It is difficult to find the beginning. Or, better, it is difficult to begin at the beginning. And try not to go further back.
Ludwig Wittgenstein, On Certainty
Guilty admission: I really like the movie Apocalypse Now. The film is pure Coppola -- an out-of-control wreck of a movie; sorta like how The Godfather might have turned out if he'd filmed it as an unscripted documentary with real Mafiosi. There are two particularly cool things about it:
- Its origin as a modern adaptation of Joseph Conrad's awesome Heart of Darkness
- Coppola's wife Eleanor's incredible documentary Hearts of Darkness, on the creation and filming of Apocalypse Now
Hearts of Darkness is a documentary all software people should watch, because it gives a behind-the-scenes look at the creation of Apocalypse Now, starting way before the cameras rolled. In the beginning Francis Ford Coppola barely had an idea for a movie; but he was soon able to flesh it out enough to sell it to United Artists. How did he flesh out the idea? As Hearts of Darkness fascinatingly shows, he used storyboards.
Storyboarding is the act of describing a story (or software application) as a sequence of scenes (or screens), where the use-case is detailed as the screens progress. It's a terrific approach for visually describing the story/application, but there's one problem:
Good storyboards are really hard to draw
The most common approach I've seen to storyboarding (other than giving it up as "too hard") is through Adobe Illustrator. Illustrator is a great product, but it takes some real graphic design skill to use, and it's hard to use on a team in parallel. So what to do?
Enter "Mockups":http://www.balsamiq.com/products/mockups, from Balsamiq Studios. Mockups is a pretty neat web/cloud/desktop/Mac/Linux/Windows design tool specifically designed for mocking up software user interfaces.
Mockups provides visual design for the talentless, and makes the layout of rich screens easy through a rich toolbox.
Mockups are fast, easy, and exportable as .png files or as XML. The software also integrates in the cloud, and strikes me (as yet unproven) as a slick way for teams to work out visual interfaces.
There might be other ways to create and review storyboards (PowerPoint or Keynote come to mind), but Mockups seems wonderfully task-specific, and if you do a lot of UI design it's probably worth a look.
Next up we'll take a look at "The Middle", and a neat TMN solution for solving one of the hardest problems in software design. But first, a bit more Wittgenstein:
Doesn't testing come to an end?