Why Design Documentation Matters

At Cooper we design products that empower and delight the people who use them. Design documentation is integral to our process because it communicates the design itself, the rationale for decisions we made, and the tools for clients to carry on once the project wraps up.

Good design documentation doesn’t just specify all the pixel dimensions and text styles and interaction details (which it must). It can also tell the high-level story, stitch together the big picture, and get internal stakeholders excited about the vision. One of our primary goals as outside consultants is to build consensus and momentum around the design—documentation can speak to executives as well as developers. After all, we’re usually leaving a lot of the hard work of design implementation on the client’s doorstep, and building great software starts with getting all the stakeholders on board.

Design documentation should create trust and provide consistency for future iterations of the design thinking. We believe it’s important to give the rationale and context behind design decisions. Answering the “why?” of design helps new team members get on board down the road, prevents wasted effort later when old questions get rehashed, and provides the starting point for prioritization and roadmap discussions. This facet of the process is too often overlooked or omitted for expediency, but trust us: clients will thank you later.

The best design documentation gives the client a unified design language, a framework for talking about the design, and a platform for improving the design over time. Static documentation is quickly becoming a thing of the past—we’re always looking for new documentation techniques and delivery mechanisms because we want to equip our clients with the most approachable and actionable information possible. Delivering design documentation marks the beginning of the client’s journey, not the end.

Easy Win: Photoshop

Being an interaction designer means you’re aware of improvements that can be made in the things you use every day. This one is about the crop tool found in the most popular digital image manipulation software, Photoshop. Hey, Adobe! Here’s an easy win.

Easywin01.png

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Pair Design and the Power of Thought Partnership

From Lennon & McCartney to Holmes & Watson, popular culture is teeming with examples of creative pairs. When we think about famous creative partnerships like Eames & Eames, or creative problem solvers like Mulder & Scully, what’s special about them?

In addition to their individual genius, what makes these pairs so effective (and what we’re talking about when we advocate Pair Design) is that these are true thought partnerships, in which each person has…​

  • shared ownership of what they’re creating
  • shared responsibility for making it great
  • shared risks and rewards if they succeed or fail

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The Creative Habit

Most of us follow a daily routine. We awake at about the same hour, maybe hit the snooze a few times, grab breakfast and a shower, dress and hit the road. Usually it’s the same road — and the same mode of transportation, with maybe a beverage of choice on the way, and then in the door at work at roughly the same time, with all the familiar tasks awaiting.

Some might find this a seriously limiting portrait, a sort of Dilbert Dullsville, unconducive to creative production or flights of imagination. But actually, inside that predictable routine lies genius, if you know how to tap it. For many of the great artists, writers and designers, this very kind of structure proved key to their success.

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Inside Goal-Directed Design: A Conversation With Alan Cooper (Part 2)

We continue our conversation with Alan Cooper at Sue and Alan’s warm and welcoming ranch in Petaluma, CA, which, in addition to themselves, is home to sheep and chickens, a cat named Monkey, and a farmer who works the land.

Part 2 brings us up to present-day, and discussions around the applications and fundamentals of Goal-Directed Design that support its success at Cooper and beyond.

From Theory to Practice­­

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Designer’s Toolkit: A Primer On Using Video In Research

In our last post, we explored a variety of methods for capturing user research. Yet a question lingered—how can you effectively use video in your research without influencing the participants?

Here are some tips and tricks to minimize the impact of using video in research engagements. Keep in mind, these tips are focused on conducting research in North America—the rules of engagement will vary based on where you are around the world.

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Designer’s Toolkit: A Primer On Capturing Research

You’ve been preparing for your research—recruiting, screening participants, devising schedules, testing discussion guides—and now you are deciding the best way to capture your research. But how? If you’re busy scribbling down notes, you might miss a sound byte. If you film the interview, you might unknowingly influence the conversation. These are all serious considerations. Properly capturing and documenting each research encounter prevents spending time and money on data that sits solely in the memory of the researcher.

How you choose to conduct and capture your research will greatly impact your outcomes, and ultimately your client outcomes. I’m going to highlight a variety of research capturing tools, and then we’ll have a future post about how to effectively videotape research. Both the type of research you’re conducting and its purpose will help you decide which capture method is best.

