Friday, April 23, 2010

Albertasaurus poised to rampage through Waterloo

While I’ve known about it for years I only recently visited the Earth Sciences Museum at the University of Waterloo for the first time. I was accompanied by all three of my sons, two of whom had been there before, and we were there with a group of kids with their parents. We saw a presentation on dinosaurs that was engaging, fun, and educational. Millions of years were covered, with museum exhibits of an Albertosaurus and other extinct species illustrating points about how dinosaurs lived. The boys and I learned a new word too, discovering that the Brachiosaurus, as well as other dinosaurs and some modern animals, swallowed rocks to facilitate digestion; the museum has a specimen of such a gastrolith.

Finally, just prior to leaving, my sons led me to the 8.5 meter gneiss monolith, a truly massive slab of rock that dominates a stairwell in the Centre for Environmental Information Technology building in which the museum is housed.

As with other entries in this series, the Earth Sciences Museum makes Waterloo a better place to live — even if the large and extinct carnivore won’t really rampage through the city.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Startup Lessons Learned Conference

Jim Murphy has organized a fun looking event for next Friday, April 23 from noon until 9:00pm at the Accelerator Centre in Waterloo. It’s a simulcast of the Startup Lessons Learned conference happening in San Francisco. From Jim’s event description:

Startup Lessons Learned is the first event designed to unite those interested in what it takes to succeed in building a lean startup. The goal for this event is to give practitioners and students of the lean startup methodology the opportunity to hear insights from leaders in embracing and deploying the core principles of the lean startup methodology. The day-long event will feature a mix of panels and talks focused on the key challenges and issues that technical and market-facing people at startups need to understand in order to succeed in building successful lean startups.

Enjoy the thought provoking presentations and panels from San Francisco, and talk about it with like-minded people here in Waterloo. All that, and it’s free! What are you waiting for? Go sign up!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

They built a faux iPad and they’re going to use it

Speaking of UI prototyping, have a look at how the folks at Omni approached designing for the iPad without having laid hands on one. Not only did they make great use of paper prototypes, they created a non-functional mockup of an iPad to help get a feel for the interaction on a physical device. This reminds me of Jeff Hawkins, founder of Palm, carrying around a crude wooden prototype of the original Palm Pilot as part of his design research into that product.

UI prototypes help explore, share, and validate a design. Going the extra mile to create a simulation of the device on which a software product will be used undoubtedly contributes to a successful design.

Monday, April 12, 2010

I built a ray gun and I’m going to use it

This month’s approaching UX Group meeting, a UX ‘show and tell’ for artifacts developed in support of creating a user experience, has me thinking about UI prototypes.

Creating UI prototypes is an important part of the design process. Whether built using pen and paper, dedicated prototyping software tools, image-editing software like Adobe Photoshop, or plain old html, a UI prototype makes the design concrete and helps to build a shared understanding of what a product’s user experience will be like.

At one end of the prototyping fidelity scale is a paper prototype, which has the great merits of being inexpensive, easy to create, and eminently disposable.

At the other end of the scale is what I like to call a ray gun. What’s a ray gun? To answer that, I’ll go back to my inspiration for this particular metaphor. One of the first science fiction books that I read when I was young was Tales from the White Hart, a collection of generally humourous short stories by Arthur C. Clarke. I haven’t read it in many years, but I have fond memories of it. (I’m not sure how accurate those memories are, though!)

One of the stories, “Armaments Race”, describes a competition between the makers of rival science fiction television programs to create impressive special effects for weapons. The details of the titular armaments race are quite entertaining as each program’s team unveils increasingly realistic simulations of ray guns. At this point I’ll add a warning for those of you who haven’t yet read “Armaments Race” that the next sentence is a spoiler, albeit one that is crucial to the point of this post! The punch line of the story is, in essence, that an actual functioning ray gun with real destructive power is built in the pursuit of a great simulation.

Metaphorically, then, a ray gun is a UI prototype that crosses a line into a functioning product. I have to admit that I’ve built more than one ray gun as a user experience designer. Depending on who you talk to, that’s either a good or a bad thing.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

A busy couple of weeks

It’s been a busy couple of weeks, and I appear to have neglected the blog. Here’s a quick roundup of some of what I’ve been up to.

The most recent edition of StartupCampWaterloo was two weeks ago already, and it was another fun edition with a variety of demos and great conversation. My former Primal Fusion colleague Alex Black showed off the cool stuff he’s been doing at his newest venture, Snapsort. It was fun to see the great progress that he’s made.

Last week I had the great fortune to hear a talk by Alfred Spector, VP of Research and Special Initiatives at Google. Inspiring stuff, and there’s clearly a lot of great work being done at Google in general and at the Waterloo office in particular.

This month’s edition of StartupDrinksWaterloo was last night, and while the free pizza was certainly a plus, it was the conversations and connections that remain the big attractions.

Meanwhile, in between these events and a variety of productive conversations with people, I’ve been chugging away on a product prototype as part of an informal project with some friends. I have to say that the recent warm weather has reminded me of the joys of coding away on the front porch and bringing an idea to life. Looks like I’ll remain heads down on design and prototyping for a little while anyway!