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Where’d the wireframe go?

User experience designers are very comfortable in the land of architecture diagrams, user flows, and wireframes. We love our black-and-white drawings that specify interaction. And this is a problem.

One of my key realizations from last week’s UX Week 2008 conference was how no one talked about such things. Instead, conversations about the act of design had one of two loci - putting pen (or pencil) to paper (or whiteboard), and creating live prototypes in the form of the final delivery.

So, with respect to the former, we had Leah’s UX Team of One talk, where she uses hand-drawn illustrations and talks about sketching, we had Mark Baskinger’s “Drawing Ideas: Quick Sketching for Interaction Design” workshop, we had Michael B. Johnson from Pixar talking about how important it is for Story Editors to “draw fast”. As user experience evolves, and we think about interactions that happen not just on a PC screen, we’re needing to be freer and looser when we come up with ideas, which means sketching, lots and lots of sketching. Whether it’s the sketchboards that Brandon and Leah taught as part of their workshop “Good Design Faster,” or the video Jesse made to explain the Aurora interface, facility with a pen is crucial.

On the other end we heard a lot about prototyping experiences. Jensen Harris, in his session The Story of The Ribbon, talks about how early on in the development of what became Office 2007, they were making live prototypes so that they could really appreciate the *feel* of the software. Michael B. Johnson, in my interview with him we posted on the blog (and he reiterated this on stage), “if you’re trying to build a prototype that you want use as a blueprint, it should exist in the same medium as the final product.” Basically, specifications are not close enough to the real thing to communicate what it’s like to actually use something, and we need to just build stuff and feel how it works.

So, where *did* the wireframe go? I think the role of the architecture diagram, user flow, and wireframe belongs very much after the fact, after we’ve sketched and prototyped an experience. Those are tools to document what has been agreed through sketching and prototyping. They are not the best means for solving challenging design problems.

Speaking of sketching, we’ve noticed that a couple of attendees (Ty Hatch, T. Scott Stromberg) have put their sketchnotes of the event up on Flickr. Cool!


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