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I miss coding. The period between my last update and this was a period of fast-changing requirements, Photoshop, and deadlines. It was so busy that I had to put in some mini-overtimes to the effect that, by April’s end, I’ve already clocked in at least 100 hours of work, at most around 108.

Throughout the said period, I’ve had moments where I thought I should’ve volunteered for the API team. They were the ones who got to code a lot, and coding a lot is something I do even while sleeping. But I’m thankful that I had the crazy urge to sign-up for the UI team. UI isn’t something I get to do everyday (cf. my previous post) and, at least, I learned a lot of new things.

Take wrong turns. Talk to strangers. Open unmarked doors... Do things without always knowing how they'll turn outA Toast to following crazy urges from xkcd. Pun intended.

Is there a school teaching UI design as part of the curriculum? The closest my schooling has ever taught me about UI design was a few slides of PowerPoint, all discussed in a single meeting. In any case, I don’t really think that UI is something you can learn from school; it’s more about practice than theory.

The first thing asked from the UI team was to design an icon set. After 146 discussion messages over at Google Wave over 88 images—UI layouts and icons alike—we ended up agreeing to use a pre-made icon pack from the internet. Wow. I never knew that there are free and legally downloadable icon packs from the internet. I seem to have forgotten internet rule number whatever that states “If you need it, you can download it from the internet”. Everytime for those few times that I had to design icons for a UI (in our Software Engineering project, for instance), I always built them starting with an empty canvas of Photoshop/GIMP; I have too much pride to use the work of someone else—especially someone not a part of my team, someone I don’t know personally—even if offered for free and in good will.

Sigh. So much for being the man who always built things from the ground-up.

Photoshop, for all its awesomeness, isn’t a very nice prototyping tool in my opinion. I don’t know much about prototyping tools but a good one, I guess, will allow me to define a base template and then build screens from that. Any changes on the template immediately reflects on the screens created from the template. Something like CSS. Or MVC, save that I’m only interested with the “Views” this time.

Then again I don’t really believe in prototyping using images. The only time I was asked to prototype prior to this was in my Software Engineering class. Throughout the first 3 consultations our teacher advised our team to use prototyping tools and all 3 times I stubbornly proceeded with my approach. I had my team prototype using HTML and CSS directly, my rationale being, we’ll still code that later anyway so why bother using prototyping tools?

(For all my stubbornness, we got a grade of 90 out of 100 during the prototyping demo. The ten points deduction came from a few screens I totally forgot about. That was, if I remember correctly, the highest grade given during that demo. But that’s another story…)

The requirements changed faster than you can say “Photoshop”. But with every iteration of the design I slowly realized that we are no longer just making a product. We are crafting an experience for the user to feel.

Sideshow: Selling a Product vs Offering an Experience

A product is sold. User can type on the text box, the buttons are tappable, stuff function. Amateur. Awesome.

An experience is offered. User can type on the text box and screen reacts dynamically based on user input. The buttons are tappable and functional and they look and feel soooo Android. Professional. MORE AWESOMER!!!!

For comparison, this is the Google IO App for this year. Notice the toolbar.

(Image taken from . Plus, more Android UI design tips and examples!)

I guess my biggest handicap in this part of my adventure is the fact the I have never used Android apps (I don’t even have an Android phone!). I don’t even use mobile apps for that matter. My XpressMusic phone is capable and loaded with some apps but I’ve never used them. The most used apps of my phone is 1) the music player, and 2) the camera and their amount of use is different by a very wide margin at that. How do I design an experience for something I’ve never experienced myself?

But still a lovely learning experience, designing an experience for something I never experienced yet.

Looking forward to code finally next week,
The Chad Estioco

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