Artifacts to Embody Design Ideas

(class assignment, IMT 540)

Within the design process, scenarios and personas are described as techniques for collecting disparate relevant facts into a cohesive representation of the design situation’s full context and the probable effects of the proposed design upon it. In doing so, they also markedly exclude other possible facts and elements from the design scope to keep them from distracting the process. Carroll (1999, p. 3053) states “The scenario concretely embodies a partial view of the design, and thereby exposes the design to critique.” Similarly, Pruitt & Grudin’s (2003) discussion emphasizes how personas stand as implicit critics of any design assumption or response, giving context for acceptance or rejection more relevant to a successful outcome than the designers’ preference.

Nathan, Klasjna, & Friedman (2007) add an important caveat, echoed less explicitly by Pruitt, about the risk of successfully achieving the wrong goals. As a value scenario extends consideration of possible outcomes beyond the early functional specifications, it makes real some possibilities that designers had not yet considered but should. Personas also encourage a multi-faceted awareness of probable outcomes that helps designers to realize a richly conceived response with the best results and minimal unpleasant surprises for all stakeholders, both direct and indirect.

Pruitt’s discussion of personas reveals a risk of circular determination of design scope, as market research and persona development iterate against one another. Personas emerge from highly detailed market research about project stakeholders, yet they come to play such a strong role in customer service strategies that later market research may focus on those same stakeholders. This potentially self-confirming process risks basing new conclusions on former premises and recreating assumptions rather than exposing them to scrutiny.

My accompanying image represents wireframed mock-ups of five page layouts for a proposed web application intended to serve content needs of water industry professionals active in conservation issues. Created very early in the process, the wireframes embody an inventory of content elements proposed in stakeholder brainstorming. In addition, the page images roughly lay out the elements in relation to one another, suggesting one possible hierarchy of importance and inviting discussion among stakeholders to keep or modify that structure. The wireframes form a nexus for productive social interaction among participants in the design process, helping to focus a rather complex constellation of ideas and possibilities. It gives stakeholders assurance that they’re all talking about the same bits and pieces, helping them to assemble a suitable whole.

Designed Box

One beneficial outcome of the wireframes’ use was a concrete realization of just how many pieces of information the application was proposed to manage. The extreme visual clutter of the assemblage inescapably illustrates the need for simplification and focus, and it gave stakeholders an opportunity to select and arrange components to address the problem. The design eventually executed did substantially reduce detail and simplify the presentation.

Even in their initial form, the wireframes facilitated discussion specifically of content element structure by omitting graphics and substituting lorem ipsum language for real text. This kept the design process from bogging down on premature discussions of eye-candy and details of text within content chunks. They highlight functional possibilities at a simplified level appropriate to the early phase of the design process.

The five screens are strung together in one image only in the context of my professional resume site. This lets me demonstrate familiarity with wireframing, while also showing off CSS skills to display bits of a single image in separate, understandable chunks. This helps me tell a multi-layered story of my capabilities to a potential employer.

Carroll, J. M. (1999). Five reasons for scenario-based design. In HICSS ’99: Proceedings of the thirty-second annual Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences, Volume 3, 3051.
Pruitt, J., & Grudin, J. ( 2003). Personas: practice and theory. In DUX ’03: Proceedings of the 2003 conference on designing for user experiences, (pp. 1-15). ACM Press.
Nathan, L. P., Klasnja, P., and Friedman, B. (2007). Value scenarios: A technique for envisioning systemic effects of new technologies. Extended abstracts of CHI 2007 (pp. 2195 – 2200). New York: ACM Press.