Monthly Archives: November 2006

The Prototyping of Star Wars

Death Star Canyon

Stephen Anderson provided a wonderful talk a few weeks ago at Refresh Dallas (and subsequently at Refresh06 in Orlando) on “Creating Pleasurable Interfaces: Getting from Tasks to Experiences“. He does a great job of making the squishy elements of UI design feel tangible. The truly wonderful interfaces that we use everyday are our favorites because of the intangibles that Stephen so eloquently describes in this talk. There’s a lot to learn in there and apply to any project we’re working on.

Ralph McQuarrie conceptIn this talk Stephen mentions the work of Ralph McQuarrie. When George Lucas was shopping the idea for Star Wars to different studios, he was concerned that the traditional method of providing a script to read would not do justice to the scope of setting and drama that the story would provide. He wanted something more than just words on a page to literally illustrate the characters and settings he wanted to film. So George hired artist/illustrator Ralph McQuarrie to do just that. The use of such supplemental material for movie pitches was not at all common during that time. McQuarrie later said “I understand my pictures did something to convince [20th Century] Fox to make Star Warsâ€?.

I know Walt Disney used rough sketches for storyboards in the production process, but I think George Lucas’ approach to develop such high visual fidelity illustrations was novel for selling the project. Lucas realized that there was too much room for interpretation when he only used a script; he wanted to provide more concrete examples of the vision he had for the project. That’s exactly what we do when we insist on some form of prototype to advance our project instead of relying only on a written requirements and design document.

When you’re just trying to get a project off the ground, high visual fidelity concept screens can really help make your inspiration infectious with investors and other project sponsors. Illustrating the key ideas with great visual clarity so they can get a flavor of what their investment will return.

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Posted by on November 21, 2006 in prototyping


Mock Data Generators

As Dan Brown demonstrates on his “Representing Data in Wireframes” poster, the fidelity of your data can make a big difference in its ability to identify flaws early in the design process. The main reason designers use repetitive or otherwise lo-fi data is that it takes time and creativity to develop realistic data. Here are two tools that could help generate higher quality “dummy” data for your mock-ups and prototypes in less time than it would take for you to make up your own lo-fi samples.
Kleimo Random Name Generator
This web page uses data from the US Census to randomly generate up to 30 male and female names at a time. It has an attribute for obscurity as well. This little page can be really helpful for creating a realistic list of names. A random pop culture reference is fun to throw in every once in a while. But if your list of names reads like the credits for the Simpsons, you could loose some credibility with your clients.
Truly Random password and number generator
A lot of junk came back when I googled “random generator mask” trying to find a web-based application for generating random strings and numbers using a mask. Most of the hits were for Windows applications to generate passwords or lottery numbers. After trying several I finally found one that could be very useful for generating mock data. Solid Programs‘s Truly Random creates random strings based on a mask you provide. The mask is useful for creating numbers to match the format of your data. The downsides to this app (it’s in Windows and its not very easy on the eyes) are outweighed by the power it provides to generate plausible data quickly. It costs $19 to register Truly Random.
I wish someone would develop a web-based app to deliver both of these tools on a single, easy-to-use page (see update below). If not as a web app, a Universal Binary would be nice.

UPDATE: Benjamin Keen’s Data Generator provides the best of both tools mentioned below in an easy to use online form. He provides many useful datatypes (phone/fax, names, custom lists, etc.) that should cover most of the needs I can think of. Many of the types allow masked options editable for custom formats (like a Texas drivers license or client-specific account number). The output formats include HTML, Excel, XML and SQL. Very nice work.

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Posted by on November 6, 2006 in business, code, design, prototyping