Amongst screens and wireframes, as interaction designers it is always important to consider the time element which binds and glues interface forms with human activity. Ryan Singer of 37signals just wrote an awesome little article about a quick way of noting down one of the common time-based documents we deal with – user interface flows. His shorthand version of a flow relies on making clusters composed of interface states or screens (above a horizontal line) and the actions which users take (below a horizontal line). These interface-action combinations are then transformed into a flow with the help of arrows that show possible sequences.
As basic as the approach sounds, it offers something quite unique in its potential for flexibility. Interestingly, Ryan has figured out a new way of how to represent alternative user actions per each screen (something I haven’t seen done before). These various actions which the users may take, can be separated out using a dotted line. More so, the notation also allows to visualize combined interface results stemming from a single action with the help of forking or branching arrows.
Overall, in an agile fashion, Ryan does not give much weight to these documents. Just like any other light and sketchy work, he hints at these flows being ephemeral and perhaps even a bit self-targeted:
Now don’t forget: all diagrams are destined for the garbage. The meaningful work is work that directly affects our customers as screens they can see or code that functions. But we still need to communicate and manage our work along the way. This shorthand has met a bare minimum for me to get a flow out of my brain in order to move on to other things. I hope it’s useful for you too.
Credits: Ryan Singer