October 11, 2006

...Learn TDD with Codemanship

Beware Of UI Prototypes

I think it was Spiderman's uncle who said that "with great power comes great responsibility". UI prototypes - like storyboards and screenflows - can be very powerful tools indeed for visualising the features of a system.

But we must beware. Using UI designs to explore requirements has some obvious pitfalls, not least of which is that it can be very difficult to imagine another, perhaps better, solution once our minds have been infected by a possibly inferior prototype.

Think of a book. We read the book, and build a picture in our minds of what it looks like: the characters, the places, the clothes and so on. Then someone makes the book into a film, and we're usually disappointed. And if we see the film and then read the book, we can't help but see everything the way the film portrayed it. Once we have a picture in our minds, it's hard to shake and we tend to see other interpretations - other solutions, if you like - as somehow inferior.

The risk with UI prototypes is that they dig us into a hole where ideas are set in stone far too early in the design process. We lose vital opportunities to explore and experiment with other designs.

One way around this might be to have several people create several different interpretations of the same features. That way the users (and us) don't get too attached to one patricular take on the design, and we all feel maybe a little more free to try other ideas.

Another way might be to avoid UI prototypes for as long as we can. But how, then, can we communicate with our users? Certainly written specifications are inadequate for the task, and UML models won't help us much, since users won't make head nor tail of them.

There is another way of visualising usage scenarios that doesn't depend on written specs, on UML models or on UI prototypes. I'm calling it Tactile Modeling, and it's by far the most important discovery I've made since lunchtime. Since we're celebrating analysis and design this month, I'll be posting a brand new tutorial on this technique later this month, so please keep an eye out for that.
Posted 14 years, 2 months ago on October 11, 2006