Posts by: Colin

Designing Your Problem Space

Imagine you are a designer asked to help build a better way for people to find good places to eat nearby. Where do you start?

You might be thinking wireframes or mockups or prototypes. Or perhaps you just worked on an app that you can re-purpose for this project. Maybe you just stumbled across a new javascript library that could work well. But first you need to decide: iOS or Android, right?

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A Few Essential Techniques for GIMP Newbies

GIMP makes it easy for anyone to edit images like a pro, but many of us are still figuring out how to get the results we want.

For a long time, I fumbled around with Gimp’s basic features without really knowing what I was doing. Sure I could resize an image, or play with some weird filters, but most of the time I couldn’t get the image on my screen to match the one in my head.

Good designers must have the ability to visualize good composition, while also being able to translate those ideas to paper (or, the monitor). This means mastering tools like Gimp (or paying $400 then mastering Photoshop).

There are a handful of techniques I use in every Gimp project that I can’t believe I ever lived without. They’re not difficult — I just didn’t have a clue they existed. If you’re a Gimp Pro, you’re probably not going to learn much. But for all those Gimp newbies out there: get ready for your productivity to skyrocket.

Here are a few essential GIMP techniques you simply cannot live without.
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Using Qualitative Research to Inform Design

Tapetes de palma

Designers have the difficult task of devising purposeful solutions within certain contraints, often in a huge variety of disciplines. It’s vital to be a quick-learner with the ability to apply design principles and methodology to the context of the client.

On one project, a designer might be asked to revamp an airline’s check-in process at the airport, then turn around for their next project and design a medical device, or software interface, or supply chain. Good design requires a thorough understanding of domain-specific vocabulary, procedures, structure, best practices and more.

An elegant design solution requires a comprehensive understanding of the problem, and this requires design research. Research not only provides context for good design. It also expedites the design process by allowing the design team to make research-supported decisions, and avoid opinion-based arguments.

While research for other purposes (such as market research) can benefit from quantitative methods like surveys, there’s no substitute for qualitative methods to inform design decision-making. This is because qualitative data gives us the most illuminating information about user behavior and thought patterns. A marketing department might be interested in market size or demographics, but designers conduct research to determine how people behave and what affects their behavior.

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Features You Should Be Using in Word 2007

Besides Firefox, my most valued piece of software at work is Microsoft Word 2007. While I still hear of naysayers who haven’t embraced the ribbon (it’s been 4 years people…), I think Office 2007 nailed the interface and functionality of a heavy-duty word processor.

Heavy-duty is the key word here. If you just need to type a quick note, or want to avoid distractions while writing your novel, MS Word may not be for you. But for complex, business-class documents, Word offers features the power user cannot live without.

Sadly, I’ve discovered many Word users access about 2% of the program, and miss out on some killer functionality. It’s time to optimize your efforts by learning a few quick Word features that will save you hours of time down the road.

I’ve put together four tips to help get you on your way:

Style formatting


Word styles allow you to separate text formatting from content, similar to the way CSS separates the style from the content of HTML.

Say you’re writing a report with 10 sections and each section begins with a title. You decide to bold these titles by highlighting the text, then selecting the Bold button. You do this ten times, once for each title. Later, you decide your titles should be bold and underlined. Now you must manually highlight each of the 10 titles, and apply the underline formatting.

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A Short History of Coping with Information Overload

information overloadEvery morning, I read through my Google Reader feeds (at home and at work), organize my email inbox, browse the headlines on ESPN, listen to NPR’s Morning Edition, check for updates on my favorite blogs, and absently peruse the ads that accompany them all. Before 8am.

Every day, more and more digital media makes its way onto the web, as companies invest millions in new gadgets to deliver that content to consumers. Many predict the volume of electronic data will reach the zettabyte (one billion terabytes) mark this year. The devices we use to access this information – laptops, tablets, and mobile devices – are finding their way into the hands of more people each year, with the smartphone market alone expected to grow to 297 million devices next year.

As the sheer volume of content available to the masses continues to rise, we’ve begun to hear the resurgence of phrases like “information overload” and “data deluge“.

Are we distributing knowledge faster than we can process it? How do we get a handle on this massive flow of information?

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