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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 October 15, 2019

    How to Plan Your Life Goals and Actually Achieve Them in 7 Simple Steps

    How to Plan Your Life Goals and Actually Achieve Them in 7 Simple Steps

    Where do you want to be 5 years from now, 10 years from now, or even this time next year? These places are your goal destinations and although you might know that you don’t want to be standing still in the same place as you are now, it’s not always easy to identify what your real goals are.

    Many people think that setting a goal destination is having a dream that is there in the far distant future but will never be attained. This proves to be a self-fulfilling prophesy because of two things:

    Firstly, that the goal isn’t specifically defined enough in the first place; and secondly, it remains a remote dream waiting for action which is never taken.

    Defining your goal destination is something that you need to take some time to think carefully about. The following steps on how to plan your life goals should get you started on a journey to your destination:

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    1. Make a list of your goal destinations

    Goal destinations are the things that are important to you. Another word for them would be ambitions, but ambitions sound like something which outside of your grasp, whereas goal destinations are certainly achievable if you are willing to put in the effort working towards them.

    So what do you really want to do with your life? What are the main things that you would like to accomplish with your life? What is it that you would really regret not doing if you suddenly found you had a limited amount of time left on the earth?

    Each of these things is a goal. Define each goal destination in one sentence.

    If any of these goals is a stepping stone to another one of the goals, take it off this list as it isn’t a goal destination.

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    2. Think about the time frame to have the goal accomplished

    This is where the 5 year, 10 year, next year plan comes into it.

    Some goals will have a “shelf life” because of age, health, finance, etc, whereas others will be up to you as to when you would like to achieve them by.

    3. Write down your goals clearly

    Write each goal destination at the top of a new piece of paper.

    For each goal, write down what is it that you need and don’t have now that will allow you achieve that goal. This could be some kind of education, career change, finance, a new skill, etc. Any “stepping stone” goals you removed will fit into this exercise. If any of these smaller “goals” have sub-goals, go through the same process with these so that you have precise action points to work with.

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    4. Write down what you need to do for each goal

    Under each item listed, write down the things that you will need to do in order to complete each of the steps required to complete the goal. 

    These items will become a check-list. They are a tangible way of checking how you are progressing towards reaching your goal destinations. A record of your success!

    5. Write down your timeframe with specific and realistic dates

    Using the time frames you created, on each goal destination sheet write down the year in which you will complete the goal by.

    For any goal which has no fixed completion date, think about when you would like to have accomplished it by and use that as your destination date.

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    Work within the time frames for each goal destination, make a note of realistic dates by which you will complete each of the small steps.

    6. Schedule your to-dos

    Now take an overview of all your goal destinations and make a schedule of what you need to do this week, this month, this year – in order to progress along the road towards your goal destinations.

    Write these action points on a schedule so that you have definite dates on which to do things.

    7. Review your progress

    At the end of the year, review what you have done this year, mark things off the check-lists for each goal destination and write up the schedule with the action points you need for the next year.

    Although it may take you several years to, for example, get the promotion you desire because you first need to get the MBA which means getting a job with more money to allow you to finance a part-time degree course, you will ultimately be successful in achieving your goal destination because you have planned out not only what you want, but how to get it, and have been pro-active towards achieving it.

    Featured photo credit: Debby Hudson via unsplash.com

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