Continuing with my ongoing education in design, I focused recently on typography and layout. And I went through two Lynda.com courses to do it.
Those courses are called Learning to Set Display Type and Learning Graphic Design: Set Perfect Text. They are both taught by John McWade.
The classes John McWade teaches are exceptional because he is such an excellent instructor and quite good at explaining the concepts he is trying to get across. I recommend both of the classes I mentioned above, as well as other classes in the Lynda library by this instructor. Here are previews of these two courses.
Neither of these classes include exercise files. But after watching both of these courses I was inspired and motivated to try my own type projects, to put his advice into use.
Type Rules I Learned
It sounds basic, but I wasn’t aware that some fonts have additional glyphs that can be used instead of the regular font. Bookmania is an example of a font with tons of extra options for letters.
I also learned about justifying text, using hyphenation and spacing to help words fit. I also learned about using hair-spaces and thin-spaces, and using drop-caps.
Actually, the class doesn’t go into how exactly one would create a dropcap. So, I turned to YouTube – or as I like to call it, the second internet – to find another tutorial.
And I found one. This one is actually by another Lynda instructor, Anne-Marie Concepcion. She makes it look so easy.
As soon as I learned how to do this, I wanted to try it right away. Voila!
Type Stuff I Made
Now we’re getting to the fun part. First is the dropcap I made after watching the YouTube video.
In this one, I was able to move the text corners so that the text flowed around the dropcap R. Looks cool.
Projects with Images
I like to collect stock photos – I know, it’s a bad habit – because I think that someday I’ll use one for a project. So, I end up with many stock photos that I don’t use. (Sometimes I use them here on my blog.) Well, I was finally able to put a few to good use.
All Dressed Up
The first is this nice “Man in a suit putting on a tie”. I wasn’t sure what I was going for. Maybe a book cover or magazine spread. But, I think what I have is some sort of flyer concept.
This image uses Bickham Script Pro, which has tons of fancy glyphs, and Didot. Didot has a certain fashionable sense to it, and I think it works. I wanted this to have a bespoke aura about it, yet still masculine. The italicized Dido, and the extra swirls from Bickham Script Pro help to get that across.
New rules of computer technology
In this case I wanted to use justified type, as John McWade had shown in his course. I stuck with Minion Pro, because it was easier to work with. And I added in a few random elements – a few numbers, some quotes, some pronouns – just to incorporate some of the lessons from the course. One thing I wasn’t able to replicate was keeping the subsequent letters from the word in the dropcap closer than the other words on lines 2 and 3. InDesign just wasn’t cooperating for me.
But I did enjoy this project. BarryW90-Black and Thin are highly stylized, very technical-looking fonts. I was inspired to find a new stock photo for them. Something computer-oriented.
In my next post, I’ll talk about a few more projects in InDesign, and another type/logo(!) project I made for a fake company I invented called Apex Travel.
At some point, I came up with the idea that reading 10 articles on one topic was a good idea. Well, I only made it to 7. But these 7 articles, on LESS and 404 pages, were very helpful for me so I’m still glad I read them.
The Beyond User Research presentation, from World Information Architecture Day, got me thinking about a related article called The UX Audit: A Beginner’s Guide, from Usability Geek. My other blog post about World IA Day was long enough, so I didn’t mention it then. But, the similarities in the article and the presentation were close and I wanted to mention it.
Alternative Methods for User Research
Unlike the article, the Beyond User Research presentation isn’t a strict guideline. It doesn’t mention any particular research methods to follow. It shows that a UX team can schedule different research methods within a UX research plan. The presentation mentions at least two types of data sources: web metrics and user research.
Web metrics examples included: search query data, logs from a call center, data from analytics reports, voice of the customer reports, CRM applications, and so on. A web analyst might try to reduce the volume of calls to call centers. A user researcher might want to know what most people are calling about. Rather than use this information as a web analyst would, a UX team can use this data as UX research.
