The Next Evolution in UX Documentation

If our tools allow us to produce project artifacts faster, can our solutions remain a product of deep consideration?

Over the last year, I’ve been following Adobe’s release of a very particular piece of software that has got me excited. It’s called Catalyst and it will create a new set of challenges for the field of user experience. Let me first explain what it does…

Adobe Labs logo

Adobe Catalyst, currently in beta form, allows for a visual designer or a UX architect to import either a Photoshop (.psd) or Illustrator (.ai) document and create interactive elements. Catalyst use the assets and layers brought in with the original document. This is a tremendous leap forward in two important areas- the selling of ideas and the production of approved designs. Let me focus on the former.

In the UX discipline, a core deliverable is the wire-frame or page schematic that documents a number of important components. It communicates everything from the site / page navigation and content hierarchy, to the proposed interactivity (ie, what happens when I click here). These documents have always been delivered in a static form. You print them out and present them to the client. They are not intended to represent visual design. They are intended to document how each page will function and its content development needs.

The benefit, and possible danger, of Catalyst is that we can now present clients with wire-frames that are interactive. Formerly, if you want to communicate “states” of a drop-down menu, for instance, you had to show each static step as a different drawing. With Catalyst, you can now interact with the element and see the changing states. Wow! That’s a huge leap forward in comprehension and can help everyone on the team better understand what you proposing to build.

If pictures are worth a thousand words and video is worth, umm, a thousand pictures, then scrolling / clickable wireframes are worth…? The more interaction is demonstrated, the fewer leaps the imagination must make.

The danger? Well, honestly, I believe there is something good about NOT demonstrating more detail in the early stages. The closer we approximate the final product, the greater likelihood clients will find that execution sufficient. Taking a project through a full process of discovery, strategy, architect, design and engineering (the common approach) allows for ideas to mature. It allows for a team to live with a client’s business and the proposed solution, rather than quickly producing and launching.

Please note that there is sometimes value in doing fast iterations and testing them in the market. That is a great strategy for a start-up who is exploring which ideas gain traction. I don’t debate that strategic wisdom. I only pose the question- if our tools allow us to produce project artifacts faster, we best be thinking how our solutions remain deeply effective.

Until I write about that subject, however, let me guide you back towards Adobe Catalyst. Learn more about the product and download a demo of Catalyst at Adobe.

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