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Designer Insight #2: Get Inspiration Outside Your Client’s Vertical

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It’s been a few months since I delivered my first tip in my series “Designer Insight for Developers”, Know Thy People, and figured it was about time I delivered another tip for developers interested in improving their interfaces.

This tip will revolve around gathering ideas or as I like to call it “inspiration”. This helps jumpstart the design process in my opinion. There is no sense in reinventing the wheel, but it does make sense to improve the preverbal wheel or make a new adaptation of it.

Inspiration can come from all areas of the web no matter what vertical your client is in. If you do a little work upfront, you’ll give yourself considerably more options to pull from. I highly recommend doing a workflow diagram and getting it nailed down before you go on your inspiration journey. This will make your life much simpler working for a solid foundation.

From this workflow, I like to break down the functionality into chunks and simplify those chunks down to their basic form. Okay, this may sound a little confusing. Let me give you an example to better explain what I mean.

The Chunk

There’s a piece of functionality where an admin needs the ability to set a unique set of permissions to a group of users who don’t have the same type of accounts/user roles. The idea is that user gets temporary access to these permissions without affecting the regular permissions.

The Breakdown

I need to collect two groups of stuff. Group 1 is users. Group 2 is the permissions. Then I need to tie them together.

With this simplification of “the chunk”, it opens up loads of possibilities of sites/applications/whatever else you can view to get inspiration. Now you don’t need to be tied to the idea of getting admin permissions to different systems that you most likely won’t get access to, to see how they handle it.

So what are some different types of sites that handle tying two groups of stuff together? One idea you could check out is, photo-sharing sites like Flickr. You can bulk upload your photos (group 1). Then you can append additional information to the photos like name, description, tags, sets and groups (group 2). Another idea would be any e-commerce site. In this instance, anything you place in the shopping cart represents group 1 and the information you use to pay for your items represents group 2. These are just two ideas. I’m sure there are few more out there that you could model your solution around, but you get the idea of what I’m talking about hopefully.

Beyond getting ideas to get you started in the wireframe stage, finding inspiration can also provide you with some other benefits that aren’t readily apparent. For example, you get to leverage the usability testing other companies have performed. Now, it may or may not be a formal situation in which they’ve done usability testing, but that doesn’t matter at the end of the day. What matters is that they have evolved that piece of functionality overtime to better suit their audience needs. Another benefit of using inspiration is you are leveraging something that people have seen before, therefore reducing the learning curve for them. The quicker and easier your audience can move through your application the more likely they spread the word, engaging with the product more and encourage your client to take their application to the next level. All this in turn will give you a happy client who will look forward to partnering with you on their next project. It looks like a win-win situation to me. So go out there, and get inspired!

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