To deeply discuss a topic it helps to have a name for it.
I thereby dub the topic of “software that guides users through the creation of an original creative work” — tools for User Driven Design.
There are many applications that fit this description across a wide range of sophistication. On one extreme there is the complex drawing/CAD/Adobe products that represent the design tools which aid expert users in their creative process. I would argue these tools don’t “guide” them but rather are the tools of their medium, like a brush or a pencil. On the other extreme we have applications which take a very simple input from the user, like a photo and augment it or organize it and output a designed collection.
Don’t let the “simple” nature at the more automated end of the spectrum fool you. As we will discuss, the more simple it is for the user, the more challenging the design process in building an application that will generate good output.
I am primarily focused on the more automated/simple end of the spectrum as this feels under served. It is also increasing in importance. As consumers demand more customization in the goods they buy, well executed software tools to help them will become ~the~ primary competitive advantage in a market of plenty.
Top notch User Driven Design tools are difficult to create as they have many competing goals. They ~must~ be easy to use as the users will be novices. The output they create must be highly varied to feel personalized. The output needs to feel polished and professional independent of user choices as consumers have high standards. Finally the form of the final “takeaway” must be carefully factored into the design space to ensure a good final product.
As an example from my own recent past at Motionbox I was very inspired by a User Driven Design project called QuickMix. QuickMix took a series of photos, video clips and some music from the user and generated a personalized “mix” video. In addition to their digital assets the user selected from a series of themes (occasion or season based) which brought in yet another source of input. A designer must understand the software, the input and the output and assist by contributing templates to the process.
The first version of QuickMix was just about complete but never saw wide release, hopefully it will find new life with the acquirers of the technology (Snapfish/HP). I will certainly use it as an example in my next few blog entries as I try and pick apart what makes for good and bad User Driven Design.