Designing for Devices: A Recap and Resource List

Devices Everywhere webinar screenshot 640px
Screenshots from the second “Breakthroughs” webinar with Michael Surtees, Gesture Theory; Callie Neylan, moderator; and Ethan Eismann, Adobe. AIGA members can log in and watch the archive here.

What do you call a designer who designs for devices? A lucky designer. This was one of the many conversation highlights from last week’s “Devices Everywhere” webinar with Michael Surtees of Gesture Theory and Ethan Eismann of Adobe, the second in AIGA and Adobe’s “Breakthroughs” series. Lucky, because of the opportunities that exist in this space—both in terms of blazing design trails and expanding our knowledge bases and skill sets as designers.

Designing for devices is challenging but rewarding. As a discipline, we’ve gone from the singular role of graphic designer—designing for static, predictable artifacts—to interaction designers, product designers and user experience designers, designing for dynamic, rapidly evolving technologies. It means designing for new paradigms much more reliant on gestural interfaces, context and our constant emitting and receiving of data to the “cloud.” Consequently, the canvas for today’s designer is a moving target.

The recommendation that designers be cross disciplinary and multidimensional was a recurring theme in this discussion. Both Michael and Ethan stressed how important it is for designers to be able to speak the language of business, as well as engineering (Kiyo Toma and Rob Girling also emphasized this point in the first webinar). In order for us to design effectively, we need to know why we’re designing, what we’re designing, and how what we design is being built. But most importantly, we need to know who we’re designing for—what design skills and processes can we use to ensure the best user experiences possible.

Through Michael’s case studies we learned a lot about process: scrum (agile, fluid development) vs. waterfall (a more fixed, linear approach), and constant iteration via sketching, whiteboarding and rapid prototyping combined with user testing. Ethan polished the methodologies section off with his great concept of front-loading designs, especially important when following scrum. His teams’ creation of a visual “North Star” to keep visual integrity and brand consistency across interfaces was especially brilliant. He also impressed the importance of grids, typography and white space in the design of interfaces—skills that any good communication designer can bring to the designing-for-devices table. As we are presented with more and more information in unpredictable contexts, information that is well designed, thoughtful and considered will be the information that users gravitate towards.

In the end, what designing for devices means is that, in addition to being great communication designers, we are now systems designers, too. Most interfaces designed for devices are tied to other product designs, as well. Take the Nike+ fitness tracking system, for example: Communication design for this system spans industrial design in the device itself (your iPhone or iPod), the shoes that the chip lives in, and the chip itself; the mobile UI, the web UI, the information design of all the data associated with your workouts, and the overall brand that must live harmoniously within the larger Nike branding system.

Designing for devices means designing for complex systems. Designing for complex systems means keeping an open, curious mind and expanding your skill set. Below are some resources related to this webinar to help you do just that. We’ll be continuing the conversation in the next webinar, “Responsive Web Design,” on July 27, when Dan Mall (Big Spaceship), Scott Fegette (Adobe) and I will address the question of whether or not it’s possible to design once and display everywhere.





What would you add?

Tell us in the comments what you thought of the webinar. Here, AIGA Cleveland’s Will Kesling offers his review of “Devices Everywhere” on video.

AIGA Webinar: Devices Everywhere. Summary. from Will Kesling on Vimeo.

About the Author: Callie Neylan is an Assistant Professor of design at UMBC (University of Maryland, Baltimore County) in Baltimore, Maryland. She is interested in interaction design, the urban space, and designing for the disabled. She writes about design and technology for AIGA and and tweets via @neylano.