Wednesday, May 19, 2010

joking aside

I rather like using real-world, but made up, examples in prototypes, wireframes, mockups and other user experience bit and pieces. I think it provides a reviewer with a content familiarity that means they are not distracted by confusing 'Sample 1, Sample 2, Lorem Ipsum 7' style placeholders. I mean, are those labels important, or is a reviewer expected to try and read a bit of Latin to get some context around the content blocks I've scattered around? Much easier to use a few scannable labels and text areas to allow a reviewer to filter and forget, rather than expect them to somehow instinctively understand that the drop-down list of 'Attribute 1' to 'Attribute x' that you've presented them with is just to suggest an interaction style and that the data isn't important. Just ignore the data. No, it isn't actually going to say 'Attibute 1', that's a placeholder. Well, it will probably be 'Edit', or 'View' or something. Look, we're getting away from the purpose of this review. etc.

However, there is another reason to use real-world, but made up examples, which is not directly out of the usability engineering manual. Its where you put the jokes. That's not to say the placeholder text for the latest portal home page prototype for your financial services client should start with 'There was an Englishman, an Irishman and a Scotsman...', but there is a little bit of me that wants to leave the occasional blipjoke lying around for anyone determined enough to look at the 3pt type in the sub menu of the fly-out on page 17. Its a bit like that bloke in Blade Runner leaving a little origami joke in a abandoned lift shaft. It doesn't matter if you miss it, but there's a nice little subtext to be discovered if you want to.

It goes back to my final year usability engineering presentation at university which included that Framemaker clip art of people with no faces, and all I could think of doing to lift the tedium of my Jakob Nielsen thesis was to add a speech bubble which said 'I've got no face'. At that point in the presentation proper, I left it unreferenced, projected on the wall, as I wittered on about interaction models for process management application interfaces on UNIX, and I saw the sideways glances to each other of my tutors and the slight curl of their 'snapped to geometry' mouths and I knew they'd discovered it. They sat so far forward in their chairs from that point on that I could see the labels in the necks of their C&A shirts. I knew I'd got a first.

Actually, I cocked up my computing maths module, so I only got a 2:1, but hey, who asks about your degree once you've finished it? Anyway, back to the jokes, for this morning I came across a rather nice one, which prompted me to blurt all this nonsense. If you take a look at the Thunderbird 3 Features page, there's a little example image of what those evil phishermen get up to and how Thunderbird protects you from it. What I rather like about the example is who its protecting you from. Correct me if I'm wrong, but someone had a little smirk putting that example together.

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