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Meet the Teacher: Preston McCauley “Moving from Concept to Prototype”

Preston McCauleyAmigos, do not let this serious picture of Preston fool you! He is really, really a fun guy. You can learn alot from him, too.

Preston McCauley runs the UI Design Guide and plays a mean game of Texas Hold’em (just ask Todd Zaki Warfell). Preston talked about UI design, requirements, and played Texas Hold’em with a crowd of people. If you know Preston, you will understand why he is the perfect teacher for a class on moving from concepts to prototypes. Preston lives in a world on concept testing and rapid prototyping (and poker cards).

You can expect a fun-filled, interactive workshop on November 14, 2011 to kick off the conference. Just don;t let Preston deal any cards! Register today!

How did you first get into design professionally?

I started by first learning HTML and then moving on to build my first website. Along the way I picked up basic coding, database design, design methods, web hosting and every other computer related topic I could learn. I tried to digest all aspects of the online world. I read books, talked with professionals, found articles online, and setup practice projects to further my understanding of all things computer related.

In college, I started my first web design business and in the evenings I would work on variety of web projects. Later, around the time of the bubble I was working on anywhere from 2-4 projects a month. It’s around this time I started to shift focus and brand myself as more of a solutions provide and client consultant.

So in essence my first job was working for myself. From there others heard about what I could do for them and that’s when the phone calls started and have really never stopped.

What is the strangest thing to ever inspire one of your designs?

I wouldn’t necessarily call this strange, but I love looking for inspiration in everyday products. I always carry around a book to help jot down concepts and ideas I may see in every day product design.

A lot of what I do requires the quick analysis and breakdown of how and why things should work like they do. Taking this a step further I like to think how products can work better.

A simple on/off switch on a coffee machine for example can inspire a new way to look at a interface element. A billboard, a puzzle, I never know what will spur on the next eureka moment.

I get excited about seeing a new type ux pattern used and more so about the evolution as technology, mediums, and design patterns change. This is why I love writing about user experience on my web site

What are some of your favorite, non-technical tools to use in your work?

I’m a firm believer in using technology to its fullest. The whole point of technology is to make my work processes more efficient. It’s a balancing act to not sacrifice quality for speed.

I still believe in using pen & paper, but with a slight upgrade.

I’ve been using a Livescribe book for years now and I love it. It allows me the ability to immediately move from a pen & paper sketch, to a digital PDF.

The other tool is my wall of whiteboards. The ability to draw and redraw work-flows and change them as I quickly scrawl them down is a must.

What strategies do you use to help stakeholders to better define their problem?

The simplest strategy is to ask why. Many times I’ll encounter a team trying to solve a complex user experience that isn’t really a problem. In my experience, the ability to get stakeholders and team members not to over think a solution has been more of a problem then under thinking requirements. You don’t need to have complex personas to understand why a problem doesn’t need solving. I share a lot of my personal experiences and different techniques over on my web site.

How do you handle “swoop and poop” from executives that reject designs when they first see a new design?

No one situation is the same here. Sometimes, you have to remind the client the reason they hired you is for your expertise. Other times you just have to build up respect with those members of the executive team.

As user experience professionals we are by definition the jack of all trades. The same needs to be true with social negotiation skills when justifying the rational behind your design. Don’t be afraid to stand up for the decisions that truly mean something to the end user experience. Little things, you know what these are, they rarely have a large scale impact to the experience. So if you can give a little bit here where it doesn’t matter and make a huge gain when it does matter. That’s a huge win for your application. When you reach this point you are no longer building just a great user experience but a practical one.

Describe the class you are going to teach for Big Design Week.

What I want for each person attending my workshop to gain is a perspective of true world UX, or what I like to call Practical UX. Even today most UX professionals work with a very small team. With the exception of some larger firms and dedicated companies that offer UX consulting, most UXers have real world time, resource, and money constraints. Not to mention the juggling of multiple projects. These all play a big part on how much work is done.

Application design is extemely fast and changes can happen in the blink of an eye. There is never enough time to spend days on research, or design a plethora of iterations at the start of a project. Instead, I want to get to the best UX possible in the constraints laid out on the table. I want to go into the design with the mindset that I will come back and revise, change and modify as I see problems arise.

You need to become the Swiss army knife and rely on your skills at will to help figure out what will get you through concepts, creation, and have a prototype in hnad with the least amount of issues. A lot of this comes from experience, but more comes from the ability to think quick on you feet and have a collection or resources, tools, and experts at your ready.

The process of building UX should start at the beginning before writing one line of code. It should begin with clarifying fuzzy questions, and getting to the core root an application. It should begin with understanding the members of your team and how each person works best. You need to understand what the expectations are from the very start of the project and isolate red flags before they become problematic.

What are the goals for your workshop?

Inside this workshop we will cover a variety topics. it will be interactive and fun. We do have three primary goals:

1) Requirement Gathering, Discovery, Refinement & Priorities
We will be looking at how to answer the big questions as they pertain to building a web application, and a mobile counter part.
2) Moving from Stories, to Ideas, to Concepts
Here we will walk through creating work-flows, sketches, and exercises to help get your creative inspiration happening sooner than later in the process.
3) Building prototypes with frameworks & tools
Lastly, we will look at tools to help speed up the process of building prototypes.

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