Before we begin, I wouldn’t recommend going into research alone—you will struggle to document while maintaining a conversation. A good structure is to have a moderator and a note taker, that way one practitioner can focus on conversing with the participant, while the other focuses on capturing what is occurring.

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What you’ll like for dinner

Or: How persuasive design saved my lunch

While I was on route to Amsterdam for IXDA14, something struck me about the way the dinner options were presented to passengers. Here’s what was happening. The flight attendant delivered the menu in the same way to each row:

“Would you like barbeque chicken, beef strip, or vegetarian?”

I’ve been a vegetarian for twenty years now, and I’m a little sensitive to these moments. At first, my identity hackles were raised. “Hey!” I thought, “Why wouldn’t it be ‘Chicken, beef, and spicy red-beans-and-rice?’ We eat food, not a category of food! Those options should be presented as equals because we’re equals…Blah blah blah…ramble ramble…”

Fortunately, as is my habit, I caught myself mid rant, and tried to consider what was good about it. And sure enough, on reflection it’s the exact right way to present these options. Cooper’s been paying more attention to persuasive design of late, so let me explain, because that’s exactly what’s going on. The flight attendants are using choice architecture to keep vegetarians fed.

You see, one of the problems that vegetarians encounter when eating buffet-style with omnivores is that when there is a veggie option present, if it’s too good, there’s a risk that the omnivores will eat all the veggie stuff before we get to the front of the line, leaving us poor suckers with empty plates and sad-trombone bellies.

If the attendant presented “chicken, beef, and spicy red-beans-and-rice,” that’s exactly what’s at risk. An omnivore hearing that might think, “Hey, I’m a huge fan of spicy red beans and rice! Cajun spice is awesome. Bam! Let’s kick it up a notch!”

But when hearing a menu consisting of two easy-to-visualize options and the category of “vegetarian,” omnivores are more likely to be turned off by that third option. “Vegetarian? Screw that. I’m not a vegetarian. I like my meat heaping and with a side of meat. Meat me up, attendant, with the finest, meatiest meatings you have!” They’re less likely to ask after the actual contents of the vegetarian option, as they’re busy thinking about whether they’d like chicken or beef.

Meanwhile the vegetarians (even if their delicate identities are a bit bruised) are relieved when they hear that their needs have been considered. The unlucky ones in the very back of the plane (who failed to arrange a special meal in advance) might even get to eat.

descriptive option categorical option
omnivores Might choose :) Less likely to choose, still :)
vegetarians Less to eat :( More to eat :)

It’s not foolproof, of course, but I’ll bet if we could do a plane-by-plane comparison of “vegetarian” vs. “red beans and rice”, the categorical option would result in much more of everyone being happy. And that’s one of the powers of well-done choice architecture.

CascadeSF UX Night: Planning for Responsive Layouts

Recently at Cooper, we updated our website with a focus on responsive web design. Working with Cooper’s other great developer, Elisha Cook, I learned a lot in the project, though at times it seemed my head would explode trying to figure out solutions to various problems presented by responsive web design, so when I heard that CascadeSF was hosting a presentation on this very topic, I was eager to attend and see what I could learn.

CascadeSF is a collective of San Francisco-based web designers and developers who meet periodically to keep up-to-date on design trends, standards, and techniques. On July 24th, the presenter was Pauly Ting, a Lead UX Designer at Tigerspike SF, founder of Feedia, and co-founder of TwoCents. The MeetUp was hosted in the offices of the residential real estate site, Trulia, just a block away from the Cooper studio.

Digital Evolution: From Fixed to Responsive Layouts

The focus of Pauly’s presentation was on planning content for responsive layouts. Responsive layouts present new challenges for organization and delivery of content. We are accustomed to the page-based approach to organizing content, largely because that is how content has always been organized and delivered. For example, the printing press has a fixed width and height based on the page size. The Gutenberg Press revolutionized content delivery in the 15th century by organizing content as hand-set letters and graphics arranged in rigidly determined rows that could then be mass produced. It was a new paradigm, taking book production from the hands of scribes locked up in monasteries, and distributing books more widely, making education of the masses possible for the first time, which of course changed the world.

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