UX Audit Methodology
The UX Audit article, being a guide, does mention several methods, including:
Review of business and user objectives
Customer care data
Compliance with UX standards
It suggests using, for example, conversion metrics this way:
Conversion rates or sales figures: If the premise of your site or app is eCommerce, sales or download figures can be useful to a UX audit. For example, here at Justinmind, we measure how many blog readers download our prototyping tool and from which particular posts…
It breaks down an audit into individual steps and mentions 3 goals that should be clarified before getting started: audit goals, time limit, and resources.
There are a lot of resources in this article, including links to Usability.gov, and even a sample UX audit report. There’s definitely a cross-over between these two information sources.
The article warns that a UX audit can be time-consuming and expensive. For an external team, which they recommend, it states that a UX audit can cost “upwards of $1000 for a couple of days with a one-person team; the full monty of a UX team coming in for four weeks and providing in-depth, goal-orientated insights could cost up to $10,000”. It presents a UX audit as an official stage of a design cycle, and should be completed early on.
The presentation, meanwhile, makes the case that teams can incorporate a variety of user research methods as an ongoing part of their UX activities. Rather than conduct a full-fledged UX audit, for instance, a UX team could schedule one of these methods periodically. The research cost, in time, money and resources, depends on the method and the goals.
Quoting a high price tag for a usability study could be a limitation for teams eager to get started on conducing user research. The article mentions that a UX audit is most beneficial at the beginning of a project. Even with everyone knowing that, the high costs might dissuade a team from getting behind the research. What sounds like a boring activity might push them to just start designing.
And it’s a rare opportunity to have the time and resources to publish an official report, like this. There’s a lot of other work to do.
Instead of treating UX audits as a costly, one-time activities, why not use UX audit methods throughout the year?
These two information sources can work together as complements. The article is very informative with specific guidelines. But the presentation shows how to ‘break the rules’ a little, by conducting research on a regular schedule. This allows a team to keep up with their product throughout the year. A custom approach, such as doing repetitive quick hits seems like the best option.
In any case, I recommend taking a look at the UX audit article. It links to many useful usability resources and websites providing analytics data.
I was very interested in learning more about the artist after seeing that he uses a combination of video installations, animation, and live action. As seen in clips in the article, he’s also not afraid to explore the difficult history of his country. As MoMA puts it, “Dealing with subjects as sobering as apartheid, colonialism, and totalitarianism, his work is often imbued with dreamy, lyrical undertones or comedic bits of self-deprecation that render his powerful messages both alluring and ambivalent.”
This can be seen in the following video, which is embedded in the text of the article. It’s like a New Orleans marching band, set in a lyrically dystopian world.
When I looked up more about the artist, I was surprised to find that he was not ethnically African, because as the video shows he is using black subjects in the artwork. In my experience, it’s not that common to find an artist using the experience of another ethnicity in their artwork, although it does occur in decorative arts, photography, and performing arts.
I suppose performing artists do this because music, dance, and theater are somewhat universally accessible for all people. Photography is a little different, in that the photographer has to take a documentarian or voyeuristic point of view, as opposed to being part of the art. Wikipedia explains that Kentridge is Jewish, with attorney parents that fought against apartheid. Perhaps he felt like both an outsider, voyeur-documentarian and part of the struggle in South Africa.
What I find revealing is how well Kentridge’s use of African subjects shows his strong empathy and understanding of apartheid and this difficult period of South African history. He says, in Pain & Suffering, shown on art:21, that artists use the pain and suffering of others for their work.
Wikipedia explains one of his animation methods: “in all of his animated works do the concepts of time and change comprise a major theme. He conveys it through his erasure technique, which contrasts with conventional cel-shaded animation, whose seamlessness de-emphasizes the fact that it is actually a succession of hand-drawn images. This he implements by drawing a key frame, erasing certain areas of it, re-drawing them and thus creating the next frame. He is able in this way to create as many frames as he wants based on the original key frame simply by erasing small sections. Traces of what has been erased are still visible to the viewer; as the films unfold, a sense of fading memory or the passing of time and the traces it leaves behind are portrayed.”
The video above doesn’t show one of this animation style very well, but his style can be seen in other clips. He also uses stop-motion.
