 140 icons. Aside of a nice introductory video screencast which Andreas did, the update allows designers a great deal more of control over their stencil libraries. With custom stencil item creation, export and import options, and categorization, it is now easier to manage and reuse interface assets.

Stencils now can also be searched instantly with a handy keyword search box that limits assets as soon as someone types anything. This search makes use of a synonyms thesaurus of sorts and improves the overall search experience even further. Some stencils and elements are now also made a bit smarter when they are resized. These smarter elements know when and how to keep their proportions, as in stretching a tabbed navigation for example.

Some additional containers have been also expanded to contain such screens as windows, tablets, and iPhones. The plugin works with PowerPoint 2007, 2010 and 2013 and so is ready for the next release of MS Office. Nice!

Try out the 30 Day Free Trial.

Credits: Andreas Wulf

Blueprint Wireframe

October 24th, 2012


Here is a something a little different while drawing inspiration from the past – a blueprint wireframe. It definitely looks like a traditional architectural or engineering diagram with a clear conceptual look. Derek has done up the piece in Photoshop (debatable whether the best tool for wireframing or not), but nevertheless the white on blue colors and jagged lines surely make this piece feel like it’s an abstract representation of lower fidelity. I thought it was pretty interesting that someone has found inspiration from 19th century diagramming. Thanks for sharing.

Credits: Derek Clark

I’m Hiring … a User Interface Designer

October 8th, 2012

Hi! I’m on the lookout for a talented User Interface Designer in Toronto (ideally, but also open to remote). If concept sketching, visual design and prototyping are your thing, then please checkout the job posting and reach out to me. Looking forward to hearing from you.

Thanks,
Jakub

Proto.io V3 – Changes mobile prototyping as we know it

October 1st, 2012

Proto.io
Proto.io last Thursday just released the next version (V3) of their interactive mobile app prototyping tool. The new version promises to push prototyping to the next level with an even wider range of devices. With custom devices, users can now prototype for pretty much any device with a screen, from SmartTVs to refrigerators. Adding to that, it becomes the first mobile prototyping tool to support full feature animations of UI items within a prototype screen. Its V3 release also includes keyboard events and web fonts, among other improvements.

V3 features in detail from their press release:

Custom device prototyping

Created specifically for mobile, Proto.io identified the growing problem of prototyping for the many different devices and screen resolutions of available mobile devices. Without wanting to restrict users to predetermined mobile devices and factoring in the ever evolving mobile scene, Proto.io took things a step further. It created a prototyping first by giving users the liberty to determine their screen size dimensions and then apply their own skin for the device they are prototyping for, to create a real user experience for the viewer. With this update, prototyping is not restricted to just mobile anymore. It opens up prototyping apps for any device. That includes Smart TVs, PSP and other gaming devices, refrigerator interfaces, airplanes, cars, alarm clocks, medical equipment and pretty much anything with a screen interface. See a custom ‘gaming device’ demo here.

Full feature animations

Since its launch, Proto.io included between screens animations like slide, pop, fade, flip, turn and flow. It now comes to add full feature animations, allowing for simple animations of UI items in the prototype’s screens. That means that users can interact with any item on the screen and make it animate, really bringing prototypes to life. The animations types include move, scale, resize, rotate and fade. Users can set a duration, easing effect and start delay for each animation, and set commands like loop iterations and repeat animation steps. Check out the interactive demos!

Keyboard events and web fonts

Going by the principle that not all devices are created equal, Proto.io wanted to enhance the user’s experience when prototyping for not-only-touchscreen and non-touchscreen devices. For example, a gaming device is accompanied with several hard buttons for navigation and gameplay. Proto.io users can assign keyboard events and map each of these buttons’ functionality. So when a user hits the right arrow key (→) on their keyboard, the corresponding hard button will respond with the action preset by the user. Keyboard events is a useful tool to complement a touch screen interface design that a user would want when prototyping for car radios, remote controlled Smart TVs, handheld gaming devices, etc.

Web fonts are also supported in V3. That includes using any of the 1000+ available fonts, freeing up prototypers to using more suitable fonts for their prototypes. The main benefit of using web fonts is that they show exactly the same in almost any device or browser.

Have a look at more demos and give it a try!

Credits: Alexis Piperides

Windows 8 Templates for PowerPoint

September 24th, 2012

Windows 8 Templates
Windows 8 Templates has recently gone live as the new operating system is just around the corner. The site features a number of Metro UI themed kits and templates for PowerPoint users. The most comprehensive grouping (Windows 8 All-in-One Bundle Pro) contains a wireframing kit, a prototyping kit, an icon pack and storyboarding shapes (requires Visual Studio 2012). The main difference between the prototyping and wireframing kits is that the former has a bit more color. All of the work within each kit is also vector based and so makes it easier to edit and stretch the assets appropriately as needed. So if using a low barrier to entry tool such as PPT is important in your process, then give this template kit a try.

