Axure RP & Adaptive Views: are they worth it?

March 13, 2016

I’ve spent a lot of time in Axure RP recently building a custom widget library to assist a client’s internal UX team during wireframing and prototyping. The library includes over 50 widgets, as per those found in the companies online style guide.

To fit within the teams existing workflow, the client asked for the widgets to be built using Adaptive Views. Despite having used Axure many times before I’ve tended to steer clear of Adaptive Views for several reasons, not least because of the rolled eyes and mixed press it receives from colleagues of mine and the wider user-base online. When experimenting with the setup before, I’ve encountered strange bugs and unexplained behaviours, further reinforcing my beliefs. The following are the top three issues and frustrations I’ve found when working with Adaptive Views (in a .rplib library file) and, where appropriate, any workarounds/’fixes’ I’ve discovered. It’s also worth noting that, judging by the beta release, the following are not resolved in the upcoming Axure 8.

1. Grouping elements to build widgets

Unless a widget is a very simple element (e.g. a button), it will be made of numerous parts. A straightforward text and image widget, like the one illustrated below, is made up of an image placeholder, a h2 and body text.

Widget View (Mobile)

Basic text and image widget (mobile base view)

It just so happened that as part of the widget library I was building, we wanted to include a series of basic ‘text and image lockups’. Each one of these would look slightly different for the various screen sizes. The image below is a rough replica of how one of these widgets adapted across the different views.

Widget across AV's

Widget across Adaptive Views

A widget created and left as these individual parts appears to ‘pull apart’ when placed on the canvas and then moved, as illustrated in the video below.

One would assume the simple solution would be to group the parts of the widget so they stick together in the intended arrangement. However, this does not resolve the issue, as demonstrated in the video below.

The only solution I have found is to put the completed widget into a dynamic panel. Although this is a very straightforward process, it does introduce some minor implications for users of the library. Firstly there is the added time required to edit parts of a widget, such as the body text in our example, because the dynamic panel must be opened to make such an edit. It also means the opening of numerous tabs in Axure which can become very frustrating to work with, and may even start (eventually) to slow the program down.

 

2. ‘Styles’ are incompatible with Adaptive Views

Axure RP has a custom style editor which, in the words of one Axure Developer, is supposed to “give you a lot of the power of CSS without some of the mess”. To an extent this is true. Creating custom styles makes it quicker to make sweeping changes to a number of widgets in one go. Instead of having to go through each individual widget and change the font colour from, for example, black to red, make the amendment in the style editor once and it is applied to all instances of said widgets.

However, certain style properties cannot vary across adaptive views. For example, on the mobile adaptive view I would like my H1 style to have a font size of 29px. On tablet I want this same H1 style to display as 39px and on desktop as 44px. This is not possible with the existing implementation of custom styles in Axure. Instead you would have to create an unwieldy amount of styles to cover the different variants across adaptive views. Take my example above, and assume the same were true of all ‘H’ tags, I would need 18 styles: H1-6 x 3 (mobile, tablet, desktop)!

 

3. Organising layouts across each Adaptive View

This isn’t so much an issue with Axure or Adaptive Views, more an annoying side effect of the feature. Building a page on the mobile base view means all child views inherit the page content. Theoretically this sounds great. In practice the content is typically muddled up and overlapping on the child views. This means time is spent pulling the content apart to reorder it for the larger pages.

In an ideal world, Axure would intelligently recognise the priority of content/widgets on a page and keep this same order on the child views, whilst also adjusting the widget positions on the page to compensate for any dimension changes as the viewport increases or decreases. I’m not suggesting that this would or should mean responsive pages are automatically ‘designed’ by Axure, instead that content is ‘dumped’ on them in a more structured manner, thus making it easier to work with the pages.

One for the future… maybe?

 

Lacking a bit of inspiration?

February 29, 2016

If you, like most people, ever find yourself lacking a bit of inspiration or drive to get up and do stuff, be it work-specific or in a wider sense, then I can’t recommend Gavin Strange’s ‘Graft, craft and being daft’ talk strongly enough.

I was lucky enough to see him present this talk in person at the 2015 Collaborate Bristol event. For those of you who aren’t familiar with Gavin, he’s a Senior Designer at Aardman Animations, the studio most famous for the Wallace & Gromit adventures. Funnily enough as I was writing this I saw an Instagram post about a 4 metre tall Gromit designed by Gavin that is now on display at the Bristol Cribbs Causeway Mall until April 2016… how cool is that!?

One of the key themes of Gavin’s talk related to autodidacticism (no, me neither) which is the act of self-education. Having the passion, drive and interest to keep learning, regardless of subject or whether it has a ‘useful’ application, can be one of life’s most satisfying pursuits.

So if you’ve got 30 mins to spare and need something light-hearted yet thought provoking to watch, this is the video for you. Let me know what you think about it in the comments below.

You can also read more about Gavin’s talk and the 2015 Collaborate Conference on the Nomensa blog.

What do doors have to do with UX?