Aside from animation, he uses live video and different masking and editing effects in his work. Here’s a video of him, from the Danish museum, the Louisiana, interviewing himself:
I won’t be in Copenhagen anytime soon. But if you’re interested in learning more about William Kentridge, there are examples of his work online.
Louisiana Museum of Modern Art
Of course, there is the Louisiana Museum that is currently holding a William Kentridge exhibition. It looks like an interesting exhibit. The site is in Danish, but Google should be able to translate.
Wikipedia also has plenty of information about Kentridge, from his bio, to listing his films and many exhibitions around the world. There are also external links, if you’re interested even more information about this artist.
Video 3 and Activity 3 are all about What if? Coming up with a story scenario, by asking “What if?”, the Pixar story tellers do a great job of putting popular movies into What if statements. For instance, what if our toys were sentient and could come alive? This is Toy Story.
Part A. What would the What if statements be for my favorite films?
What if unicorns still existed and could only be seen by a few people?
What if a couple accidentally adopted a girl, instead of a boy?
What if the King of England lost his mind?
What if the new Emperor of China was just a little boy?
The exercise is a little hard with true stories, but I guess they still work.
Part B: Come up with 3-5 What if stories
I have to admit something embarrassing. I created a list of about 30 what ifs about a week before I wrote this – but somehow, I lost them all! So I had to come up with new ones. I needed some inspiration.
Inspiration: Sanjay’s Super Team
For inspiration, I watched a short video called “Sanjay’s Super Team”. One of the Pixar storytellers mentions the movie. “Sanjay’s Super Team’s” What if question is: What if an Indian father could show his son, who loves action figures, what he sees when he’s praying? It is a pretty impressive video and it’s only about 7 minutes long, so no excuses!
My What ifs?
Sanjay’s Super Team did inspire me. I didn’t come up with as many ideas this time around, but here are a few:
What if my cats could be real people?
What if pets could give their owners advice about life?
What if there was a world where your imagination rule everything?
What if my lost What if stories came true?
What if there was a land of lost and found, where every lost item lived?
What if my search to find my lost stories took me on a quest to an imaginary land, where my cats came along as my companions but were turned into humans?
Turns out, I’ve got cats and lost stories on my mind!
Lesson 4: World and Character
Part A: Identify the main characters and worlds in your three movies.
The Last Unicorn
World: Medieval world of magic. Most action is on the road or the woods, and then in a castle. Main Characters: Unicorn, Magician, Cook, Evil King Connection: I definitely connected more with the unicorn, but sometimes with the magician.
Anne of Green Gables
World: Small yet idyllic town in the 1800s. Main Characters: Anne, Marilla, Matthew, Gilbert, Donna Connection: Definitely connected with Anne!
Madness of King George
World: England, English palaces, late 1700s. Main Characters: King George, Dr Willis, Equerry Secondary: Queen, Lady Pembroke, Prime Minister, Lord Chamberlain Connection: I connected with the equerry, who’s just trying to do the right thing.
Part B: Mix characters and worlds from a different stories
Combining worlds and characters gives pretty interesting results. The first time I did this exercise, I used The Last Emperor instead of the Madness of King George. So I got Unicorn + Forbidden City combinations. The combinations that make the most sense would be Anne of Green Gables + The Last Unicorn. Helping a unicorn find other unicorns would be Anne Shirley’s life’s dream. I could also see the Evil King thriving in the Forbidden City, or the mad King George doing pretty well in the medieval world of magic.
Part C: Pick your favorite What if statement. Imagine a possible world and character.
Going back to my favorite What if statement, I guess the last one is the most obvious. A main character would be someone socially anxious who spends a lot of time living in his head. My cats as people would be about 11 years old. One cat would be an energy-filled girl. Not that different from Anne of Green Gables, Pollyanna, or Pippi Longstocking. The other cat would be a girl that’s a little bit overweight. She would have a pleasant demeanor, but also be easily frightened. Both of them, would at times be absentminded and always ready to take naps. But they would be very loyal and supportive.
