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Designing User Interfaces and Interactions With OmniGraffle

Designing User Interfaces and Interactions With OmniGraffle

    One of the hardest things to do while creating any new system or software is to make sure that the user interface and design is easy and intuitive for users to understand and use effectively. Coming from a development background, this type of design and attention to detail that is needed to ensure that the software, web site, or system you are creating is usable is probably the the most important part of any software development project.

    The problem is that most times designing user interfaces is awkward, time consuming, and hard. But, with new tools it doesn’t necessarily have to be.

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    Enter OmniGraffle

    OmniGraffle by the Omni Group is a graphic and visual document creation app for Mac and iPad that allows you to create diagrams, process charts, page-layouts, user interfaces, or even web-site wireframes quickly. In fact, if you get really good at OmniGraffle you can make just about anything that you can dream up graphically.

    I’ve been using OmniGraffle for about a year now and it is a great tool for creating diagrams and user interfaces that I can use to design the “real thing” later. It’s also awesome for spitting out designs quickly so I can run them by end users.

    But, I don’t use OmniGraffle like Nick Finck does. Not even close.

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    Using OmniGraffle

    Nick Finck is the User Experience Director at Deloitte Digital and primarily uses OmniGraffle to tackle this complex problem of user interaction. The Omni Group (the company behind OmniGraffle) has posted a video Crafting Interaction that looks at how Finck users the portableness of OmniGraffle for the iPad to quickly draw up sketches and mockups of interfaces and then translate these designs into full blown interfaces. I highly, highly suggest checking out this video over at Omni’s site.

    Finck talks about how using OmniGraffle can be a bit of a challenge at first, but once you get “in there” and learn how to use the app (iPad and Mac), the possibilities of what you can create are endless. I have direct experience using OmniGraffle for Mac and iPad and I can concur with Nick’s assessment; the tool is so powerful that for it to be completely simple to understand and use out of the box probably isn’t possible. The good part is that the Omni Group has great support and documentation to get you started, plus their Support Ninjas are top class.

    One key feature of OmniGraffle is the ability to create stencils and templates in the app to modularize different components so they can be reused in multiple projects. Not only do these features save you time when designing, they allow you to have standard controls across all of your projects which can be a good thing if you are trying to design a “suite” of different interfaces that work together.

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    Graffletopia for OmniGraffle

    Speaking of stencils, another great tool that Nick mentions to use alongside OmniGraffle is Graffletopia, a site that is dedicated to OmniGraffle stencils that you can download and start using immediately. And these aren’t simply user interface stencils. You can find different stencils for creating complex network diagrams, flow charts, and other complex visual components.

    What’s awesome about this site is that you can start from a “baseline” of an interface or component and start building from there. This allows you to spend less time creating components and more time creating ideas on how an interface or diagram should look. For someone like me this is an excellent addition to OmniGraffle because even though I have an eye for design, I definitely wouldn’t call myself a “designer”. I can leave the creation of the visual components to the professionals and I can concentrate on how those components fit together. This can make iterating on a design extremely fast and effective.

    Iteration on design

    Finck talks about how OmniGraffle allows him to create interfaces quickly and keeps him out of the “nuts and bolts” of the software (although he can tinker with the nuts and bolts if he wants to). Instead of trying to figure out how how to do something in OmniGraffle, he can concentrate on putting interfaces together and iterating as fast as possible. This rapid iteration leads to a well designed and useable user interface because of the ease of changing the design to meet the user’s needs.

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    Quality software for Mac and iOS

    The one thing that I personally like about OmniGraffle (and all Omni Group products) and something that Finck doesn’t completely touch on, is just how high quality they really are. Some people complain about Omni’s “premium” prices for applications, but in this case you definitely get what you pay for. I’m an OmniFocus, OmniGraffle, and OmniOutliner user on both Mac and iOS and I have easily gotten my money’s worth over the last couple of years.

    The Omni Groups tools are so powerful and versatile that I can’t think of any other productivity tools that I’d rather use. Even Microsoft Office products don’t compare to some of the aspects of what Omni has to offer.

    Nick Finck’s experience with designing mobile user interfaces with OmniGraffle and the ever growing Graffletopia is a testament to just how powerful and effective Omni’s tools are. OmniGraffle can be used to create a quick and dirty UI idea on the fly on the iPad which can then eventually translate into a full blown user interface design that is used directly in an iPhone, Android, or even mobile web applications.

    OmniGraffle can be the one tool to get this user interaction and design done. Now that’s productive.

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    CM Smith

    A technologist and writer who shares advice on personal productivity, creativity and how to use technology to get things done.

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    Last Updated on January 2, 2020

    How to Break Out of Your Comfort Zone

    How to Break Out of Your Comfort Zone

    Over time, we all gather a set of constricting habits around us—ones that trap us in a zone of supposed comfort, well below what our potential would allow us to attain. Pretty soon, such habits slip below the level of our consciousness, but they still determine what we think that we can and cannot do—and what we cannot even bring ourselves to try. As long as you let these habits rule you, you’ll be stuck in a rut.

