Communicating UX

by Yeevon Ooi on 10 December 2010
As a UX consultant, I'm constantly trying to communicate information which is abstract and complex on various scales. This could range from specific to conceptual and existent to existence-unknown. Some examples (ranked from less abstract to more abstract) of information that I need to communicate on a daily basis (to clients or colleagues or anyone at all) is shown in the figure below:

Less abstract

  • Discuss colours, font size, typography and how they should be used or look like on a specific interface
  • Describe how a page on a website can be structured, organised, and/or designed
  • Explain interactions on a website or interface
  • Explain project timelines, processes, workflows, and user journeys
  • Describe mental models or subjective experiences held by different people on different topics

More abstract

Some of the above examples can be easily solved by producing wireframes or quick mock-ups, but the tricky ones are explaining mental models, subjective experiences and trying to weave them into a story that you're trying to tell. Not surprisingly, a lot of my time at work involves cracking my head to figure out what's the best way to explain something  so that it makes sense to the person who 'sees' it, and yes, you guessed it right! Visual artefacts help a lot in communicating these ideas, especially abstract and subjective concepts which shouldn't be communicated via language alone. Now the question is what visuals are useful for communicating such ideas? Well, unfortunately there's no handbook to all the ideas we can possibly present in the world. The good news is there's no right or wrong way in using visual artefact's as long as they make sense and explain the message accurately. What works quite well sometimes is using existing diagrams or charts and modifying them to suit what I have to explain. Telling complicated stories which involve complex processes and abstract concepts don't usually work well on a screen. Some of the methods which I found useful in the past include using posters full of colour-coded post-it notes, storyboards, sketches, or a bit of all the above methods. In fact, the most effective method involves complementing these different artefact's (e.g. PowerPoint and handouts of page designs) and weaving them together with the story that you want to tell. So I say let's get out of our comfort zone and stop being conscious about our drawing skills or ability to cut and paste things and give this a try the next time a story needs to be told. Oh, and please recycle any materials you produce during this process :)

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