Final: Storytelling Advice
The final video in this lesson features Pixar storytellers giving advice to new storytellers. The thing that I connected with in this video, is that getting good takes practice. Even if you think you’re not getting better, what you will see over time is a stack of drawings and papers that show your progress. Sometimes what you think are mistakes are not mistakes. They are signs of the search for the right story.
It’s going to take some time for me to think about Part D of Activity 4: What would my world look like? Until then, I’m going to keep thinking about storytelling inspirations, and remember to keep chipping away at it.
I don’t know when the next section in the Khan Academy course will come out. But, in the meantime, I will post more articles about storytelling.
More artwork from Sanjay Patel, the creator of Sanjay’s Superteam, can be found at Ghee Happy. It’s just cool.
This is the third and final post in my series of posts about a project I completed as part of a Skillshare class on iOS design. This part of the course was about visual design, via a mood board and final mockups.
The instructor showed several inspirational examples of mood boards, including her own example for the class. I will admit at this point that this was the second time I went through the course. The first time was a quick pass to understand the process. In that first run-through, I wanted to take part in the mood board part of the course. I used my experience on another project to create 3 mood boards. You can find those mood boards on Coroflot. (Guess this I’ll make a blog post about that!) I had a lot of information before starting and it was easy to make different visual styles. So I expected that this part of the project would be exciting.
I knew going in that I was inspired by my friend’s wedding program. But I quickly learned that, aside from that, I did not have enough information about the users or client’s goals to differentiate between one mood board and another.
My first set of mood boards included 6 different color combinations! I felt ambiguous about each one. Here’s an early one where I used a lot of blue, and clips from library websites.
Returning to Personas?
At this point, I thought back to the persona exercise and I decided to revisit this part of the project. I still believe that personas that are never verified with user or market data are useless for objectively informing user workflows and interactions. However, unverified “characters” can be helpful for putting together mood boards. (Although even then it’s good to have input from the client). Initially I had 2 characters in mind, but I ended up with 3:
a working-professional commuter
a skateboarding middle-schooler
Here are the mood boards I put together. These were completed in Illustrator:
I selected the retiree character’s mood board to develop. I liked the color combinations best. The instructor suggested using a UI kit from Teehan + Lax. (Looks like their site is down, at the moment!) I thought it was a beautiful UI kit that was ugly to use. My CS5 version of Photoshop may have been to blame, but using the UI kit was more difficult than I expected. I also looked for UI kits on other websites, like Behance and Dribbble. There are many of these types of UI kits for iOS online. For example, here’s a list called “Best IOS8 / Apple Watch / UI / GUI Kits 2015 – Free Downloads“, found on jackrabbitmobile.com. Who doesn’t love free?
Anyway, for the Teehan + Lax UI kit, getting layers from one psd to another felt almost impossible. I ended up finding my own components or cutting out elements I’d made in Illustrator for the mood board. I was able to use the phone background and shadow, thankfully. Maybe they intentionally created a difficult to use psd, to encourage designers from using it. Given that I can’t even get to the UI Kit today, that might be the case.
For the work, I used layer comps to create the different states of the app I was recreating. It was helpful when exporting. I could probably use tips on proper layer naming conventions.
Here are the results:
Remember what it looked like before?
The last part of the course was a prototyping section. I decided not to participate. Maybe I will take part in the prototype portion of the course, when I create more screens.
Outcome of the app
I like the final outcome of the app. I’m sure I’d get lots of good feedback from team members on small details here and there, if I had been working with others. With a team, it’s possible would have taken on more work, too. I wanted to get this done in about 1 week so I kept it simple.
Ha, well…I didn’t like working with Photoshop. That might be due to my working with CS5, but I almost quit and started using Illustrator. I can see now why Sketch has taken off so much. Photoshop is great for image editing, but it seems pretty clunky for visual design. But, I understand why it’s still used – on a team, it’s helpful to get consensus. I like putting my little web projects together straight from Sublime Text, but on those projects I’m the only critic.
Anyway, it was a fun project. I recommend the course and doing a fun, independent project like this to anyone looking for a creative outlet.
