UIEtips: Harnessing the Power of Annotations – An Interview with Dan Brown

Jared Spool

April 3rd, 2009

Right now, in a conference room somewhere, there’s a team of designers standing in front of a whiteboard, thinking about a cool new design idea. It’s highly unlikely that, as the team is standing there, everyone is silent. I’m betting that at least one member is walking through the proposed design, pointing and gesturing, helping everyone get on the same page.

Unfortunately, we can’t always communicate our design ideas that way. We’re not always in the same room, in front of the design. Sometimes we have to communicate through documents. Sometimes, we need our thoughts to last beyond the ephemeral moment of speech.

That’s where annotations come in. Annotations are critically important to our design process, since they help us augment the work product to communicate things that aren’t readily apparent in the diagram itself.

Yet we almost never talk about them. Is there a right way to do them? Are there ways to do them better?

For today’s UIEtips, I had a chance to sit down with Dan Brown, co-Founder and co-Principal of EightShapes. Dan wrote the fabulous book, Communicating Design, and he’s given a ton of thought to the best ways we can get our design ideas out to the team, so they have them when they’re making important decisions. Read Dan’s interview.

It’s no surprise that Dan’s full-day workshop, Communicating Design: Essential Deliverables for Highly Effective Teams, is one of the most popular at the upcoming UIE Web App Summit. More than ever, teams need every tool they can get to be effective and Dan’s toolbox is the envy of us all. Find out more about his workshop and other great sessions.

Have you developed your own techniques for annotating your work deliverables? Let us know your tips and tricks below.

4 Responses to “UIEtips: Harnessing the Power of Annotations – An Interview with Dan Brown”

  1. Mat Atkinson Says:

    Annotations can be more than just a way for a designer to add commentary to a visual design. They can also be the starting point for full collaboration between the designer and the people reviewing the work – whether colleagues or clients.

  2. Revi Körnmann Says:

    Annotations are very important, yet highly time-consuming and hard to keep up to date when visual design and front end is being processed. Before wasting time on annotations I make sure my teammates get the wireframes with high level annotations, as work in progress, along with an ephemeral moment of speech. As soon as Visual Design or front end produced some work, I place the mockups as linked documents in InDesign on top of the wireframes, and finetune the annotations. This way you’ll have a user experience design document which is easier (and less frustrating) to keep up to date as the source files change.. also the client gets to see the process of pouring the sauce over the interaction, which enables him to give feedback along the way in stead of coming to conclusion that he liked the grey version better..

  3. Dan Brown Says:

    @revi: Great comment. There are tons of ways to skin this cat, of course, but your story suggests (rightly so, I believe) to engage with the people who are going to use the documentation. You’ve established a rhythm with your team that keeps you efficient while giving them what they need.

    Designers of all stripes should do the same. We’re designing for users but documenting for our colleagues. We should ask them about what in our deliverables will support their work the best.

  4. Partial Recall » Links for 2009-04-09 Says:

    [...] UIEtips: Harnessing the Power of Annotations – An Interview with Dan Brown [...]

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