30 August 2007

NED12 Usability

An important aspect of good graphic design is creating an interface that is visually appealing and intuitive - interesting to use without having to think too hard about it. It's all about the audience:
Graphic design creates visual logic and seeks an optimal balance between visual sensation and graphic information. Without the visual impact of shape, color, and contrast, pages are graphically uninteresting and will not motivate the viewer.

Visual and functional continuity in your Web site organization, graphic design, and typography are essential to convince your audience that your Web site offers them timely, accurate, and useful information. A careful, systematic approach to page design can simplify navigation, reduce user errors, and make it easier for readers to take advantage of the information and features of the site. (Lynch & Horton 2001)

There is quite a difference in opinion in how usability and graphic design are intertwined on the web, as discussed in Usability Experts are from Mars, Graphic Designers are from Venus and Usability is not Graphic Design. The web site of well known usability expert Jacob Nielsen is described by the University of Greenwich as "inelegant".

Some of the ways graphic design support usability, a walk through arranging information and analyzing graphic design.

Some interesting comments by Anne Harris in Building for Usability. She suggests instead of creating a plain vanilla looking site by building down to the lowest common denominator, we aim high and build in the ability to scale down. Makes sense.

29 August 2007

NED12 How to critique

After the process of experimentation it is a good idea to critique, or evaluate your work - it forces you to view your work objectively and assess how well it meets the project objectives.

Robin Landa provides the following checklist to refer to when evaluating your design solutions:

Part I: The Project
  1. Restate the goal or aim of the project – in your OWN words. Do this to make sure you understand the problem you are setting out to solve.
  2. Did you fulfill the goal you were supposed to achieve? Did you miss the point of the original problem you were trying to solve?
  3. Is your solution appropriate for the audience or purpose of the project you are working on? For example, are your colors childish or corporate?
  4. Is your solution appropriately executed?
  5. Are you using a suitable visual hierarchy of information? Will your audience know where to look first, second, and third?
  6. Does your solution communicate the intended message to your audience appropriately? You can ask people to tell you what message they are interpreting from your design.

Part II: The Process
  1. Did you do any research? If so, how did you use it? Should you have done more?
  2. How many thumbnail sketches and roughs did you do before you created your comp? How much time did you really think about the problem?
  3. Did you experiment outside of your comfort zone? Or did you stick to your area of strength?
  4. Did you make any false assumptions about what you could or couldn't do? Or did you take a positive approach that you could do anything if you really tried? It is very important to experiment and build your confidence in designing. Try flipping, stretching, skewing, speckling, etc
  5. Did you really allow yourself to become involved in this problem you were solving? Did you use your imagination and feelings? Were your feelings personal or removed?
  6. Were you too judgmental? Did you give yourself a chance to be creative? Were you patient with the project and yourself? Don't be so hard on yourself that it makes you afraid to take chances.
  7. Did you take chances? Were your solutions innovative? Did you dare to be different? Or did you do what most people would do? One way of determining this is to compare your solution to others? How many other people reached the same conclusions?

For critique exercise, some inspiring designs:
www.patagonia.com (DI) - a simple, clean looking interface with lovely huge wildlife or landscape photographs, lots of white space giving an impression of space, simplicity. Browsing the navigation bar there is quite a lot of information available on the site, but it is cleverly designed so as not to confuse or overpower the visitor.

spanish-portuguese.berkeley.edu (DI) - another clean, clear look. I love the typography on this one. There is a LOT of text, but it has been presented in a decorative way so as not to be overpowering or boring.

www.crocs.com (DI) - This is a very bright and funky interface, which I think says a lot about the product - it is fun, colourful fashion. At the same time it is clean and simple, easy to navigate - allowing focus on the product.

And some poor designs (featured on webpagesthatsuck.com):

Basic principles of design from Digital Web, a Flash site to check out www.thefwa.com (courtesy Jo J.)

28 August 2007

NED12 Graphic design basics

Well it's week one in a new study period and I'm looking forward to the fresh start, although I had some initial apprehensions about this unit because design has never been one of my strengths. Hopefully the theory we cover here will give me more confidence.

In the first reading we are told that to learn to design, we must think like a designer. This involves problem solving, asking questions, research and experimentation. So it's not just about making things look pretty!