It seems like every few weeks I see a tweet, essay, or article mention about storytelling. Many of these articles seem to be written with the idea of using the concept of a story to convincing others to trust your business idea.
Storytelling is a very old art form that serves that has also served as a cultural communication tool. I find it somewhat disappointing that “storytelling” has been co-opted for the purpose of selling a business plan. As a kid who got lost in stories but gave verbal book reports that started off strong, but finished off weak, I could actually use some tips at telling a good story. One thing I don’t see from these posts is info about how to tell good stories, or what the components of a good story are. I am cynical that these storytelling articles are really about storytelling.
How to tell a good story
To learn how to able to tell a good story, I should learn from the best, right? Enter Pixar in a Box, The Art of Storytelling, a lesson series by Khan Academy. Can you believe it? One of the best contemporary storytelling companies on the planet is giving free lessons on how to tell a good story.
Available right now is Lesson 1: We are all storytellers. This lesson is broken down into 6 videos and 4 activities. The first few videos explain what story telling is, and then a few people from Pixar talk about their own inspirations and how they got started.
Here’s a breakdown of the videos and activities/exercises:
Intro to Storytelling
Your Unique Perspective
Exercise 1: Expressing memories
Your Favorite Stories
Exercise 2: Your three favorite films
Exercise 3: What if?
World and Character
Exercise 4: Characters & worlds
Yes, but will studying how to tell a story actually make me better at storytelling for business?
That is a good question. I don’t know about putting video clips from Finding Nemo into presentations, but I am going to participate in this course. I mean…who doesn’t want to learn from Pixar? This is going to be fun!
Hold on, here we go! Next stop, knowledge!
Activity 1: Expressing memories
The first activity is about using written words, drawings, or telling a story to someone to describe a vivid memory. This activity follows a video in which Pixar artists talk about their own experiences as storytellers. They’ve obviously been doing this for a long time.
I chose to draw an emotion.The instructions say to use only lines and shapes to draw the memory. Here is a link to examples of shapes that describe emotions. As you can see, it’s OK to be abstract.
The overall emotion to the memory I chose is sadness. It’s a strong emotion. I chose a very simple sketch. Hopefully the isolation of sadness comes across.
You may think that the Pixar folks, being animators, stuck with sketches and expanded on this initial start into memory and emotion….
But no! They went on to explore inspiration!
Activity 2: Desert Island stories
Part A: Identify the three films that you would take to a deserted island….
Part B: Why do you think you connected with these stories? Come up with at least one reason for each.
Part C: What, if anything, do these three films have in common? How are they different?
Gosh, oh gosh, oh gosh!
This was the question after a video with Pixar storytellers talking about stories that made an impression on them as children. What would I pick? Why did I connect with them? Here are some movies that came to my mind and why I think I connected with them:
I used to watch this over and over. Given the unique drawing style, I came to realize later that this was the start of my appreciation for anime. It also has great songs by the band America.
Why I connected: I loved the animation and the fantasy setting – and the songs! I like that it’s a story about innocence…or, rather, the loss of innocence. It is a movie about about growing up. The price of knowledge is the loss of joyful ignorance. I like that it rewarded the goodness in the characters, and the creatures, even scary monsters, get justice. In this movie, almost everyone gets what they deserve.
I’m not sure any girl of the 1980s survived without crossing paths with Anne of Green Gables. This was a great story about imagination and youthful spirit. Sometimes when I watched this, I would get so lost in this story that I didn’t notice when my friends actually showed up…and left.
Why I connected: It’s a movie about growing up, about using your imagination and being creative. A big part of the story focuses on Anne trying to fit in, even though she’s different. And, I especially liked that friendship and goodness were so important in this story. (Who can forget Matthew?)
As an adult, I watch this often. I think it’s a funny story about how the king loses his mind, yet instead of treating him like a true patient, the pressures of court life still require everyone to behave like nothing’s wrong.