February 28, 2016

Answer: lots.

http://www.vox.com/2016/2/26/11120236/bad-doors-human-centered-design

A really nice (and short) video about the history of human-centred design as told by founding father Don Norman. As explained in the video, it was the bad door, light switch and faucet designs he encountered in England that led Norman to write his seminal book ‘The Design of Everyday Things’.

I guess I owe these rubbish doors/switches/taps quite a bit of thanks, because it was Norman’s book that first got me interested in the idea of user-centred design and opened up another way of thinking.

Is Twitter in trouble?

February 14, 2016

There have been several articles about the impending demise of Twitter recently following it’s disappointing financial results and stalling user growth.

From a purely selfish perspective, I hope these reports are wrong. I love Twitter. Of all the social media platforms I use (or have used) it’s the one I enjoy most.

Whilst Facebook is good for seeing what friends are up to and Instagram is a really clean way of seeing visual content, I use Twitter as a launchpad to current, interesting and engaging content from both friends, organisations and idols.

The informality of Twitter means it’s acceptable to follow anybody, whether you know them or not, allowing you access to such a wide range of opinions and content. I think this is one of Twitter’s biggest draws; the fact that there is always something new to find and explore. It’s an easy to skim, collated stream of everything I’m interested in.

The micro-blogging, timely nature of each post is a further attraction. I find Twitter to be one of the best sources for the most recent news, especially as it means I can see how multiple sources are portraying an event. It’s also an interesting way to discuss and debate (something the UX community  does a lot) ideas in an open forum. Although the 140 character limit can be frustrating on occasion, it does promote that important skill of being able to craft and communicate arguments in a succinct manner.

Yes Twitter has it’s issues, and I’m not suggesting it shouldn’t evolve and adapt to improve. However, I think the team behind Twitter should think really carefully before changing some of the fundamental features that made it such an innovative and unique platform.

P.S. I don’t think Twitter should take too much heed of certain industry commentators on their current situation. Here’s what Dave Lee, a BBC Technology Reporter, recently wrote:

Big changes are needed, but the remaining 307 million active users may not like it. Perhaps it’s time to ignore users and just get to work.

Surely this would risk a further fall in the number of users?

My first Nomensa blog post

November 13, 2015

Hi there!

Just a quick one to relay some exciting news for me personally – my first blog post for the Nomensa website has been published and is available here:

http://www.nomensa.com/blog/2015/design-principles-cinema-ux-consultants-tale

If you have a spare 5 minutes give it a read. Any thoughts, comments or questions are welcomed, either here or on the actual post itself.

Objectified

January 5, 2015

A while back I wrote about the documentary Helvetica, a film about the design of typefaces produced and directed by Gary Hustwit. I recently came across another of his films, Objectified, which looks at our relationship with manufactured products and their designers. Like Helvetica, Objectified features in depth interviews with some of the worlds most renowned designers who discuss their creative process and thoughts on the evolution of design. I’ve picked out some of the designers key points (and my favourite bits) below.

Dan Formosa & Davin Stowell (Smart Design)

Clients often come and say this is our user and give the average; for example “woman, 30 years old, 2.4 kids etc” and we say, thats really interesting, but we don’t care. If we are to design a great product, then we need to know the extremes – the strongest/weakest, oldest/youngest users and so on. If we get it right for these guys then the “middle” or “average” user will take care of itself.

Dieter Rams

Dieter outlined his “10 principles of Good Design”:

Jonny Ive (Apple)

When designing with his team at Apple they look at different attributes of the design… for example, the materials they can use, the form connected to these materials, and how a user will be able to physically connect to the product (e.g. for an iPhone everything comes through the display). He also discussed the difficulties, and rewards, of designing something using as few parts as possible – the Macbook aluminium unibody enclosure for example. For the Macbook it was more like designing a process that enabled the product to be made from 1 or 2 parts than simply designing the end product.

Ronan & Erwan Bouroullec

Design is about creating an environment where people feel good – and recognising that when people make their choices in selecting designs/products, they’re asserting themselves.

Marc Newson

Anger and dissatisfaction play such a motivating role in what we (designers) do. I want to have things that don’t exist yet, that you can’t go out and buy… My job as a designer is to look into the future, its not to use any frame(s) of reference that exist. A key aim is also making things that are non-disposable… that don’t get dated. Marc mentions how watching the moon landing was a huge event for him – it was almost like looking at the future, and this is what he tries to accomplish in his work.

However, this does not mean abandoning everything from the past and present… People have a lot of memories which help give layers to an object – so I use a familiar craft, or something from a familiar culture, or something where you see a human scale; something sewn or iconic.

Karim Rashid

Why do we feel we need to keep revisiting old archetypes? Take the digital camera, their format & proportion – a horizontal rectangle, with the circular lens, “capture” button etc all in the same place/style as old analogue cameras. These analogue cameras had a form that was defined by the films used. We don’t use films anymore, so why do we still use the form designed to house films? There’s something almost perverse about how we live, its like we’re afraid to admit we’re in the 3rd technological revolution. I have an iPod, mobile phone and laptop and yet I’ll go home and sit on my little wood spindle, whittingale-like chairs. It’s strange – its like me working on my computer and then having to go out – what am I going to do, go get a horse and carriage… no!

