2015: The year of the interactive prototype

Will 2015 stand out as the year interactive prototyping tools became a standard part of design?

Some of these aids have been around for a while. But all of a sudden they are everywhere. There’s a major picks and shovels gold rush on to create the latest must-have accessory for digital designers. And these are not your grandparents’ Visio.

A touch of the artist | iPhone’s cross platform back button

Great products never stop evolving.  But new features don’t always need trumpets and fireworks to roll out.  They can appear quietly, unannounced.  If they’re intuitive, no directions are needed.  People start using them, and they work.

There’s a nice example of this on the iPhone. I don’t recall what version of iOS brought us this little gem, but I have only recently started using it.  It’s the ability to go back, after tapping on a notification, to where you were.

The subject is your subject line

How important is the subject line of your email?

It’s like a gateway drug to the message.

“Do I have the time to see what this is?” the customer wonders, scanning through hundreds of new emails. To decide whether or not to go any further with yours, she evaluates the subject line. And when time is scarce, a subject line like “The world looks different through a Nikon” is likely to win out over “Some exciting news” or “Re: Order no. 69887″.

A subject line is not an afterthought or place to try out auto-generated product codes the customer does not understand. It should be at the very heart of your email campaign. It is one human speaking to another – the elevator speech you’ve been waiting to give. It is the invitation to the reader to go one step further, to come inside and read your message.

Always allow multiple ways in | Intertwingled: Information Changes Everything by Peter Morville

I’ve just read the latest from one of the founders of the information architecture discipline. If you know O’Reilly’s famous “polar bear book” on IA, then you know one of its authors, Peter Morville, who has been an active force in the IA world for over 20 years. Morville has many interesting things to say about our places made of information, not the least of which is how important culture is in determining our response to said environments.

Peter Morville's new book.
Peter Morville’s new book.

With Intertwingled: Information Changes Everything, he’s at it again. There are so many large, complicated items to grapple with here. So instead of tackling one of those, I’ll call out a simple, straightforward nugget of gold Morville mines that all designers would do well to remember: Always allow multiple ways in.

I know in my own work on taxonomies, site navigation, and menu structure, there is a temptation to want to “get it perfect” and come up with the ONE TRUE WAY. The belief here is that a) there is ONE TRUE WAY; and b) with enough research and work, we can discover it.

But Morville says don’t bother with this approach. People are different, and it’s impossible to come up with a single orientation that will work for everyone. Instead, we should always allow multiple simultaneous ways in to our information structures. Like a crowd entering a busy train station from all sides and doors, our audience may be coming at our interfaces from diverse mental, physical, and metaphorical angles. So we should set up prepared for all comers.

In the rustic Methow Valley, the latest responsive web design

If you’re a fan of Washington’s Methow Valley, one of the reasons you probably go there is to “get away from it all”. As Seattle and the rest of the planet grows and grows, this beautiful North Cascades drainage along the Methow River, and particularly the upper area around the “town” of Mazama, is like the land that time (or at least the developer’s shovel) forgot.

Partly that’s because it’s a long way from anywhere and hard to get to. But human vision has also played a part keeping the Methow grand. If you’re familiar with over developed western valleys elsewhere, you may be a bit shocked when you see the Methow for the first time and realize what could have been in those other places. Clearly something is different here.

But while this east side valley may be quiet and unbuilt, the local technology is anything but quaint. Businesses are becoming more sophisticated in their online presence. Marketing and tourism are all important to this remote economy, and the way you reach your people is primarily in the virtual realm.  For more and more of us, that means on mobile phones.  And a good mobile experience usually means responsive design.