A couple of words on the use of PowerPoint by Jordan (the Author):

While I am adept in professional design tools like Photoshop, 99% of the time my tool of choice for mocking up an app is PowerPoint. PowerPoint is incredibly productive and simple, and yet powerful enough to help me develop even the most custom of designs quickly and efficiently. Better still is that everyone knows PowerPoint, and that means my clients can easily contribute to the design with their own edits and ideas. Another +1 from clients when they feel truly involved with the design of their product. It doesn’t stop at static mockups, I can use PowerPoint animations and slide transitions to turn any mockup into a functional prototype that clients can click through as though they were using a real app.

Credits: Jordan Gurrieri (Twitter)

EightShapes / Blocks

September 14th, 2012

EightShapes / Blocks
Blocks (github) is a HTML prototyping tool brought to you by EightShapes – the company that’s all about modular components. The JavaScript toolkit allows designers (code literate ones that is) to tag pages or the components within, for purposes of presentation and reuse. Such tagged HTML page prototypes then become listed in a table of contents so to say, along with all of the unique components on the side. Blocks is a presentation layer tool that sits on top of the prototype and can be turned on or off. The other core benefit or idea behind this is that instead of duplicating HTML over and over again, the toolkit instead also allows to reference HTML code and reuse it across multiple pages. Being pure JavaScript, it also looks pretty simple to implement.

One thing which I don’t see and think would still be nice to have is a way to tell stories across these listed pages and components. Right now, all of these assets are very much fragmented and require the designer to do the magic of tying it all together into a flow or narrative. I wonder how the toolkit would feel if there was a layer of visible use cases, scenarios or non-linear flows that could be attached over on top.

Nathan also shares an interesting article which compares HTML prototyping to other tools like Axure. I’d have to agree with Nathan on this one that working with HTML (and JavaScript) for prototyping has the definite benefit of being closer to the medium as opposed to abstracting it. Even if writing JavaScript functions is too much for a designer (although it can be learned), that also opens up a perfect opportunity to collaborate on the prototype with a developer. For me personally, prototyping is less about setting up clicks between all of the screens, as is more about being able to get to the right richness of interaction, data, or visual representation for a narrower set of screens. With HTML and JavaScript there is simply more potential to get to the highest level of detail possible in order to feel out a risky part of the product. That’s not to say, that more often than not, just the “clicks” are adequate and so many other “abstracting tools” work for a lot of people. Thoughts?

Either way grab and fork it from github. There is also a good video where Nathan describes the approach.

In his own words:

EightShapes Blocks is a toolkit for user experience designers to modularize, communicate, and deliver annotated HTML prototypes.

Credits: Nathan Curtis

Large Canvas Flows + With References

September 4th, 2012


I like spacious canvases with non-linear flows, and here is a work sample from a fellow designer which shows just that. If one can move away from the outdated convention that interaction designers create screens, towards what Bill Buxton calls the stuff “in between the screens”, then it doesn’t take long to realize that larger workspaces are the way to go. In this example of a mobile app, Anton used Omnigraffle and some inspiration from UML to pull off a few interesting things which I thought might be worthy of highlighting:

  • Merging of wireframes with flows. As the above artifact mixes readable screens with flows or user actions, the element of time and narrative begins to emerge. Since the flow diagram is inseparable from the wireframe, it also saves the designer from the extra effort of synchronizing multiple documents.
  • Transition references. Although not visible in the sample, the blue circles are actual links to .mov files that show short video demos of the transitions. Wires plus video feels fresh!
  • Screen references. All of the screens have an ID tag, and occasionally actions lead to screen references instead of full screens – a way of reusing and again minimizing duplication efforts. Also each screen links to a folder with source PNG layout files.
  • Action references. Most user actions here also have an ID with a distinct style and can therefore also be referred to.
  • Starting Point. Since the canvas is quite large it has a clear starting point to guide the viewer.
  • Layout structure. In the top right of the canvas, the core structure of the layout along with some popular components are explained.
  • Toggle-able layers. Various information is kept separate on distinct layers and so that it’s possible to toggle it on and off for various audiences.

In comparison to the above, I have to say that the way in which I do my work is very similar by relying on cross document references. This hierarchical documentation structure (where wires cover the widest scope and prototypes the narrowest) allows designers to focus on what’s necessary at a particular level of fidelity. Below is how I reference visual design mockups within wireframes or sketches (with an “Also See” + filename tag). Again, keep in mind that in my case, only certain screens need and/or have references to more detailed assets.

Anyhow, thanks Anton for sharing!

Credits: Anton Volkov (main sample) & Jakub Linowski (second sample)