All Posts in simplicity

November 11, 2011 - No Comments!

The UX Behind Barkles UI

Note: This post has been kept up for historic reasons as Barkles is no more.

For as long as I can remember I have questioned why things have been done a certain way and what other approach they could take. In its simplest form UX is just that - questioning why things are done a certain way and making them more fluid for the user.

What Is UX?

User experience as it stands is not just a great UI (User interface) or functionality. It's about the experience for the user as they click-through, try on, purchase, run between and more (Wikipedia - User experience (UX) is about how a person feels about using a product, system or service). It's how they connect. Unfortunately, it's very easy to ignore or overlook a great UX due to:

  • Designer/Developer is too close to the product and can't see it from a new users point of view
  • UX is hard to do correctly based on the many viewpoints
  • There is no manual - it's often just what you feel by using the product
  • User feedback is ignored
  • The developers, designers and general team aren't using their own product

By taking into account the importance of a great UX early on, you can start baking core principles into your design, functionality and concepts. This will help build the foundation of your platform just in the same way Apple represents brilliant design simplicity. At the start of development the UX will be directed to how you feel using your own product.

A Live Example

I always find it important to give a working example to provide clarity to the visual readers. So I will dive into my recently launched startup Barkles and point out a few things I did early on that fed into functionality, marketing and the end result.

Barkles is a side by side platform for debates. The premise is simple - show side by side debating with commenting sections. Based on the simplicity, I wanted the design and functionality to stand out - to be harder to instantly replicate. In that, we also had to build the functionality to the same professional level.

A Barkles Dogfight

As you can see above, the Barkles Dogfight interface is simple. Yet, there is enough functionality to get involved and share your opinion, view Dogtags (profiles) & throw Bones. The design gets out-of-the-way of the user and allows them to get involved in the discussion.

Scrolling Context

The experience with functionality replicates this. The Dogfight Starter that stretches the full width of the centered area follows the discussion. When you scroll down the page it comes with you - constantly keeping the debate in context. This in itself is a powerful UX addition as it keeps the user focused on the point of the debate further they go down the page.

The Dogfight Starter fixes to the top of the browser window

The Quick Scan

The page width also helps out in creating a simpler and more enjoyable UX. We could have easily let the width spread the full side of the page so the responses had more room, but this would have required much more involved left-right scanning of the debates themselves. By keeping it center aligned and focusing on a smaller width it allows the user to follow the debate easily by scanning each side with minimal eye movement. Below is a wider mockup which is uncomfortable to read in comparison (click to view the larger image).

A quick mockup of a larger width area Dogfight

Simplicity With Colour

Other elements that enhance the user experience are the simple coloured lines next to the avatars. These lines reinforce the different sides of the debate. This simple, yet effective addition is noticeable when taken out:

Different coloured lines taken away from each side

As you can see, even with the Agree and Disagree buttons labeling each side the lack of coloured lines blurs the lines between the sides. It's only a subtle difference, but enough to 'feel' confusing or messy as the user scrolls down the page. The colours also break up the grey/blue themed page and add some character.

Try The Functionality

Now, while this article focuses mainly on design aspects, it's important to note the underlying functionality that supports the UI/UX. The quick loading and simple interface functions well, and great care has been taken to enhance the experience of adding an opinion. From text-shadow, input box drop down to hover box-shadow, everything has been put in place for a stronger (and easier) experience for the user.

While I could talk about the functionality for a while, it's better for you to get a hands on feel of how it works. View this Dogfight and get a feel for the experience we have crafted -

I hope that these insights have given you a few ideas or at least an in-depth look at a Barkles Dogfight and the UX behind it. In future articles I will go into more detail about other pages of the Barkles platform.

If you have any questions just give me a shout me on Twitter.

July 17, 2010 - No Comments!

Simplicity Is Not Killing The Industry

Music. A powerful word given the multiple different meanings worldwide. To me, it represents an intangible connection; Something that passes through the air to make you feel something. In many ways this feeling is a positive experience with a rumble from a bassline, the soothing harmonies of a synth or the memorable vocals that flow with the track.

Yet, even with this positive experience I am constantly drawn to the negative comments on products in the DJ world and how their 'simplicity' is ruining or killing the industry. While I believe their comments do raise some valid points about the ease of digital music creation, they simply forget to notice the bigger picture - COMPETITION.

For as long as musicians and producers have been creating music we, as a human race, have strived to simplify every area of that process. Be it the simplicity of portable recording software, digital equipment, USB drives, internet downloads and more. The competition for companies to beat their rivals at bringing out the best products that appeal to a much wider audience has to do with our demands for simplicity. We constantly yearn for updates, changes and modifications so as to create less work for ourselves, make the process more enjoyable and get to the end in a faster time.

This, in it's layman terms, is SIMPLICITY.

I bring to you an example of how simplicity is applicable right now with the invention of the Pioneer CDJ-350 and DJM-350.

I was watching the above presentation by DJ Avicii about the new Pioneer CDJ's and he discusses the new features and explains the simplicity of what can now be achieved with the MASTER BPM LOCK. What that means in a nutshell is that you can lock the Beats Per Minute across both CDJ's, which in turn makes EVERY song in your playlist play at that tempo (speed). I don't want to get to in-depth about this feature, but what that means for most is that by using these pieces of hardware, it makes it ridiculously easy to beat-match tracks together. So instead of a DJ changing the speed of the incoming song to match the one that is playing, it is already done for him. Simplicity.

Now hopefully by now you can imagine the issue seen by most people with this situation. It opens up the debate about how simple have we actually made that product? Eventually will we need a DJ to stand there and mix tracks together or can that be automated also? And it's not just in the DJ'ing arena - this also flows into the ease of producing dance music in general (and also every other field where computers play a part).

So what's the big thing that everyone is missing with the creation of these 'easier' products?

It now means that in whatever field you are in, to stand out you will now have to work harder then before. Rather than complain/argue your point about how the 'industry has changed', instead use this as a fuel to your fire. With the ease of producing digital music from brilliant pieces of software such as Ableton Live, any artist/producer will now have to push that little bit harder to make standout tracks that appeal to the updated world.

The fact that a producer can now create a track, self master and sell it on a website in only a matter of days is an incredible thing, and I am so excited that we are at this stage in the game. While this may scare/annoy or anger some other people in the industry - it is what it is, and just because a new song can be completed in a day does not mean that it will be great. It also does not mean it will be a hit and sell millions.

Simplicity opens doors and allows more people to be a part of their chosen world. And with more people, there is more competition. And with more competition comes the pursuit of the "Stand-Outs" - the people who use the simplicity but push further into challenging waters to rise above the pack. Just because it's simple, doesn't mean it's simple.

If you are a person who constantly reminds others that "the music industry has changed" and "everything is so simple now", then please stop. We know it has and we are aware of the simplicity. We have embraced the changes and are using them to our full potential. We are also excited that women can now vote, wear bikini's legally and that smoking cigarettes is being outlawed due to health concerns.

Keep creating, updating and modifying the world.

- Diesel Laws