Musical Notation and Documenting Applications

I’ve been learning how to play the cello for a while now, and one thing anyone who makes music will tell you is that playing the notes as written isn’t enough. It won’t be music. Not only does the musician have to make phrases and color the music with their personality, but there are other indicators aside from notes that show you how the music is supposed to be played: marks to indicate volume, emphasis, and even when the artist can improvise.

I was thinking about this in regard to the documentation of applications. For desktop and internet applications, my colleague Ryan Freitas and I have been talking about using storyboards as part of the documentation process alongside wireframes and lo-fi animations. Storyboards, however, have a fatal flaw in that they don’t show timing or feeling very well. They are the notes on the staff, devoid of indicators as to how they fit together to make music. What storyboards–and really interaction design documentation in general–are missing are these indicators of tone and mood. Does a menu drop down abruptly, or is it a slow slide? Is this an important command with a lot of emphasis, or is it a minor piece that should be subtle?

I certainly don’t have a system in place for this yet, but as our interactions get more sophisticated, it’s probably going to be something designers will have to address.

One thought on “Musical Notation and Documenting Applications

  1. Very interesting insight. As a musician, I can definitely appreciate the correlation. As a designer, I completely agree that personality is a huge factor in successful applications.
    I have no idea how to communicate these things in a design doc, and I suspect that the developers might look at me like I’m nuts if I try to explain in a spec how an application should “feel”. That said, I’d love to take this on and see how I can affect the final product by defining a mood and personality for it.
    Great post.

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