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Interaction designers use many tools, and we have a vast array of techniques to help us generate and identify potential solutions. We are pragmatic. We apply our skills, and select our tools, based on the problems we need to solve, the solutions we need to communicate, and the people with whom we are working. We often start very low-tech, with pencil and paper, sketchbooks, sticky notes, note cards, and even whiteboards to help us understand, define, and frame the problem. Early visualizations with diagrams, models, and flows help us identify potential directions, missing information, and the most appropriate next steps.
And these early sketches can also help develop consensus about what problems we are solving, and what goals we are trying to achieve. As our designs progress, we typically need an increasing level of detail and fidelity. Pen and paper sketches can capture the concept, but eventually we need to put pixels on screens. There are many design and diagramming tools available, and a growing number of Web-based tools may be used. Choose tools that allow you to work effectively and efficiently. You should spend your time thinking about solving problems.
As long as you're able to capture, represent, and communicate your ideas and design intentions effectively, almost any tool can be valid. Our problems and design challenges are becoming increasingly complex, because technology and people's expectations are changing rapidly. We need to go beyond to simply drawing our solutions, and create interactive prototypes to validate our ideas. We need to see our designs in use, and whenever possible, we should put prototypes in the hands of the people who will be using the interface or device.
There are many tools to help us bring the pixels to life, so choose those that help you best capture the intent and the experience of the design and the prototype. Remember, you are evaluating the design solution; not launching the product yet. When we talked about interaction design as an iterative process, we also said that research and data gathering are ongoing through design and prototyping. There are many techniques for gathering information to help us generate ideas, and make design decisions. We study existing products, we observe people, ask questions based on these observations, and finally, we test prototypes.
Some of the ideas and information come from our own teams as we work together. We brainstorm, we create personas to better understand people, we conduct task analyses to understand what they're doing and how they work, we write scenarios to better understand their situations, and we uncover usability problems with cognitive walkthroughs. Additional information comes from the people who will actually use the interface or device. We need to learn from real people, with real needs, in real situations.
Watch what they're doing, and ask them questions about it. There are various methods of doing this, from ethnography, to surveys, and focus groups. Finally, we can gather information in laboratory like settings, where we are able to simulate realistic situations. We can use paper, or interactive prototypes, to test a design for usefulness and usability. If an interface or device has already launched, we can use data from the Web analytics to evaluate the performance of the current design. We can even compare different design options with AB, or multivariate testing.
This quantitative information can be combined with the more qualitative observations and conversations to help us generate ideas for new solutions, and choose the best designs. Possible design solutions may be discovered at any time. Although we often begin with lower fidelity methods, we don't need to start with sketches, proceed to pixels, then test prototypes. We might start with reviewing Web analytics data on an existing interface or device, and we're often sketching ideas while observing people who are working with prototypes.
Our tools and techniques can be mixed and matched as needed to help us solve the problems at hand. When we expect to move in a linear sequence through the design process, we only restrict ourselves, and make it less likely that we'll find the best solution. So be flexible, choose your tools, and adapt your techniques to help you generate the best ideas, and achieve the optimal design.
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