Archive for the ‘Inspirations’ Category

Use Case Maps

Friday, February 19th, 2010

Speaking with Greg the other day I learned about Use Case Maps. This notation which has been initially the work of Raymond Buhr, has its roots in software engineering and perhaps could be an area to draw inspiration from. Use Case Maps intend to convey sequences of events by showing the paths of users over a backdrop of structured system representations. With these flexible scenario-like visualizations, software engineers ensure that the element of time is considered. As part of the notation, Use Case Maps have starting and stopping points and can also branch out. It seems like Daniel Amyot has contributed to this work as well and has published a decent Quick Tutorial with a reference guide at the end. In a nutshell, here is what Daniel writes about the philosophy of UCM:

The Use Case Map notation aims to link behavior and structure in an explicit and visual way. UCM paths are first-class architectural entities that describe causal relationships between responsibilities, which are bound to underlying organizational structures of abstract components. These paths represent scenarios that intend to bridge the gap between requirements (use cases) and detailed design.

Credits: Raymond A. Buhr & Daniel Amyot

Tablet + Illustrator: the Case for Electronic Sketching

Thursday, February 4th, 2010

It’s probably nothing new that the sketch has been gaining quite some attention lately as a powerful design tool. Some UI designers have began to precede wireframing and prototyping with free-form pen and paper approaches that afford exploration and support a wider diversity of ideas. For over a year now, in my design process I’ve started doing just the same right after I picked up a set of markers and sketch pads. Looking back, sketching has been wonderful at giving rise to design representations that naturally act as conversation starters and therefore make sketching more so compatible with agile philosophies. However, traditional pen and paper has a few limitations which over the last few months became noticeable. As a reaction to this, I grabbed an Intuos 3 from Wacom, installed Adobe Illustrator and began sketching electronically using a pen and tablet. Finding the new approach superior, I have doubts I’ll ever go back to paper and wanted to share some of the reasons why.


Like it or not, design ideas need to scale over time and good tools provide room for such growth. One thing that I love about Illustrator (which paper lacks of course) is that the art board or workspace can be stretched as needed whenever concepts need the extra room. The flexibility to resize the canvas is a really great feature especially during early ideation when multiple screens need to be shown together to tell a meaningful story. On the same note, another way Illustrator excels is in terms of a scalable fidelity. Whereas early on in a project the amount of detail might be small, over time however, the fidelity of an electronic sketch has the potential to develop. In a vector environment it is super easy to take a small UI sketch, stretch it to a larger size, and inject more detail inside of it.

Ease of Editing

Yes, in the real world we have pencils, erasers and the ability to redraw or correct our sketches to some degree. We can however only correct our paper sketches somewhat before they becomes unreadable. This isn’t the case with anything electronic or digital where cutting, deleting, undoing, redoing, erasing is second nature. A very common scenario is to draw different screens and only learn eventually that it makes sense for the two or three screens to be placed together – something that is very easily done by reorganizing or repositioning on the computer. Another superb thing about Illustrator is the ability to select a line and just redraw it, causing it the take on the new form. This of course can be done an unlimited amount of times in an electronic tool.


Although this might not be the case for everyone out there, I personally find that my hand writing is very hard to read. Unless I spent extra care and time to write legibly, I find that on the computer it is way easier and quicker to type out text that can be read by others.


When I am about to sketch on paper, knowingly that it will be harder to undo, I hold myself back and think twice before the ink or lead leaves a mark. This slow down or inefficiency can be easily overcome in the electronic world with a tablet pen. When I sketch electronically, this worry disappears as I know that I don’t have to generate the right ideas, but instead can easily correct myself if something needs adjusting. This careless quality of electronic sketching brings forth immense value by affording greater exploration to occur more freely.


Illustrator allows to create symbols of artwork very easily which in turn speeds up exploration ever more. Let’s say you have the same screen or component which you want to use a number of times across your work. Dragging the selection into the symbols palette allows you to reuse or instantiate that artwork and still have the ability to edit it in one location with it updating throughout. This is simply a superiority that paper cannot compete with.

The above are the reasons why I moved in the direction of electronic sketching. Perhaps the use of paper can still be justified in collaborative sketching sessions when there are more than one designer at the table and the design activity happens simultaneously in real time. For the remaining times, I find that the electronic sketch offers advantages over paper that are just too good to pass.

Credits: Jakub Linowski

Exposure Sheets (X-Sheets)

Friday, January 22nd, 2010

Traditional animators have been relying on sketching techniques of their own which I thought might be inspirational. Animators represent time with exposure sheets (aka. dope sheets) through which a large number of information can be conveyed to others. An x-sheet is pretty much a frame by frame representation of time to which notes can be layered on top. Some of these notes typically include information about: dialogue, camera angles, lighting, background and audio. Since timings of around 30 frames per second are standard, each xsheet is just a snapshot of a few seconds. Nevertheless, animators still find them useful as a communication artifact.

Here is what the people at Michael Sporn Animation studios have to say about these deliverables:

You see, when you get used to reading X-sheets, you see them as time. You don’t see the lines, you see seconds and footage, instantaneously. As an animator, you get an overview immediately of the scene; as a director you read the track, how the animator has constructed the scene, and what camera moves are indicated and why.

Here are a couple extra x-sheet samples.

Of course x-sheets work for a passive medium such as film and it’s questionable of how useful they might be for interactive web applications. Nevertheless, I still wonder if some of these ideas can be useful to our field. What other information can experience or interaction designers “layer” on top of the existing deliverables that we are typically accustomed to? Perhaps it would be interesting to combine a user flow representation with a learning curve or effort representation? What ever happened to representing sound in a UI sketch? What about a wireframe referencing an x-sheet sketch for the times when we do use animation? Hey, and what about a user flow with one axis dedicated to representing time consistently? Just thinking out loud.

Credits: Jun Falkenstein

Present-Future Sketching

Wednesday, December 30th, 2009

I just kicked off a new inspirations category intended for samples and techniques from outside the boundaries of the UI/UX/IA profession. I’m looking forward to seek out some inspiration from within other fields in the new year (please continue to send in samples or ideas). For now, here is a first post in this category.

I’ve noticed that my sister who is in her third year of studying architecture does quite a bit of sketching and model prototyping herself. Looking through her work, one thing which caught my attention was the use of a form of sketching which overlays the envisioned building (or neighbourhood) on top of an existing environment. For me, this seems like a superb and smooth way of transitioning from the present into the future. The present in this case is a black and white photograph of the neighbourhood and acts like a clear reference point. The future state of the intended design clearly stands out by means of a coloured pencil sketch on top of the photograph. Occasionally, I’ve also seen her make use of overlaid tracing paper.

To me this seems really interesting and I wonder if the same approach can be used in UI design. When redesigning existing UIs, why not take screenshots of the current present state, import into Illustrator and sketch the future state on top. Eager to try this one day.

Credits: Dominika Linowska