It’s a different world, not just a different medium

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Like print, the iPad (and other digital tablets) are great for displaying text and images. And that, is pretty much where the similarities end. So it’s time to stop trying to have our cake, and eat it too when designing and developing content for this and other digital mediums.

Back in the early days of web development the Holy Grail was a visual, WYSIWYG editor. People thought we just needed better layout tools, and so we got products like NetObjects Fusion, PageMill, GoLive and countless other products with camel-capped names. Before these products, web development was pretty much a text editor and Photoshop.

Fast forward to today and no serious developer is using those tools. Ironically, we are pretty much back to the old way. However, the text editors have gotten to be more sophisticated.

The visual, layout-oriented editors turned out to be nothing more than a band-aid. Eventually you realize things like;

  1. Digital isn’t static. Users can change its form whether it’s resizing fonts, scrolling, and moving windows around. Content becomes a fluid, moving target.
  2. Visual editors enabled us to make tweaks to fit the design into the form. Since the end form can change most of those tweaks won’t make a difference.
  3. Consistency is the wrong goal. Realistically, no one reads both the print and the digital edition of a story. They don’t need to be alike, they need to be the best version of their form.
  4. We mistake nostalgia for the old form as a user requirement. Every medium has it’s own value proposition and affordances. They’re great for some things and awful for others. Early adopters figure this out right away, while others lament the passing of the old guard. Eventually everyone moves on.
  5. We’re working between different worlds not just different mediums.

The lesson here is embrace the differences the new platforms afford us. Sure, we’ll need a transition strategy. But you are going to have to learn something new to survive, just like going to a foreign land. Let’s move on. The perfect tool isn’t coming. It’s already here. If you want proof, just look at how many great tablet user experiences exist today.

Consensus now, or argue later

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I have worked on a lot of products in my career and peoples’ ability to balance logic and emotions is woefully inadequate. People approach product design and development as if it were just a series of approved steps. It’s not. Design evolves. It should start from a very logical place and morph into something emotional. The key to a successful design is managing that transition.

The time to be logical is in the beginning, before anyone has had a chance to see anything. Use this time to build consensus, and not just about goals and objectives. Think ahead of the emotional responses you are looking for – from the team, the stakeholders, and especially the end users.

Don’t move forward with the design process until you’ve done this, or you’ll be sorry. As people start to see things, the design becomes more tangible and their reactions more visceral. Unfortunately, most people can’t articulate their emotional responses, especially when their expectations aren’t met.

Achieve consensus around the emotional responses you are looking for, and be specific. Do this upfront and don’t show anyone anything until everyone agrees. Having a common language around emotions will enable you and everyone else involved to communicate more effectively as the design process evolves.