* Design Deliverables
In Chapter 2 we discussed deliverables that capture research findings. Now we’ll focus on deliverables that you can use to document your ongoing design work.
A sitemap is a visual representation of a site’s structure . Usually arranged hierarchically, sitemaps indicate how content and information are organized and, consequently, how users will navigate the system. A sitemap documents the system as a whole, pulling back from interface specifics to look from a broader vantage point.
A sitemap is a familiar tool to every UX designer; you’ll use one for most sites you design, particularly large, information-heavy sites. Use what you learned in your research (card sorts, interviews, and so on) to draft a structure that holds the site’s content in a way that’s meaningful to your users. It’s worth starting this process as early as you can, so that you can fully appreciate the components of the system and what work lies ahead. It’s not unusual to discover branches reaching farther than you expected.
Creating a sitemap will help you understand not only scope but also how sections and pages should be arranged and labeled. By the end of the exercise you should have a fair idea of how your site navigation will work, and what labels you should give to site sections.
Documenting a sitemap is a relatively simple task, thanks to Jesse James Garrett’s visual vocabulary (www.jjg.net/ia/visvocab), in which you’ll find a standardized set of shapes and connectors for use in your sitemaps and other deliverables. But don’t let a sitemap’s simplicity fool you: it will play an important role in the project. It might be the first deliverable you share with your team, so don’t be surprised if it sparks debate. We’ll talk more about feedback and critique in Chapter 5.
Since a sitemap is all about structure and hierarchy, starting with a text outline can be useful. Tools like Microsoft Excel and the Omni Group’s OmniOutliner will help you shuffle pages around before you start creating all those boxes and arrows.
Sitemaps get big quickly, so make your drawing canvas as large as possible. Don’t worry too much about laying the structure out beautifully; your sitemap will change a great deal over the course of the project. However, do try to use your software’s connection tools properly, so that when you move a section, its connections move with it.
If your sitemap is becoming unwieldy, use the visual vocabulary’s continuationpoint symbol to break the sitemap into smaller subsections. Finally, add a simple numerical identifier to each page you depict. This will help you cross-reference pages with other deliverables.
A user flow shows the steps a user can take to complete a task or activity.
The simple hierarchical nature of a sitemap can be too limiting on sites with complex navigation, large amounts of user-generated content, or process-heavy applications that branch according to user input.
Under these circumstances a user flow may be more suitable. This deliverable describes how a user moves through a process, rather than capturing a hierarchical information structure. User flows are particularly suitable for task-driven sections of your site, such as creating a new account or adding an item to a shopping cart.
If only a few sections of your site are process-led, you can create a user flow in tandem with a sitemap; simply cross-reference the two using your numbering scheme.
User flows are great at explaining complex logic, but don’t let them become swamped with detail. It’s easy to overwhelm user flows with irrelevant minutiae. Instead, pay attention to the high-level interactions. You might also need to consult with your developers if your proposed solution involves tricky technical logic.
Like a user flow, a wireflow shows how a user moves through the site, but replaces labels with rough representations of the relevant interfaces. Wireflows are particularly effective when the behavior of the interface is unconventional and demands visual explanation. Again, a wireflow and a sitemap can work well together.
Storyboards are another powerful tool for illustrating user flow. We covered storyboards as research deliverables in Chapter 2, but you can also use them at this stage to show how the interface behaves and any offline activity or thought processes required of the user.
Scenarios, if created in your research phase, make excellent starting points for illustrating user journeys. You can show users in their context of use (home, office, and so on) and any interactions or emotional responses that take place off the screen.
Storyboards excel when an interaction is difficult to communicate using an abstract deliverable like a sitemap or user flow. A storyboard’s visual and narrative approach gives an additional layer of context.
It’s impractical to storyboard your entire site, but presented alongside other deliverables, storyboards can offer the extra level of detail required for crucial interactions.
To save time, use a single frame to show related interactions, labeled with numbers to show the order in which they occur. Thought and speech bubbles can be a useful adjunct to textual descriptions, adding character and helping to humanize the storyboard. Keep your output simple in case you want to start over.
A wireframe is a low-detail representation of an interface. It omits color, image detail, and other visual design specifics, providing instead a simple inventory of what’s on the page and how it should be laid out.
A wireframe addresses several design issues:
- Information organization. Which items should be grouped and where? Are there any particular relationships that need to be made more evident than others? How should these groups be prioritized?
- Content. What content needs to be present on the page? Will it be prose alone or does the page need to accommodate images and video?
