Structured UX Design Critique

I was invited to speak at the Downtown LA UX Study Group on the topic of UX Design Critique. You can look at the slides here, or download the deck from SlideShare.

Here’s the list of resources I reference at the end of the deck.

Make an animated GIF with Keynote and Photoshop

I enjoy the InVision newsletter because it includes great interviews with designers and useful tips, like this article from Andy Orsow called 7 tips for designing awesome animated GIFs.

I learned how to make animated GIFs with Photoshop at Shillington, but found the process unwieldy. I didn’t realize you could give yourself a huge head start by doing your animations as a video first. I didn’t have ScreenFlow or After Effects, so I was intrigued by Andy’s suggestion that I could use something considerably more low-tech (and probably already on YOUR computer too.)

Pro tip: If ScreenFlow or After Effects aren’t in your budget, create your animation in Keynote, and export it as a video. Yep, there’s finally a use for that setting. —@andyorsow

Here is the result of my little experiment. I made this animated GIF with Keynote and Photoshop. It was a pretty straightforward process and it was a fun way to learn something new. If you want to try it out yourself, please read on for a few more tips you might find helpful.


Set up your Keynote workspace

You can change the size of the “canvas” in Keynote by setting the slide size in the inspector. I choose 600×200 because that’s the width of graphics for my blog. You can pick any size that makes sense for your project.


Screen Shot 2014-12-14 at 6.32.34 PM

Turn on the rulers and drag some guides so you can orient yourself as you’re working.

Screen Shot 2014-12-14 at 6.38.43 PM

Create your animation in Keynote

The Keynote animation settings are a little fussy to get used to but there’s a lot already built in. Everything you’ll need us under the “Build” tab of the inspector. You “group” actions by using the “Start Build” drop down, which allows you to run actions at the same time. For example, the circle rotates and moves at the same time, that’s TWO actions)

Screen Shot 2014-12-14 at 6.40.26 PM

Export to Quicktime

When you’re ready, export the file to Quicktime format. I only had one slide in my deck with the animation, so I kept all the defaults (Playback Uses: Manual Advance), 24 frames per second. I just turned off Audio (not sure that was actually necessary)

Finish it up in Photoshop

Importing the .mov file into Photoshop was pretty straightforward. File > Import > Video Frames to Layers. As Andy suggested, I chose the option “Limit To Every 2 Frames”

Screen Shot 2014-12-14 at 6.46.12 PM

Once I imported the file into Photoshop, I immediately tried to Save for Web, but the GIF didn’t animate. I wasn’t sure what was wrong so the second time I imported it, I opened the animation panel (Window > Animation) and verified the playback was working before I exported.

It was better to do it that way anyhow because I could tune the animation by extending time and removing frames. I found that I needed to extend the last frame to 1 second to make the animation look like there’s a little pause before it starts.

What will YOU make?

Please leave a comment if you found this helpful or leave a link to your animated GIF project. I’d love to hear from you.

The Collaborative UX Designer’s Toolbox


From my half-day workshop at UX London May 30, 2014

Class materials

Class description

Are you challenged by unclear, conflicting and changeable product mandates? Frustrated by other team members who just don’t seem to “get it?” Do you struggle to find a sustainable pace where you can deliver what your team needs to move forward and still have a little time to think ahead?

The increasing popularity of Agile development and Lean Startup have created an expectation of shorter cycles and iterative delivery, yet our teams still ask for for pixel perfect deliverables. At the same time, we are asked to deliver great experiences, advocate for the business value of good design and facilitate a more inclusive ux process with our teams.

This presents us with an interesting set of challenges. How can we develop and support a shared vision while moving forward in small, validated steps? How can we find the right level of fidelity for the artifacts we create? How can we engage with the rest of the team without getting bogged down in “design by committee?”

I believe we can thrive and do good work in this environment of continual change if we reconsider our UX workflow as a framework of tools and activities that can adapt to the needs of our products and teams.

Attendees will learn how to:

  • Adapt familiar UX activities to be more quick, visual, collaborative and continuous
  • Diagnose when to apply different UX techniques
  • Help your team move away from opinion-based design
  • Create cooperative relationships with product managers and developers
  • Productively engage with team members who do not have a design background

Click here to visit the conference site


How to make quick, useful UI sketches

Click here for an updated version of this class.

As I’ve embraced Agile and Lean Startup methods, I’ve learned to adapt my UX practice so it is more QUICK, VISUAL, COLLABORATIVE and CONTINUOUS. Learning how to quickly sketch screen layouts and user interface (UI) elements helps me think through design problems, communicate ideas to other people, collaborate, and reduce the need for pixel-perfect deliverables.

In this workshop, I’ll lead you through a series of exercises which help you learn to draw good-looking, quick, useful, user interface sketches, followed by a discussion about how and when we can use sketching in our own projects.

No prior sketching or UX experience required, everyone can draw. Just grab some paper, a pencil and an eraser and follow along. This brief tutorial should take you about 1 hour.

LiveScribe Pros and Cons

I’ve been using LiveScribe products since April ’09 and consider myself a heavy user (filled seven journals, ~100 interviews and conversations recorded). I’m still using the first generation pen, the Pulse 2GB which still works perfectly fine for me. The new one is the Echo, which is available in 4GB (~$150.00 USD) and 8GB (~$200.00 USD)

Overall assessment?

Buy one and try it out. It’s not a lot of money for how useful you’ll find it.

How does it work?

