Reflection on rapid prototyping of a smartphone application

For those who are trained in design for web in the traditional sense; websites that primarily are visited by a user using computer with a browser designing for small screens demands a new set of skills. When designing for mobile devices and small screens, our opinion is that there is a different structure, use of symbols, and ”flows”. Obviously it’s all about the background, knowledge and experience that the designer has.

Image and Icon language
Image and icon language is different in design för small screens compared to the traditional design. The surface constitute great demands on the compression of information. The underlying technology is among other aspects the touchscreen requests other visual grip. As an example, the following symbol is given; the symbol with three dots where one is black is used to show that there are more than one pictures to see (picture 1). The user use his/hers fingers  on the touchscreen to see moore images.  In this case the symbol is interpreted as an image of three is shown.  A similar imagery is shown below (picture 2) and visualizes a design for the computer screen with the difference that there are arrows to click on.

Figure 1. Image from our mock-up. Shows how we worked with a symbolic language for smartphone, small screen and touchscreen

Figure 2. Shows the how the publicist visualized that there are more images for the user to see. Note the arrows on the right and left of the dots.

Underlying technology
I experience that there is an even complex IT infrastructure designing for smartphone and small screens. While a website interacts with the underlying publishing system  the application for smartphone increasingly interact with a number of functions in the hardware – the smartphone. Features like Accelerometer, Camera, Compass, Geolocation, Notification (Alert), Notification (Sound), Notification (Vibration), Storage and are a central part of the design process and possibilities. It is common that when a application not are open program so that information is displayed in the hardware, the phone it still operates. Various forms of notifications communicates with the user.. An icon will appear in the phone when a new message or in our case, a request for item are located. An application of this kind is not only comparable to a web page that the user visits. It can also be described as software that works but does not show until something interesting happens.

Consequence for the designer
It could be understood that we are faced with an even higher pressure or demands for requirement to understand and have general knowledge of strategy, design, content, technology, to be able act creatively and professionally as designers. A basic understanding of how technology works are required but also knowledge abouthow the technology are used. It seems more and more important to understand different phenomenon caused by new technology.

The limited display area places high demands on an understanding of how the different functions of providing access to information and interaction. For this reason it is a very central feature of the design process. If we accept the view that an app is not just a web page that we visit, which we discussed in above, but also constitute a program that continually work for us needs these dimensions to addressed by the designer and these skills are similar to more advanced programming skills.

The limited surface makes it difficult to work with text and characters and we see a need to use some form that is even more compressed than the alphabet. The solution seems to be to use images or icons. This model of communication is similar to a system of symbols or pictures which was used 30,000 years ago. In this way of communication system symbols are representing linguistic expressions. A symbol shaped like a fish meant just fish. The Sumerian cuneiform, Egyptian hieroglyphs, the Chinese script, are examples of picture writings. Is the direction we are going?

Reflection on Vannevar Bush article As We May Think

Reflection on Vannevar Bush article As We May Think

The American scientist Vannevar Bush published the article As We May Think in 1944. In the article he reasoned about the need of inventing powerful tools to connect information in books, notes and letters so that people in a better and more efficient way could share and inherit knowledge.

Bush estimated that the amount of information at the time was so large that it was hard or even impossible to approach. Bush is not the first person to document such a worry about the development considering more and more information. Roger Bacon, Samuel Johnson och Konrad Geßner worte in their work Bibliotheca Universalis in 1545 a warning about “confusing and harmful abundance of books” (They also discussed strategies on how not to be stressed about this fenomenon – an issue still discussed).

Bosh also shows a fascination over the possibilities that new technology, in his case microfilm, provides in its ability to compress information. He exemplifies by stating that the entire Encyclopedia Britannica as microfilm would fit into a box of matches. The article is written before the knowledge about digitalization existed and Bush discussion about the possibilities with information storage and retrieval in an effective way return in other literature, among others concerning data and Internet development. Consider how much information we today can store in a USB powered flash storage memory.

It´s an interesting thought to consider how Claude Shannon at the age of 32 published a scientific report titled “A Mathematical Theory of Communication” in 1948 introducing a measurement of information we still use. Shannon had the goal to find this measurement and introduced the concept of the Bit. The bit, or databit, is the smallest representation of a number or an logical unit  in digital technology and is represented by a zero or a one.

It´s possible to reflect on Bush´s way of thinking would have been influenced by Shannons ideas on how to describe information and digitalization. How would the article “As we may think” developed in that case?

This is also an example on the problems Bush addresses. Knowledge and scientific creations were not available for those who wanted to read them. There was a time lag which depended on that the information was published on paper, distances between for example Europe and the America resulted in that information, ideas, results and people took its time to spread. Today the spread of information is almost instant, even though people still tend to move slower.