December 9, 2014
My good friend Erik is an artist. He calls his work “drawings,” but the pieces are created with a combination of acrylic paint, pencils and brush pens. Over the past few years I’ve observed his process and engaged in many discussions of the finer points, iterations and adjustments required to achieve a successful drawing.
When it comes to creative endeavors, I’ve always struggled with a blank canvas. Erik’s process appealed to me not only because it caters to this struggle, but also because it’s a good metaphor for a variety of design and development projects. There’s a very good chance that if you’ve hired someone to build you a new website or design you a logo, you aren’t even sure where to begin — or what to expect. Thankfully, we have tools at our disposal that recognize the blank canvas inherent to this type of work.
To begin a drawing, Erik will use a dry brush, crumpled paper or fingers to create chaotic, colorful and arbitrary strokes of acrylics on his blank canvas. Throughout this step, he begins to visualize less-abstract significance in the chaos using his imagination. Shapes and subject matter are roughly sketched with a pencil and iterated until a cohesive image appears on the page.
This is where my analogy begins: When we begin the planning-and-research phase of a development project, we begin by taking an inventory of existing content, brand identity assets, needs assessments and any other potentially useful items. From a narrow view this inventory can appear chaotic — not unlike Erik’s initial brush strokes — but with teamwork, collaboration, expertise, insight and imagination, we begin to formulate our own cohesive image of how the interface may look and operate. Our team repeats this step until a finalized digital wireframe is ready to be approved.
Meanwhile, my analogous artist is inking his lines and adding depth and shading so that he can then wash color over the remainder of the piece. This necessary step brings the image off the page and allows the viewer’s eye to focus on the subject matter and see with clarity the intended subject or message. By the same token, building a digital prototype brings the wireframe to life and provides a way to measure with confidence the effectiveness of an interface. Is our call-to-action clear and emphasized? Are user menus intuitive? Does the experience fit intrinsically into the framework of our brand identity?
Inconsistencies and unnecessary elements are eliminated through iteration, testing and discussion in order to achieve an effective user experience. The end result is an enjoyable result that exceeds expectations: a wicked dude, wielding a sword, fighting a rad dragon.