tough tablets

18 10 2006

I mentioned earlier that I would discuss why I have a preference for using tablet PC’s.

One of my key theologies is to maintain speed and ability to meet demand through streamlining processes, and refining what I / my team members do.

Speed designing discusses this, but not exhaustively.

Why the need for speed? What happened to quality?

All good questions. I’l answer them more fully later too. But for now:

Speed. I am speed.

Tablet PC for me was a revolution for my line of work. It enabled the practitioner to have all the bonuses of working with paper prototypes, but the following features:

  • removal of the source control problem (coffee coloured delete key)
  • ability to change design very very quickly without grappling for new paper sheets
  • version control
  • ability to use projectors and work more easily with larger groups
  • ability to combine handwritten notes with site photos, screen snapshots, graphics, anything!
  • ability to copy and paste the basic frames without needing to redraw your screens, big bonuses if you use the tablet for your initial screen layouts

Yeah, great ben. What activities do you do that make the tablet PC so useful?

Paper prototypes.

I’ve always been a big fan of working from paper to start then translating that to electronic form as part of the refinement.

Now, traditionally i would walk around with great slabs of A3 in my hands, with a collection of coloured pens and textas in my pocket.

With the tablet PC, I just take the tablet and its stylus. That’s all. everything I need is in the tablet.

Collaborative work
When working with groups I use the tablet PC over the projector so I can make reference to business requirements documents, reference websites, user profile information, existing applications and so on. On top of that I can use the tablet PC to take snapshots on the fly of favorite sites / materials / whatever, and start scribbling on them and adapting them in front of the group to get the ideas flowing.

Because the tablet PC does not lend itself to really fine or precise work, it forces me to be forgiving of myself to accept that and move quickly.

I remember many times years ago, I used to DREAD having clients work with me over a design at my desk. Because they would nit pic about little things, and I would be slow because photoshop had to render the pics or the HTML would have a heart attack about something I slapped in there.

With the tablet PC, I don’t have those problems. I can work quickly with a group of clients, catching thoughts, flicking past things, scribbling and so on. it’s GREAT.

Site Visits
Ahhhh, the old site visit. They are great aren’t they. Kelly goto refers to them as “deep hanging out”.

I take photos, ask questions, draw schematics of the physical site, make notes about workstations, capture voice notes from the people I’m visiting, all that stuff.

Because of the ability to combine all these features in one device (barring the photos of course, but the tablet has USB2 or card readers typically) I can obtain so much more data quickly and reliably. So I don’t need to rely on recollection post visit to complete my notes. Au contraire! my notes are done as soon as I leave the site and get in my car.

Because the format is electronic, I can use them as finals. I’ve gone through the whole saga of writing up site visit notes in MS word (yay!). This is much better, I take my ‘one note’ files, publish them to MTHML and voila! instant notes. Electronic, and versionable. Editable post event too if need be! Emailable even if you wish!!!

Drawbacks
Are these things a silver bullet?

Nope. long way off. I’m typing this blog using a macbookpro, which has no handwriting input capabilty at all.

Why? it frees up my brain to deal better with this work. Plus inputting large text into the tablet pc (using the stylus of course) is just a painful exercise. Keyboard is the only way to fly here.

Also any type of fine / detail work is utterly beyond the device. Photoshops a joke, code work more so.

Browsing is great, as is reading word docs. Editing them, powerpoints and ergh… excel is simply too ridiculous to explain here.

My desktop has several machines on it. A desktop PC for most of the work, a tablet pc for all the tasks described above, and a Macbookpro for my more creative efforts.

My last comment

If you’re in this line of work and you do a lot of user centred design work particularly those described above, having a Tablet PC will certainly save you time. Lots of it.

Saved time buys you credibiilty and instantly gets you more capabiltiy and responsiveness of your service. Also and this is a crucial note:

CRUCIAL NOTE:
The tablet used correctly will enable you to draw up intiials, hand them to developers instantly, and they can use them to build immediately. (presuming of course the project is agile (iterative) and the developers can work in abscence of actual look and feel, which is becoming more common these days).

This functionality alone will save a project days of time (not effort, duration, there is a corresponding effort of course, durations the key one.) That saved time, translates to money and delivery response. You need that in order to be successful in a large environment.

END NOTE.

You will need to lear to use it quickly. It can take a bit, particularly if your handwriting is as appauling as mine.

You will need more machines also, just having the tablet will kill you for the rest of your work.

Bens pics?
Fujitsu stylistic slates with separate dock, and peripherals. Best of breed, and perfectly suited to our work. Plus they are super light, perfect for site visits while being OH&S sound.

Toshiba M400. small, clamshell design. Light still, carries more portability as a properish workstation if you travel a lot. Packs core duo power, YEE HAAA.

Users first yall.

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