    Like the tiny, soft bodied creatures that build coral reefs, habits start off small and flexible, and end up by building massive barriers of rock all around your mind. Inside the reefs, the water feels quiet and friendly. Outside, you think it’s going to be rough and stormy. There may be sharks. But if you’re to develop in any direction from where you are today, you must go outside that reef of habits that marks the boundaries of your comfort zone. There’s no other way. There’s even nothing specially wrong with those habits as such. They probably worked for you in the past.

    But now, it’s time to step over them and go into the wider world of your unused potential. Your fears don’t know what’s going to be out there, so they invent monsters and scary beasts to keep you inside.

    Nobody’s born with an instruction manual for life. Despite all the helpful advice from parents, teachers and elders, each of us must make our own way in the world, doing the best we can and quite often getting things wrong.

    Messing up a few times isn’t that big a deal. But if you get scared and try to avoid all mistakes by sticking with just a few “tried and true” behaviors, you’ll miss out on most opportunities as well.

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    Lots of people who suffer from boredom at work are doing it to themselves. They’re bored and frustrated because that’s what their choices have caused them to be. They’re stuck in ruts they’ve dug for themselves while trying to avoid making mistakes and taking risks. People who never make mistakes never make anything else either.

    It’s time to pin down the habits that have become unconscious and are running your life for you, and get rid of them. Here’s how to do it:

    1. Understand the Truth about Your Habits

    They always represent past successes. You have formed habitual, automatic behaviors because you once dealt with something successfully, tried the same response next time, and found it worked again. That’s how habits grow and why they feel so useful.

    To get away from what’s causing your unhappiness and workplace blues, you must give up on many of your most fondly held (and formerly successful) habits. and try new ways of thinking and acting. There truly isn’t any alternative. Those habits are going to block you from finding new and creative ideas. No new ideas, no learning. No learning, no access to successful change.

    2. Do Something—Almost Anything—Differently and See What Happens

    Even the most successful habits eventually lose their usefulness as events change the world and fresh responses are called for. Yet we cling on to them long after their benefit has gone.

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    Past strategies are bound to fail sometime. Letting them become automatic habits that take the controls is a sure road to self-inflicted harm.

    3. Take Some Time out and Have a Detailed Look at Yourself—With No Holds Barred

    Discovering your unconscious habits can be tough. For a start, they’re unconscious, right? Then they fight back.

    Ask anyone who has ever given up smoking if habits are tough to break. You’ve got used to them—and they’re at least as addictive as nicotine or crack cocaine.

    4. Be Who You Are

    It’s easy to assume that you always have to fit in to get on in the world; that you must conform to be liked and respected by others or face exclusion. Because most people want to please, they try to become what they believe others expect, even if it means forcing themselves to be the kind of person they aren’t, deep down.

    You need to start by putting yourself first. You’re unique. We’re all unique, so saying this doesn’t suggest that you’re better than others or deserve more than they do.

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    You need to put yourself first because no one else has as much interest in your life as you do; and because if you don’t, no one else will. Putting others second means giving them their due respect, not ignoring them totally.

    Keeping up a self-image can be a burden. Hanging on to an inflated, unrealistic one is a curse. Give yourself a break.

    5. Slow Down and Let Go

    Most of us want to think of ourselves as good, kind, intelligent and caring people. Sometimes that’s true. Sometimes it isn’t.

    Reality is complex. We can’t function at all without constant input and support from other people.

    Everything we have, everything we’ve learned, came to us through someone else’s hands. At our best, we pass on this borrowed existence to others, enhanced by our contribution. At our worst, we waste and squander it.

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    So recognize that you’re a rich mixture of thoughts and feelings that come and go, some useful, some not. There’s no need to keep up a façade; no need to pretend; no need to fear of what you know to be true.

    When you face your own truth, you’ll find it’s an enormous relief. If you’re maybe not as wonderful as you’d like to be, you aren’t nearly as bad as you fear either.

    The truth really does set you free; free to work on being better and to forgive yourself for being human; free to express your gratitude to others and recognize what you owe them; free to acknowledge your feelings without letting them dominate your life. Above all, you’ll be free to understand the truth of living: that much of what happens to you is no more than chance. It can’t be avoided and is not your fault. There’s no point in beating yourself up about it.

    Final Thoughts

    What is holding you in situations and actions that no longer work for you often isn’t inertia or procrastination. It’s the power of habitual ways of seeing the world and thinking about events. Until you can let go of those old, worn-out habits, they’ll continue to hold you prisoner.

    To stay in your comfort zone through mere habit, or—worse still—to stay there because of irrational fears of what may lie outside, will condemn you to a life of frustration and regret.

    If you can accept the truth about the world and yourself, change whatever is holding you back, and get on with a fresh view on life, you’ll find that single action lets you open the door of your self-imposed prison and walk free. There’s a marvelous world out there. You’ll see, if you try it!

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    Featured photo credit: teigan rodger via unsplash.com

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