Thinking outside the boxee

Yup that’s right. First they had the idea to get the Internet on your TV (remember WebTV?) then it was all about TV on the Internet (Hulu, CBS, CNN, etc. ) and now we’ve got TV on the Internet put back on your TV (boxee).

For those of you not already in the know, boxee is a multi-platform media center with a 10-foot interface for aggregating video, music and photos that exist both offline and online. Others have failed in this space, but the boxee offering pushes the paradigm of content distribution and consumption in some interesting ways.

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A unified approach to visual and interaction design

During my seven years as a visual designer at Cooper, I’ve learned that designing for complex digital products and services requires input from a number of unique perspectives to be truly effective. Furthermore, each of those perspectives must be effectively integrated throughout the lifecycle of the design process to achieve results that are consistently and predictably usable, useful and desirable.

In the course of managing, consulting and teaching, I have not only had the opportunity to define and discuss design process with my colleagues here at Cooper, but with countless practicing designers from organizations all over the world as well. Unfortunately, my observation has been that even when all of the right people are involved, more often than not, the various design disciplines opt to compartmentalize the problem. In other words, they divide the project into an interaction design problem, a visual design problem, and an industrial design problem. Each of these problems is then tackled separately, and the resulting individual design solutions get bolted together at the end. It’s a Tower of Babel situation, where huge opportunities are lost because the team fails to work together to come up with an innovative product solution and to employ a single, unified design language.

A fractured process makes for a fractured user experience

In practice, people view their experience with a product in a unified way. For example, when a user interacts with a cell phone, she doesn’t experience the phone’s behavior separately from the visual and tactile presentation of that behavior on screen and through the physical form factor. Why, then, don’t product teams consider these aspects of the experience in a unified way when designing solutions?

Of course, we know that many digital products and services represent extraordinarily complex, large-scale design challenges. A significant degree of rigor and a rational approach to methodology is required to bring together the diverse perspectives of the different design disciplines in a way that results in optimal creative abrasion, rather than destructive friction that threatens to bring the entire process to a grinding halt(1).To this end, let me share with you a few of the insights that we’ve gleaned from practicing a truly convergent approach to design.

(I should note that in an attempt to keep the length under control, I’ve focused this article on the convergence of interaction and visual design for products with defined hardware, like PC’s or handsets. We’re looking forward to sharing our experiences with integrating these two disciplines with industrial design in a future article.) Read More

The next step for community design

Community design centers are non-profit organizations that provide high quality design to underfunded and underserved areas of a community. They’re usually established as extensions of colleges and universities, and they’re intended to positively impact the surrounding community though design — usually through the physical build.

Back when I was pursuing my degree at the University of Cincinnati’s college of Design, Art, Architecture and Planning, I worked for one, with the intention of helping to revitalize one of the more depressed parts of Cincinnati. The focus was the design of a farmers market, an initiative that included contributions from Architecture, Planning, Industrial Design, and my own discipline of study, Graphic Design. The end result of our work is a vibrant, exciting environment, and this experience got me thinking about ways in which my current discipline could take part. Read More

Book review: Web Form Design

I view Luke Wroblewski‘s latest level-headed work titled Web Form Design as a book nobody really wanted to write, but somebody had to do it. Luke makes the point that in more and more cases, it is web forms that stand between your customers and the products and or services they want from you. Anybody who has spent any time at all filling in the blanks knows firsthand that there is plenty of room for improvement here.

Personally, I appreciate that the book begins with “Forms suck.” (I appreciate it because it’s true). The rest of the book sets out the terminology, principles and patterns necessary to design forms that suck less. Finally, for those of you who have spent more time than you care to admit arguing about label alignment, you’ll find a reasonably well considered analysis of the various options that should put an end to the squabbling. Read More

Branding and the user interface, part 2: tips on new media branding: behavior and color

In the April 2003 newsletter, we introduced a new series devoted to exploring the opportunities and challenges related to branding technology-based products. The first installment presented a handful of basic, high-level brand concepts. In part two of our series, we will take a closer look at how branding differs between traditional applications, like printed corporate collateral, and emerging new media applications, such as software user interfaces, with a focus on behavior and color. If there are particular topics you are interested in, feel free to submit them, and I will try to address them in upcoming articles.

Why is Software Significant to Branding?

Everyday, more and more customer touch-points traditionally facilitated by human representatives are instead administered by computers. This is the case even in the most common experiences. For instance, when you check out of most grocery stores, whom do you pay? You may think you’re paying Patty, the human checkout clerk, but I bet many of you are actually sliding a card through a computer (you know, the one that asks, “credit or ATM?”).

These days, you can no sooner operate your business without computers and their software than you can without people. Your company may sell auto parts, vacuum cleaners, or fine wine, but if you have a Web site or B2B e-commerce system, you’d better believe you’re in the software business, too. Because of its increasingly significant impact on your company’s brand, the quality of software’s behavior is a crucial factor in your organization’s success.

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Branding & the user interface: part 1

This article introduces a new series devoted to exploring the opportunities and challenges related to branding technology-based products. The first installment develops a foundation for future, more detailed discussions by introducing several key brand concepts. Forthcoming articles will present a variety of brand-related topics including the differences between traditional media and new media, how to solve common branding challenges, and several case studies that characterize successful technology-focused brand strategies. If there are particular topics you are interested in, feel free to submit them and I will try to address them in upcoming articles.

What is brand?

In tangible terms, brand is a name, a symbol/sign, and typically a system of fundamental visual, verbal, and written characteristics; however, the true essence of a brand extends beyond what we can see and hear. The significance of your company’s brand is also defined by the sum of its interactions with people.

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