Today we will continue with our small series about using the right tools for different UX phases. We already talked about the first phase “User research and UX groundwork”. In this article we will have a closer look at the second phase: concepts. In this phase it’s all about processing the gained information and make a shiny concept. Let’s start clean and very basic with a good old pen and a sheet of paper:
Pen & paper
For these two use cases I only trust in pen and paper:
- Sort your ideas, scribble the user flow, and do a first sketch. Pen and paper have the big advantage that you can’t get lost in details. You automatically focus on the user flow and the general structure of the UI. It’s more about getting the basics right and really get down to the actual UX challenge than perfectly placing all the UI elements.
- The second use case always takes me back in my kindergarten time and also requires further equipment such as scissors, and sometimes glue. You probably already know what I am talking about: a paper prototype. A simple sketch of an interface drawn or printed on paper. Most of the time you also provide different UI states, e.g. button states or actual screens. With this you can simulate e.g. workflows or do usability tests. For example, we once did a paper prototype to test our planned online help. Using paper interfaces instead of digital interfaces helped the testers to focus on the overall structure and the UI texts. They were not distracted by an unfinished design or possible bugs.
Of course there is no need to draw the screens by hand, but instead you can use a tool to create wireframes. I would like to start with a short definition of the term “wireframe”, as people define the scope of wireframes differently or mix it with mockups. In our daily UX work we produce wireframes that show the main elements of a UI. A wireframe provides information on the main UI elements (which ones are used) and the structure of information (where the elements are placed). All in all it’s a visual description of the basic UI and how everything interrelates.
The market provides a lot of tools to create wireframes, but my favorite one is Balsamiq. With Balsamiq it’s easy to create the first skeleton of your UI. You simply drag elements, such as buttons and dropdowns, into your working area. The workflow is as simple as that, and everyone can quickly start with it. There is no need to read manuals or to do a big testing phase to understand how Balsamiq works. For us this is a big advantage as also our product managers can, if needed, visualize their ideas.
In general I like Balsamiq as it helps to focus on creating wireframes and avoids going into design details. With the simple elements and the sketchy style you can perfectly illustrate where which elements are placed.
In our UX team we use InVision if we want to make our wireframes a little interactive and link different screens to show user flows or do usabiltiy tests. In InVision we import our wireframes, define click areas and then link different screens. To a certain degree this is also possible in Balsamiq, but we prefer InVision for it. It’s easier and has more options. Additionally, InVision can be used to link mockups or screen designs to create a basic prototype. Have a look into this great post from Anne, to learn more about the advantages and disadvantages of InVision and to get some info on further prototyping tools.
Another tool we use in this phase is Atlassian Confluence. It is in use across the whole company as a knowledge base and to communicate internal information. We also have a connection to Jira to link to our tasks (see the first article of this series). In Confluence we publish our UX concepts. We have a Balsamiq integration in place so that we can directly create the wireframes online in the final concept.
The wireframes are just one part of the concept. Along with an explanation of the purpose and the background of the planned feature, we provide information on the single elements and the interactions. Of course we could also just provide our wireframes or prototypes, but for us it’s very valuable to give more information. Not everything can be perfectly displayed in a wireframe. Especially explanations why we’ve chosen a certain approach are important for the product owners and the development teams. The concept is the basis for the implementation tasks and (hopefully) provides all the needed information. If not or if requirements change or the team has ideas to improve the UI during implementation, we of course stay in constant contact with our product owners and development teams.
But the implementation phase is not the topic of this article anymore. Stay tuned for the implementation and testing phase and respective tools!