Unlocking Ideas

Notes on the role of exploration in Prototyping and Interaction Design

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Juan Flores Mena

Interaction & Experience Designer
Based in Seattle, WA

On observation & exploration

Deep observation improves prototyping, and vice versa.

Picture a guitarist composing a new song. His eyes are closed while his mind is exploring different rhythms and melodies through the skill of his fingers. His hands dance between previously learned chords, a hard earned technique that improved his capacity to unlock new ideas.

At the same time, there’s people creating music with the help of software, without ever needing to touch a real musical instrument in the process.

There’s something similar going on with designers right now: In order to explore ideas for new interactions, the “chords” to learn are made of variables, methods and functions: programming languages.

Obviously, one doesn’t need to learn to code in order to prototype ideas. Specially when there are a lot of options out there using “no coding required” as their selling point. But just as the guitarist is able to experience the flow of ideas being leveraged by his mind through his hands, a designer can scrutinize the feasibility and practicability of interactions and navigation flows through code.

Debates of “should designers learn to code?” are a waste of time. Let’s just be clear on this: an intermediate level of javascript will lead you nowhere as a programmer, but it will greatly expand your skills and opportunities as a designer.

The key thing here is being able to observe the flow of ideas taking shape. If learning code helps, then great. If having pen & paper is enough for you, that’s OK. But take a moment to close your eyes and experience what’s going on in your head, some of the best solutions might end up buried for relying too much on apps that do all the (limited) thinking for you.

I’ve worked in projects in which Axure or InVision were more than enough: great tools to communicate an idea. But honestly, there’s stuff that needs to be carefully explained as part of the sales pitch, like“ok, let’s imagine that in the final build this button is going to be animated from here to here, and the background will change at the exact same time” or “this scrolls the whole content because it’s just a prototype, but let’s just say for now that the timestamps will be sticky in the final version.”

That’s acceptable, but sometimes we are demanding too much from our partners/stakeholders and they might not picture the same thing we have in mind; hence the discussion falls short without anyone noticing it.

That’s why I‘m constantly looking for more options, and yes, Framer Studio offers some real power!

When we talk about high-fidelity prototypes, usually we mean it just as “high-fidelity UI”, but Interaction Design keeps evolving, and it’s time to stop cheapening the “high-fidelity prototype” term, as it should now englobe the triad of UI, motion and interactions, for the sake of bringing better discussions between designers and developers, to raise the bar in our industry, and to keep unlocking new ideas.