Monday, July 13, 2015

Don't blame the tools

There are plenty of haters in the UX/UI space for Power Point (and all other Microsoft) products! Partly this is because most of the "UXy" type people are Mac users and prefer lean hand-coded text editor based approach to HTML. On the more serious side there are great dedicated prototyping tools available (like Axure). However in my opinion both options have Pros and Cons, here is a quick summary:

Dedicated Tool (e.g. Axure)
Power Point
Prototyping features HighLow
Potential for reuse
Higher chance
Concepts only
Ease of use
Existing skills
Typically No
Typically Yes
Existing licenses
Typically No
Typically Yes
For UX Teams
Yes of course
Not really
For general users
Not really
Yes of course

In the Pre-sales cycle there are a lot of instances where a quick prototype is required and the people involved are already quite proficient at Power Point. So if you, like me, can live with the shame of using Power Point and need to quickly whet the appetite of stakeholders then perhaps a Power Point based prototype is for you.

Even though a prototype is not going to production, setting and meeting (or exceeding) expectations is important. Discuss the prototyping approach (for sure offer alternative options) and document the simplest form of specification that you feel comfortable with. I find a simple table works for many circumstances. For example:
Screen Details
Display links to other screens
Re-brand in customer colors
Add a customer logo
Step 1: User starts here and notices a new activity to perform
Action List To-do list
Details, Approve, Reject
Step 2: user enters Action List
User approves an action
Data Search Search Field
List Results
Sample data
Link to Detailed Data
Step 3: user searches for data
Result is displayed
User sorts
User links to Detailed Data
Detailed Data Display screen
Agreed list of fields
Back button
Step 4: User reviews data
Don't forget to request screen shots of existing applications/s and or example data with which to populate your prototype.

Some Power Point Prototyping Tips
Backup & Save – Usual advice here, save often and use a form of version control when seeking feedback (perhaps just new file-name/version for each release).

Get your screens right before animating – It’s always tempting to rush into the cooler animated parts. However to reduce rework it’s much easier and quicker to get the details of your screens correct before animating. Partly this is because you sometimes need to copy and paste elements to simplify animation.

Reuse & standardize – Get your look and feel setup so that it can be used consistently on every page. Also animated/linked elements like a menu bar can be setup once, grouped, and then re-used on every page. Also consider placing common elements in the slide master.

Kiosk Mode – In the show setup you have a Kiosk Mode option. The advantage with this is that it opens full screen, and clicking does not move to the next slide. Therefore only the links you have deliberately included will work.

Actions & Animations - Consider how your prototype will be consumed, will it be a video or user clickable tool? A useful technique is to add a shape, set it to fully transparent, and overlay this on-top of your "clickable" feature. This is great for complex areas such as tables.

Fonts – the fonts installed on your machine may not be available to others. Depending on how you save the prototype and what OS it is being used from the fonts may not display correctly.

Save-As – When you are ready to share your prototype consider the Save-As options.
  • Save-as a Power Point Show so that users get the best possible experience and are not just looking through your Power Point.
  • In the Save-as dialog box there is a Tools drop down which includes options for “embedding fonts” – this is important to ensure things look right on other machines. 
Additionally on Mac’s even if the fonts are embedded you still might not see them. So if your target audience are Mac users you have the following choices:
  • Ask them to install the fonts
  • Record a video of the show so that they can see the prototype script in action
  • Save each page of the Power Point as an image and then animate it with transparent buttons. 
In Summary
Power Point can be a useful tool to get stakeholders on the journey to a better User Experience. If you are an expert web designer, graphic artist, or coder then you’ll probably prefer to use a dedicated tool. However if you are a general business user then your familiarity with Power Point can be leveraged to capture concepts and ideas and move UX forward. Before you rule out Power Point remember the old proverb “a bad workman always blames his tools”.