Why I connected: This is a movie I return to again and again, when work gets overly hectic. I use it to find the humor in what can be the absurdity of everyday life. It helps me laugh when trying to do what’s expected doesn’t seem to be working, because what’s expected is wrong or absurd. As a fan of history, I appreciate the historical context of this movie, and as an Anglophile, all the great English actors.
Also based on a true story, I really enjoyed the historical context in the movie. The change of the emperor over time in embracing new ideas and people is both entertaining and tragic.
Why I connected: I again love the historical context, and this movie introduced me to Asia. It came out in 1987. My father took me to a “Son of Heaven” museum exhibit at COSI in Columbus, Ohio, that was all about imperial China. We looked at real artifacts, such as the yellow robes the emperor wore, as well as bells, and other artifacts from China. I even got to buy music – a cassette tape! I also appreciated that so much of the story was about growing up and losing innocence.
…Wait! There’s something missing!
I got so caught up in thinking about my childhood that I forgot to write what I thought was the connection between these films. So:
2 of these films were books before they were movies
2 of these films are based on historical events
3 are about growing up
All four have a thread about losing innocence
They all focus on the importance of friendship and companionship – something that’s so easy to forget.
Having written all that, and having reminisced about my childhood, this gives me something to think about for a while. So this is a good place to pause until jumping back on the story wagon.
The next part of Lesson One on Storytelling is called: “What if?”
In my last post, I discussed a project I had been completing as part of a Skillshare class. This is the second post in that series.
As I left off in my last post, I skipped over the persona portion of the course. I did return, in part, to personas but not until the visual design.
I ended up doing about 3 pages of sketches. My documentation shows how I worked out smaller interaction elements, like navigation elements.
This is the part of the workflow is where the interaction design and user experience start to come together. The instructor chose to update the Southwest app. The visual design looked great and I liked her workflow overall. But there was a piece of this workflow that was missing – and that was competitive research. There was little in the way of looking at related apps to get an idea of what people might experience from something similar.
It’s easier to become efficient with a new interface if it contains familiar elements. This is one reason why I research competitors. I’ve also found that using real life examples helps convince others on the team that the product is actually feasible and can implemented as designed.
I did some looking around on my own, finding screenshots from different library websites. The Audible, the Apple Music and Podcast apps, and SoundCloud were helpful. It may be confirmation bias, but this competitive research was far more useful than the personas I didn’t create.
The difference in the wireframes for this project, and projects I’ve done at work, is how she used a vertical layout to present her work. I thought that was pretty smart. And, though it wasn’t specified in the course, I included annotations because I wanted to include ambiguity. (Normally I’d include more.)
For the actual wireframes, I created 2 layouts. I noticed when reviewing the other apps that there’s often a large image in the center of the screen. I felt that this was unnecessary, especially on the playback screen. My solution was to reduce it and focus on the controls.
The next and final post in this series will be about the visual design work I did for this project.
As I mentioned in a previous post, I recently completed a Skillshare class on iOS design. The focus of the course is to take an existing app and update it. Part 1 of the 3-part course is all about UX design. The instructor takes students through planning, personas, user journeys, and wireframes. Here is the work I did for Part 1.
The app I selected was Axis 360. This is an app that allows people to checkout audiobooks and e-books using their library card. It’s an app that I’ve been using quite a bit and I wanted to focus on improving it if possible.
The first thing I did was take screenshots of the existing app.
The course then begins by creating a high level list of activities someone can complete on the app. I focused on listening to an audiobook. The instructor used sticky notes, so I did too.
From there, I created a high-level user journey. This includes a screen with a list of checked out books, a book detail screen, and a playback screen.
At this point in the course, the instructor introduced personas. In this case, these were proto-personas. I admit that I did not complete this part of the 3-part course.
My philosophy is that personas are only useful if they can be validated by objective data. This includes providing completed personas to a client, or by interviewing potential users. In my case, I had neither a client nor potential users. Unvalidated user needs, demographic data (age, marriage status, gender), and interests (stock-car racing) would be a work of fiction and thus useless in directing the experience. So, I skipped this step, although I came back to it during the visual design phase.
In the next post, I’ll talk about sketches and wireframes.