Microcosmographia by William Van Hecke

Write Think Write Write

Microcosmographia xxx: Write Think Write Write

Microcosmographia is a newsletter thing about honestly trying to understand design and humanity.

Sketching is the cental activity of design, but it doesn’t always have to be sketching pictures. I really like roughing out text outlines to make sense of a complicated problem. In this approach, once you understand what you want to make possible, then you can worry about drawing a picture of it.

An approach I’ve lately found to work well for improving a software experience involves separating the experience (what users see and do) from the mechanism (what is actually going on in the software). It goes like this:

Write about the old user experience — Presumably you’re trying to improve the software because there is something wrong with it. What are the problems? What do people want to do that they can’t do? What’s confusing? Where do people make mistakes? Give up and try another product? Maybe even give up on solving their problem at all? Write it all down.

Think about the new mechanism — Now that you’ve thought about users, think about your team and your process. You’ve already got some infrastructure in place; anything you implement must build on that, or at least be careful of the amount of it that you tear out and replace. So think about how you might make the thing work better. Don’t commit to writing anything about the mechanism, yet. Just think about it, to put in mind what a realistic solution might look like. A user experience should not expose the underlying mechanisms of the software, but now you’ve at least considered how the thing might work behind the scenes.

Write about the new user experience — Now write about how it should work for a user. Take each point of confusion or frustration from the old experience, and describe in detail how it should be better in the new one. If you come up with something that doesn’t fit with the mechanism you thought of in the previous step, write it down anyway.

Write about the new mechanism — Now you can write technically about how the new thing should actually work. Try to reconcile the new user experience you wrote down with the mechanism you thought of. If they’re in conflict, the UX has to win. It’s already written down! So try to describe a mechanism that supports the UX, even if you have to adjust it from what you originally imagined.

I find Write Think Write Write to be helpful in making sure that you consider how the experence and the technology fit together before deciding what to do, while giving more weight to the experience.