- Functionality and controls. What can users do on the page? How will users navigate the site? Is there a search function? A log-in control? Are there any inputs such as forms?
- States. What are the various states of the page? How do forms handle errors? Does the page vary depending on the user’s status—for example, logged in versus logged out?
- Behavior. Are there interactions that happen without a full page refresh? How does the page respond to input?
- Metadata. What page is this? How does it relate to the sitemap? What project does it belong to? Who is the author? What version is it?
- Annotation. Nuanced interactions or complex points may need further explanation. Use annotation callouts to highlight these areas.
The wireframe has long been the bread and butter of user experience design, and will undoubtedly be one of your most commonly made deliverables. With practice you should be able to produce a wireframe quickly, freeing up more time to discuss it with others and explain your design choices.
Try to ensure that your wireframes show consistency between pages; it can be easy to focus on an individual page and lose sight of how other pages are designed. If you are confident in your HTML skills, you may also want to include some suggestions about semantic markup on your wireframe, to help communicate its structure to your developer colleagues.
Page Description Diagram
A page description diagram (PDD) is a written inventory of every element on your web page. Elements are categorized into high, medium, and low priority and ordered horizontally.
Wireframes may be the most commonly used tool in the UX designer’s kit, but they aren’t always suitable. If visual or graphic designers are currently in charge of deciding layout—what goes where on the page—they may complain that your wireframe relegates them to the role of “coloring the boxes.” A PDD might be a better approach in this scenario.
Dan Brown of EightShapes invented the PDD as a way for UX designers to explain content hierarchy without dictating the specifics of layout. The PDD describes what’s important to a UX designer—the contents of the page and which are the most important for common user tasks—without stepping too far into the time-consuming world of layout.
PDDs leave the door open for visual designers to interpret page layout, while allowing stakeholders to focus on the important issues of content and priority. This makes PDDs ideal if you’re trying to squeeze a user experience focus into an existing design process.
If an element within your PDD needs more visual detail, you can supplement its text description with a simple diagram.
A prototype is a simplified but functional model of a system, used to explore, communicate, and test a design. Users can move directly through a prototype, with pages following each other in chronological order.
The previous deliverables are all in some way abstracted from the final product. Stakeholders must imagine how these documents will translate into a finished website. However, stakeholders who aren’t familiar with user experience may not be convinced by skeletal deliverables. Instead, they will want to see solutions.
Prototypes excel at presenting solutions, since they involve the smallest leap of imagination between deliverable and end product. They let people experience the real flow of a system, meaning your stakeholders can feel firsthand the benefit of good user experience. It’s better to test-drive a car than to look at it in the showroom.
An effective prototype will not only communicate your design to stakeholders, but also enthuse them in a way no other deliverable can. Get a senior manager excited by a prototype, and your battle to integrate UX is already half won.
Prototypes also have the great advantage that you can run usability tests with them. We’ll cover that in the next chapter, but for now, get buy-in for the concept by explaining that a prototype allows you to gather insight into what works for real customers and what doesn’t. Couple this with the message that a prototype will help you incorporate customer feedback before costs become too high, and you’ll have a compelling argument for your case.
The most obvious downside of a prototype is the effort required. A prototype takes longer to build and calls for more specialized skill than other deliverables, and if your assumptions and decisions are wrong, you could waste time.
To minimize the time you spend on your prototype, remember that you’re not looking to create the real thing. Don’t worry about polish—quality of code, beautiful aesthetics—you’re only after a platform to demonstrate and test your ideas. Rough edges are a necessary part of the bargain.
A prototype will typically change beyond recognition as the project progresses. Make it modular and disposable. It’s not a good idea to use the code of a prototype as a basis for the actual website; you’re more interested in making it work than making it perfect.
A functional specification is a detailed document describing in full the behavior of your site, its functionality, and how it responds to user input.
Due to the effort involved, the functional specification has fallen out of favor in modern web design. However, some organizations—such as those in high-risk sectors that employ a “waterfall” model where design fully precedes development—still embrace this deliverable.
A functional specification poses a headache to any user experience designer, particularly an undercover one. Once created, it demands that the design be locked down, since the work required to change it later is so great. As such, UX designers often dissuade their businesses from demanding a functional specification, and instead try to sell the benefits of testing and iteration.
If you have no other option than to create a functional specification, investigate whether this would be your responsibility or whether a product owner or business analyst might be able to generate one from a prototype. If the responsibility falls to you, set aside a lot of time and prepare for some painstaking work.