The Many Benefits of Annotating Your Wireframes

April 5, 2020

A useful article by Andrew Smyk on the Adobe XD Ideas blog.

Through my experience, I’ve found that using notes and annotations in wireframes often helps communicate your design decisions—which is critical in such an early phase of a project! Annotations can bring clarity to UX intentions, help clients understand the broader context/overall picture, aid with handoff for development and copywriting, and much more. Plus, notes can be an excellent resource for your future self, reminding you of details if you pick up the project later on.

Without annotations, wireframes can become confusing to others. For example, a client may not have the full understanding of what a particular section is there for, or how it will align with their business objectives. Although, as the author states, it’s still important to walk through your wireframes:

Wireframe annotations are for providing context and communicating project concepts and ideas to stakeholders. More often than not, wireframe annotations are not read over in detail. Be prepared to speak to your annotations and answer questions from the client and project teams.

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Making templates for sitemaps and wireframes

February 21, 2020

Earlier this year, I began work on sitemap and wireframe templates for our team to use on client projects. Before this initiative, we used Illustrator and InDesign to design these on a project-by-project basis. This workflow was not as streamlined as it could’ve been for a number of reasons:

  • Inefficient design tools. Illustrator and InDesign are great for graphic and print design, but these tools can be a bit overkill for UX assignments like sitemaps and wireframes. For example, if all you need is a way to draw rectangles, text boxes, and lines, Illustrator may not be the perfect fit for the task at hand. We’ve been using Adobe XD for around one year now, which feels like a faster and more natural way to accomplish these tasks.
  • Lack of reusable elements/consistency. Without templates, we were essentially recreating the elements we needed each time. This can create extra work upfront, since making and refining these elements adds up costly time. In addition, our work lacked consistency from project-to-project since each sitemap or wireframe was treated slightly differently. A shared system for sitemaps and wireframes that includes common, reusable elements is a smarter approach.
  • Lots of tedious manual work. Adobe’s traditional design tools like Illustrator and InDesign were not built for modern UX workflows. For example, manual resizing, lack of components, and other repetitive tasks plague these tools when used in a web design or UX capacity. In code, you don’t need to resize a button if you change its text contents—it happens automatically. Newer tools like Figma and Adobe XD solve these challenges and bridge the gap between design and development. Most recently, Adobe XD introduced Content-Aware Layout, a useful feature that speeds up UI design.

Our solution is a system of cloud documents in Adobe XD—a shared wireframe kit, a blank wireframe, and blank sitemap. Based on a wireframe kit my manager and I purchased, the shared wireframe kit includes common layouts and blocks for our websites, as well as base elements.

The idea is that since everything is linked to the master kit, we can adjust/add new components as needed. Each of the three files also includes an instructions layer with helpful tips for getting started:

I’m super excited to use these for real client projects so we can gain efficiency and improve our workflow. As a test, I also mocked up an example wireframe using our blank wireframe template. You can see a preview below!

Why consistent writing makes you a better designer

February 18, 2020

Writing is such a valuable skill. In this article by Eugen Eşanu, he outlines several ways writing helps you think and learn, enhances your chances of success, contributes to your personal development, and strengthens your relationships with other people.

To write about something, you have to be inspired. To be inspired you have to read, listen, talk to others, or think first. Many creators and inventors consume inspiration from all sources before they create or write something. Whether it’s going to a museum, visiting a new city, meeting people, listening to a podcast or presentation, you have to consume first and then create.

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Exploring my web design process

January 24, 2020

These past two weeks I’ve been exercising my visual/web design skills by redesigning a site for a dream client. I started out by brainstorming a list of industries I care about and would like to work with. Ultimately, I was drawn toward the music, tech, editorial/news, and design industries.

I landed on Princeton Architectural Press, a publishing company that is adjacent to the design world, as a client to practice with. Below are some snippets of information about the brand from my research:

  • Founded in 1981, Princeton Architectural Press publishes fine books on art, architecture, design, photography, landscape, and visual culture, with over 1,000 titles to date.
  • PAPress has made their reputation in part by identifying new trends and publishing first books on emerging talents, as well as definitive works on established names, and by creating books of unsurpassed design quality and production values.
  • PAPress’ products have been described in professional and popular media as “visually inviting,” “elegant and charming,” “useful as well as beautiful,” “lovingly produced,” “authoritative,” “thorough and comprehensive,” and so on: we try to make books that are smart and beautiful.
  • PAPress’ mission is for surprising, inspiring, and informing those curious about the visual world.

I’m familiar with some of their books and authors from reading in college, and I really admire the quality of their products. Their current website, however, is not great. The site is visually underwhelming, missing functionality in places, and is cluttered with confusing pages.

For this mock project, I found it helpful to define an audience and goal:

Audience

The main audience for this website is people interested in design and visual culture—professionals, hobbyists, students, and educators. Visitors who land on this website will expect a highly functional, visually-appealing design that helps them achieve their particular goals. For example, a visitor may be looking to browse new releases, search for a particular book or author to find where to purchase it, or find the perfect book for a gift to a friend.

Goal

My goal with this redesign is to modernize the look & feel of the website to reflect the beauty and quality of their products, as well as align them to be competitive with other leading publishers. In addition, the site redesign should focus on usability, creating a simpler way for visitors to achieve their e-commerce goals.

I then spent a day or so researching inspiration and competing sites in the publishing, art, and retail spaces. This helped me gain a better sense of what other companies are doing, particularly in regards to e-commerce UX:

Next, I tried to make sense of their existing sitemap by listing out all of their pages and arranging them in new logical groupings. Reordering the pages was challenging since they include many categories and footer pages on their current site. Although my notes for this section are quite messy, I came up with a plan that promotes the main product categories themselves, with additional sub-pages for secondary categories. This way, it is clear up front what PAPress sells and what they’re about.

At this point, I also began sketching wires for the homepage and e-commerce detail page. I wanted to transform the product carousel that exists on their homepage currently into a much more visual slider in the header. In these rough sketches, I also experimented with new components for things like promo blocks:

Using these ideas and research, as well as looking at their catalogs, I developed a refreshed look for the homepage that adheres to their brand while becoming much more visual and engaging. See below for my current homepage design concept:

Overall, I’m content with the progress I’ve made so far and I’m looking forward to working on a couple detail pages and responsive layouts to really flesh out this project. This exercise has shown me so far that there’s a lot of knowledge and ability I’ve accumulated over time, but still some areas to improve when it comes to my design process.