David Kelley (IDEO)

If you can’t get your GPS thing working in your car, there should be a riot because they’re so poorly designed, but instead they’ll sit there and think “oh, I’m not very smart, I can’t make this satnav work”. I like setting people the test of designing something that gets better with use (his dads leather briefcase…. it will get passed on and gets better with use), there’s very few things that don’t degrade with usage.

Bill Moggridge (IDEO)

Like David Kelley, Bill really believes in the concept of wearing in, instead of wearing out a product. “Create something where the emotional relationship gets better over time, where a user becomes more fond over time.”

Rob Walker (New York Times Magazine)

The film ends with part of the interview with Rob Walker, a journalist who writes about design, who explains his really interesting view on how we relate to products and designs today.

“If I had a billion dollars to spend on a marketing campaign, it would be urging people to make the most of the products they already own. We’re so focused on the new developments that we don’t have space in our brains for the stuff in our attics, or scattered around the home. If you had 20 minutes before the hurricane arrived to pack up the items most valuable to you you’d choose those that have associated memories, or some meaning. You wouldn’t be thinking, “that ‘x’ got a great review on that design blog”, because it doesn’t mean anything to you as a person – it doesn’t reflect your story and who you are.”

Finally, a few other interesting points raised by the other designers in the documentary:

For more information about the Objectified documentary visit the official website: http://www.objectifiedfilm.com/about/

Car Stereo Controls

Despite passing my test 3 years ago I’ve only just got my first car and because I haven’t had the opportunity to do a lot of driving in the past I’ve only recently noticed how badly designed car stereos, and in some cases, the whole dashboard are. Common sense would suggest that anything a driver needs to interact with whilst driving the car should be designed to be as self-explanatory, learnable and intuitive as possible.

There is one control in particular on my Renault Clio that gets me every time, because it is different to the same control on every other stereo I’ve used. The flaw with the control relates to how we as people perceive certain actions. If I asked you to move the playing CD onto the next track, what icon would you expect to see on the “next track” or “fast forward” button? I’m guessing you’d think of one like in the image below; a button with a horizontal arrow (or two) pointing to your right.

Fast forward / back buttons

Fast forward / back buttons

However, whoever designed the stereo in my Clio decided it would make more sense to place the “forward/back” buttons in a vertical position (see image below). Despite being labelled with the usual icons (the double arrow), because the positioning is different to how we expect to see these controls, I still struggle to remember which button moves on a track and which goes back. (If you must know “Up” moves to the previous track whilst “Down” moves to the next track – I find this to be as confusing as the vertical positioning in the first place; for me “Up” should move the track number up one, i.e. going forward and not back!)

Renault Clio Stereo Controls

Renault Clio Stereo Controls

Annoyingly, the buttons that occupy the horizontal spaces on that round middle section seem rather redundant after first use. As far as I can tell their only purpose seems to be for setting your 6 favourite radio stations and allocating each one of the buttons labelled 1-6 so they can be quickly found again. Although I appreciate not having to search through the many frequencies to find one of my regular radio stations there is surely a better way to allocate them to a number button that would allow the fast forward/back buttons to go in the correct position!

Another thought I had whilst writing this post was where car dashboards and controls will go in the future. Touchscreens? Maybe, but I’m not certain this would be the best form of interface for a driver to control… unlike a passenger who can commit their full concentration to using the interface, a driver must quickly flick between it and road. I have a feeling touchscreen interfaces would invite more bad design; unnecessary screens and buttons that require user input (even if this amounts to tapping an icon) just to achieve a simple goal or overcomplicated symbols to make full use of a “HD colour” display. For me though the major problem is the lack of physical, or haptic, feedback. At least with todays tactile controls a driver can partially look and partially “feel” for the right button, especially if familiar with the general layout of the buttons. Removing this “3D front” and replacing with a flat touchscreen means the driver is totally reliant on looking.

Hack A Banana, Make A Keyboard

So you may be thinking I’ve gone mad with a title like that, but bear with me!

I recently stumbled across this wonderful video of a TED Talk by Jay Silver (an inventor/creative/teacher/eccentric and so on) that completely blew my mind! I won’t spoil what he’s come up with and demonstrates in the video but I will say that I completely agree with him when he says that we, as adults, really limit our creativity because we think we know what everything in the world does (or should do). As we grow we become constrained to only seeing how things are “supposed” to work, not how they could work. Take a pencil for example, give one to an adult and they’ll probably draw something with it… give it to a child and they’ll come up with tens or hundreds of other brilliant, unique ways in which it can be used. I guess the best way to unlock this thinking in adults is to give them the freedom and time every now and then to just pick an object and mess with it, without constraints or fear of being told what they’ve done is a stupid or pointless idea.

Anyway, enjoy the video, and I hope it makes you think twice about the way things [could] work… I certainly did.