Photo of my LiveScribe pen and notebook


  • The Pulse is a souped-up voice-recording pen. It has a video camera at the business end which works with a special microdot paper to capture stroke order and tie it to what is being said at that time. There is additional info and video on their site if you want more details.
  • There’s a built in speaker, or you can use headphones for playback.
  • There’s an associated desktop sw package to backup and access the files.
  • Works with Mac or PC (I’ve tried both)
  • You can play back the recordings by tapping on the words in the notebook, or view an image of the page with strokes and sound using the LiveScribe desktop application

What’s it good for?

  • It’s helpful to be able to go back later and hear what people really said. Even though I’ve done hundreds of hours of interviews, sometimes I still get caught up in thinking about the next question and don’t focus on LISTENING. Now I’m able to record the interview while I take notes and have the option to listen to the whole thing later. Listening after the interview can result in an big increase in comprehension when you’re interviewing multiple people at once, or when the discussion is about something you’re not familiar with.
  • Not as intimidating as a recorder. I’ve never had anyone balk when I ask if I can “use my pen to record some of our conversation so I can concentrate on what they say.”
  • Great for capturing what people say in their own words. You can hand the pen and book to the person you’re talking to and have them draw you a diagram while talking.
  • With the attached mic/headphones, it does a pretty good job at capturing directional sound (good for group meetings)
  • You can share sound files, .pdfs and hybrid sound/stroke files with other people.


  • You have to buy the special notebooks and nibs. They are no more expensive than Moleskine supplies, but you have to remember to keep  them in stock (I’ve not used the print your own paper option).
  • I’m not thrilled with the archiving options. I’m up to journal 7 and it’s hard to access earlier materials.
  • You have to remember to keep it charged. I’ve been stranded once or twice when I forget to turn it off between sessions.

What do you think?

If you also use LiveScribe products, please leave a comment. I’d be interested in hearing about your experiences so I can learn more about what other people are doing.

Our LSM Sketchboard

I had a great time at Lean Startup Machine last weekend and learned a lot. I’d like to give a big shout-out to my collaborators, Gordon Agress, Joshua Haas, Miraya Yao, Ray Schmitz and Sebastian Park who were all enthusiastic, brilliant and cool under pressure. I sincerely appreciate the time and effort that the organizers and mentors contributed to making the event so great. It was amazing to spend the weekend with so many thought leaders in the Lean Startup space.

Rather than one long blog post about the whole event, I’ll start by writing about something our group found really helpful and several people asked me about, our sketchboard (that big brown piece of paper with all the stuff stuck on it).

Picture of team at table, with sketchboard on wall
Our team workspace

The challenge

Lean Startup Machine weekend is intense and not for the faint of heart. In just 48 hours, you form a team, decide on an idea to pursue, and create a product using Lean Startup principles and activities. We needed to engage in customer discovery activities in an asynchronous, and yet coordinated way. How would we keep track of what we were doing and understand patterns as they emerged, without a lot of time for synthesis or reflection? Based on some good experiences I’ve had using sketchboards as part of the LUXr program, I decided to build a sketchboard to help us track our evolving understanding of the problem, the users and their needs.

What was on our sketchboard?

Our sketchboard evolved over the weekend.  We added new information and put revised information on top of older versions, but the structure I established at the beginning held up pretty well. I tried to set it up so it supported telling a story about the problem we were solving. The project name and objectives at the top, problem, ecology and competitive information on the left, user research, segmentation and personas on the right.

Note: you can click on the image to see a larger version of the sketchboard


Sketchboard with annotations


A – Our project name “DomainMatcher”

B – Our hypothesis, Customer-Problem-Solution statement

C – Competitors in the space

D – Sketch of the ecosystem, with subject matter experts (SMEs) outside buyers and sellers

E/F – This section started out as just two groups domain “sellers” (E)  and domain “buyers” (F) but quickly evolved to visually represent our segmentation theory. Sellers were arranged by low # domains to high # domains held and buyers were arranged into buckets (founders, advertisers, blogger/vanity and flippers). The blue tape indicates we engaged with that person. The provisional personas (Sam the seller and Brenda the buyer) were added once we determined our early adopter targets and drew on elements we heard in our conversations with buyers and sellers.

G – Paper prototype of our buyer Minimum Viable Product v.1

H – A reminder of our goals for the weekend, “Question assumptions” “Iterate” and “Get out of the building.”

How it helped us

I expected that this would help our team keep track of the work to be done and help us create a shared understanding of emerging patterns. I was pleasantly surprised at how quickly people jumped in, contributed their own elements to the board and used it as a focal point for conversation. I believe a healthy sketchboard is owned by the entire team, and isn’t the work of a single person.

Mariya uses the sketchboard to engage with Hiten
Mariya and Ray work with Hiten

An unexpected side-benefit was how it made it easier for us to engage with other people. Several mentors and LSM participants came by, looked at the board and said “OK, I get it, here’s something I can do to help.” It was great to have a visual artifact we could use to quickly orient other people to our project and where we stood, pretty much in real time.


More about sketchboards

If you want to see another example of a sketchboard used in a slightly different way (with a nifty video), check out this post from the Adaptive Path blog “Sketchboards: Discover Better + Faster UX Solutions.”

More about Lean Startup Machine

Lean Startup Machine is a weekend long boot-camp where entrepreneurs learn Lean Startup principles through real-world problem solving and coaching from mentors that get it. In 48 hrs, you’ll pitch an idea, form a team and attempt to build something customers actually want. The prize? Cash, mentorship and glory. This is a single weekend that will change how you think about building startups forever.