The following experts have contributed answers to this edition of Ask UXmatters:
- Pabini Gabriel-Petit—Principal Consultant at Strategic UX; Publisher and Editor in Chief, UXmatters; Founding Director of Interaction Design Association (IxDA); UXmatters columnist
- Peter Hornsby—Web Design and UX Manager at Royal London; UXmatters columnist
- Jordan Julien—Independent Experience Strategy Consultant
- Janet Six—Principal at Lone Star Interaction Design; UXmatters Managing Editor; UXmatters columnist
Q: UX professionals read and learn from resources such as books, Web magazines, blog posts, discussions on mailing lists, LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter. Often, they tag these information resources to read them later, using tools like Delicious, Evernote, and Google Docs. How can UX professionals best categorize such information for easy access later on?—from a UXmatters reader
“Good question!” exclaims Peter. “I think your question highlights something important: there is no shortage of information on any topic. But being able to recall the useful stuff at the right time is key.
Sketching and Prototyping Design Ideas
“Your question is pretty broad, so for the sake of clarity, I’m going to focus on a possible subset: design ideas,” continues Peter. “My first filter is normally to read about and reflect on an idea. Does it have merit? How can I challenge it? Is it relevant to anything I’m working on or just a nifty idea? If a design idea passes this first filter, I tend to do two things:
- I write the idea down in a notebook of design elements. There’s no index or categorization scheme for my notebooks—I have several—and this is intentional. I like to flick through the notebooks when I’m feeling designer’s block to get my creative juices flowing again. However, I do usually capture URLs or other notes to give me more information about the idea and its source. I also find that the process of sketching out a design idea helps me to remember it.
- The other thing that I do if I really like a design idea is to put it into my own personal Axure widget library. Later on, this makes it easy for me to use the idea in a design that I’m working on.
“But, the way you capture design ideas is a personal thing. Whatever works best for you is the way to go. Maybe a range of techniques will work for you. Try different approaches for a couple of weeks at a time and see how you feel about them. Then come back and share your own thoughts in the comments!”
Bringing Your Information Resources with You
I’ve created many Gmail directories to categorize links to interesting Web sites and articles. Sometimes I add annotations; sometimes, not. Like Peter, I like to look at these links when I need to get past a block. One of my favorite benefits of this approach is that I can get access to my collection of links on my phone, so I have my personal encyclopedia of design ideas with me wherever I go.
Keeping A Digital Scrapbook
“In addition to keeping track of information resources that facilitate learning throughout our UX careers—such as UXmatters—many designers like to keep the equivalent of a digital scrapbook of design ideas,” replies Pabini. “Many now use Pinterest for this purpose. For those of us who write about design, it’s necessary to capture and annotate screenshots of useful examples whenever we find them. Because applications and Web sites change fairly often, we may not get another opportunity to do so.
“I prefer to capture all of these resources digitally, and tools for capturing digital information have never been better. Organizing information resources and design examples hierarchically works best for me. To keep track of all these resources, I need to exercise my information architecture skills, give categories of information labels that provide good information scent, and create unambiguous hierarchies that are easy to extend. This applies whether organizing bookmarks, documents, or notes.
“When capturing information from the Web, I use a combination of Google Chrome, Google Drive, and Evernote, working primarily on my iPad. But since I can easily keep all three tools in sync across all of my computing devices, I can capture and access information from whatever device I’m currently using.
“Google Chrome is by far the best browser for iOS devices. It lets me open as many tabs as I want and has a great bookmarking feature. In most respects, it’s easy to create, organize, and use bookmarks in Chrome. However, Chrome’s most annoying deficiency is its lack of the ability to collapse and expand folders when you’re selecting a category in which to place a new bookmark. This makes navigating lists of bookmarks comprising many categories unnecessarily difficult. Chrome also lets me print pages as PDFs to Google Drive. When this works, it’s great. Unfortunately, this process fails quite often.
“Google Drive lets me open my PDFs in a variety of apps, including Evernote where I can then save them. It’s also easy to get screen captures and photos that I’ve taken on my iPad or iPhone into Evernote. iBooks lets me copy passages of text from ebooks, which I can then paste into Evernote. For the Mac version of Chrome, there’s an extension, Evernote Web Clipper, that lets me capture and annotate clippings from Web pages—whether entire articles, snippets, images, or just links. Saving all of these information resources in Evernote lets me keep all of my information for a project in one place. In Evernote, I can create notes, organize them by adding them to specific notebooks, and for complex projects, organize notebooks into stacks. I do sometimes wish for another level of hierarchy in Evernote—the equivalent of sections in a notebook.
“While this level of effort is worthwhile only for information that is important to a project that I’m working on, this workflow is quite efficient. However, in many cases, capturing bookmarks is enough. The one capability that I wish Chrome’s bookmarking feature had would be the ability to save specific folders of bookmarks as lists of links, so I could easily share them with colleagues and UXmatters readers. This is just the sort of thing that computers can do much more efficiently than people. But there’s no way at all to export bookmarks on my iPad, and the closest Chrome for the Mac can come to doing this is exporting all of my bookmarks to an HTML file, which I can then edit to create lists of links. Well, at least there’s a way…
“Can any of you offer tips that would help me to improve on this approach to capturing information? What approach do you prefer? What are your favorite tools? Please contribute your ideas in the comments.”