Some points on experimentation and turning doodles into designs:
  1. Think with your mouse or pencil in your hand. Doodle until you've found some interesting visuals. Then try sketching them into small thumbnail sized drawings. It may seem frustrating at first, but you can't just think about how you are going to design something. You have to experiment with a range of ideas – and not just go with the first one that pops into your head.
  2. Choose three of your best thumbnail sketches and turn them into roughs. Roughs are sketches that are larger and more refined than thumbnails. They help you visualize your ideas more realistically. If you use tracing paper, you can combine your sketches to create interesting composites that might solve your design problem. If your sketches aren't working out, go back to develop others from your collection of thumbnails. Once you are satisfied with some sketches, don't hesitate to wait a day or so before moving to the next step.
  3. Choose your best rough and turn it into a comp, mock-up, or prototype. A comp, mock-up, or prototype should look like the real thing. It should look extremely clean and accurate.

(Landa 1996)

27 August 2007

NET12 Dropout

In a previous post I described how I barely managed to hand in my second NET12 assignment. Things steadily degenerated from there, and by the final week I was way behind and hadn't even started assignment three. I just hit a wall halfway through the study period, and it was all I could do to complete NED11. It's disappointing, but I just have to get over it and move on. I'll give NET12 another try next year. Geez I hope I pass NED11!

22 August 2007

UNE to act on spate of plagiarism

A report on VillageVoice.com.au (22 Aug, 2007) that the University of New England in NSW has detected a spate of plagiarism amongst theses submitted over the last few years for an IT masters program, and the students involved could be stripped of their degrees.

Notably the theses were all written by international students. Although the report doesn't state where the students come from it is apparent there are cross-cultural factors involved. A search on Google reveals there is much comment on the issue of cross-cultural plagiarism, and it is also the subject of several academic studies.

The report states the students were part of a program run by a commercial partner of UNE. I would hope as well as making a fair decision on what action is taken against the students, that UNE also considers the role and actions of its commercial partner in making students aware of the issue.

18 August 2007

Nearing the end of SP2

Fellow student Kathleen sent me a sticky note on Facebook - "Hang in there - SP2 is nearly over!". Very welcome words, this has been the shakiest SP for me since my first enrolment. I really don't know how they do it, these other students who take on four subjects at once. I took only two, but after this SP I'm going back to doing one at a time.

5 August 2007

CafeScribe - textbooks 2.0

This is a new service that has a lot of potential, although there is not a lot of content available at the moment I can see CafeScribe really taking off as perhaps another Facebook, its focus on students.

It offers e-book versions of university textbooks for download, at reportedly half the usual print price, providing the opportunity to save some money as well as a few trees. Students can also upload their own PDF documents and share notes, add "friends" to their profile and join student discussion groups.

This sharing of notes and documents might raise some issues about collaboration, or breach of copyright if students are sharing published texts. The service does address the latter issue in its Terms of Use but it is yet to be seen how this would be enforced. There have been a few similar sites offering "textbook sharing" which seem to cross the line, but as one author/lecturer remarked, for small time publishers it's probably not worth the cost of legal remedy.

External links:

4 August 2007

NET12 Second Assignment

I completely fangled this one. We had to create an anno-bib using six or more resources for the question we wish to do in assignment three. I left it too late and although I found some good resources, I didn't allow myself enough time to read and assess them. I managed to write at least a brief comment for each one (far short of the required 100 words). Worth 10 marks. Oh well.

As fellow student Spike said with the last assignment - you get what you put into it. Not much in this case!

NED11 Second Assignment

Results back for first assignment - 80%. Tutor comments:
Hi Melissa, you could prolly have a go at doing a 1028 x 768 site these days. I wonder whether 800 wide will look a bit lonely on some widescreen monitors as that seems to be what's happening with many of my older sites. Excellent use of breadcrumb navigation. Clear and consistent navigation. Very nicely researched. Great work! Plus I really liked your layout.

Good point. I have a few strategies to address "skinny" content panels.. but with precise positioning on this site it might be a struggle.

Poor tutor was ill, and our results were delayed. Very kindly gave us an extra week to complete our next assignment, which is very good news for me! I've been able to tackle it at a more leisurely pace and incorporate a little more research.

From wireframe document to design prototype. The subject is fictional, and the choice of colours from a randomly chosen palette at Adobe's Kuler site. Sort of McDonald-ish?

It really is a rather old fashioned layout, next time will aim for something more Web 2.0-ish and make use of ae larger display size.