Tech Design Tools

Part
01
of three
Part
01

Easy To Use Tech Design Tools - Identifying AI Needs

While AI is rapidly becoming a necessity in business, determining which AI platform is still more art than science, requiring careful consideration of the business' needs and even the expertise of one's staff. Where tools do exist, they are thus far built to accommodate the needs of software engineers rather than non-technical staff. This is not an instance where the information requested cannot be found. Rather, our conclusion is that the type of tool described in the project criteria does not presently exist, requiring companies put considerable thought and planning into the adoption of an AI solution.

Below is an explanation of our research strategy, which included two separate interpretations of the request, in addition to our findings. Due to the necessities of this report, we will adopt a more narrative structure than our usual brief format and are unable to provide useful images / screenshots in the attached project document.

INTIAL RESEARCH

The phrasing of the request criteria was ambiguous and after initial consultation with our interpretive team, we began by a quick round of research into what goes into training an AI (one possible interpretation "AI needs" in the criteria), into determining what is needed to build an AI from the ground up for a particular purpose (another possible interpretation), and/or choosing the right AI for one's business needs (see below).

After an extensive search, we did not find any layperson's tools for identifying the type of data the AI requires to function nor how to identify the needs of a custom-built AI solution. We do find a variety of tools for actually training an AI to accomplish its intended purpose. However, it would be difficult to single any out as "easy to use" as they are designed for highly-specialized users and engineers and so do not fit the criteria. Apart from this, there are many articles written for laymen that explain in broad strokes how researchers and software engineers train AIs to do their tasks, but these also did not fit the other project criteria.

FINDING THE RIGHT AI PLATFORM

Since the project criteria and a review of the original transcript made it clear that what were wanted were tools for the layman, we next researched off-the-shelf AI systems in the hopes of finding tools (e.g., questionnaires, guides, toolkits, etc.) which would help the layman determine which was best for their business. We soon found that no AI is truly off-the-shelf. Nearly all are built around certain industries and/or purposes. While the Cloud Machine Learning Engine is intended for a wide range of uses, a company wanting AI analysis specifically for its sales and marketing teams might find Salesforce Einstein to be a much easier fit, just for example.

USEFUL GUIDES TO IDENTIFYING ONE'S AI NEEDS

We found several credible reviews of AI software packages, including:


Of the above, Finances Online provides the best guide for how to choose an AI platform from a layperson's perspective, but even this falls short of being a tool per se, and the text certainly does not lend itself to useful screenshots (discounting screenshots of the AI platforms under review, which again seems not to fit the project criteria).

Having exhausted the possible avenues of research, we conclude that the type of tool indicated by the project criteria does not yet exist due to the rapidly-changing nature of the AI sector. At present, the non-technical person must make their decision based on a combination of research (with the above sources being a useful starting point) and guidance by more technically-inclined consultants and/or individuals in their organization.
Part
02
of three
Part
02

Easy To Use Tech Design Tools - Easy Communication Between Non-Tech and Tech Teams

There are many tools available to facilitate good communication between technical and non-technical teams in an organization. These include both conceptual tools like Kanban boards and mind-mapping and specific software tools like Smart Draw, Miro, Slide Team's templates, and CANVAS DRAW 6. Below is an overview of each; screenshots are available on the attached project document as requested.

Even so, no tool can overcome the basic need for clear yet concise communication by the presenter. This includes using commonly-understood terms over technical jargon as well as using "pictures over paragraphs." Due to the specific criteria of this request, the tools and platforms suggested below focus on using visuals to communicate. However, a platform-neutral deep-dive into how technical and non-technical teams can best communicate with each other may be beneficial.

KANBAN BOARDS

  • Kanban is a workflow visualization technique originally pioneered in the late 1940s by Toyota. While the technique goes beyond communication, visual communication is key in mapping the workflow.
  • Kanban uses cards (either literal or virtual) to track specific and measurable steps in a team's progress, using colors, icons, user avatars, etc. to communicate the state of each step.
  • While originally designed for physical engineering, a Kanban card system can be used to quickly communicate the state of production in a software environment to both
    • the technical team (keeping the whole team abreast of what steps need to be completed next) and
    • the non-technical team (keeping them informed of the project progress and what non-technical tasks need to be completed next) to avoid bottlenecks.
  • Kanban's simplicity and platform-neutral nature has turned it into one of the most widely-used communication tools across numerous industries.

MIND-MAPPING WITH SMART DRAW


MIRO

  • Miro is a real-time collaboration tool designed for "cross-functional team work," but also capable of providing a better communication channel across technical and non-technical teams.
  • The tool provides templates & frameworks on an "infinite canvas," which can be written or drawn on by multiple participants, along with embedded video and chat.
  • As the onsite demo shows, the canvas is incredibly intuitive and easy to use, making Miro not only an excellent step-up from standard video chat and conferencing, but an excellent group mind-mapping tool.
  • While the base canvas tool is standalone and easy to use, the product has far more depth for those who need it: The template library includes user story maps, Kanban templates (see above), service blueprint templates, and an extensive UX Design & Research collection, and the product can sync with many standard business apps.

SLIDE TEAM

  • For PowerPoint and other slideshow users, Slide Team provides an incredible library of technology and software slide templates capable of quickly and accurately explaining technical concepts to a non-technical audience or vice versa.
  • Since the templates work with standard slide presentation software like PowerPoint or Google Slides, they are easy to use and quick to insert.
  • Each template is customizable and comes with instructions on how to change the color scheme, text, and icons, further adding to their ease.
  • These templates and other slide presentations are available via a subscription service.

CANVAS DRAW 6

  • For those who need a more refined presentation tool for their communication needs, Canvas Draw 6 provides a robust graphics platform for "combining adaptable text, image, object, and effect elements in a single document," which can be both printed and used in presentations.
  • This tool has a broad range of applications, including creating visual communication tools for both technical and non-technical teams, up to and including creating blueprints.
  • While more robust than other examples and likely requiring some time to fully master, Canvas provides a rich library of searchable objects, symbols, text tools, and paint tools which make it easy to use at a basic level.

RESEARCH STRATEGY

With the criteria being open to interpretation, our first round of research sought to identify pain points in the communication between technical and layperson (non-technical, e.g., management, marketing, etc.) teams and articles by credible sources addressing those pain points. We reasoned that one or more of such articles might be useful as a guide, but also hoped that they would point us to the best tools for the job.

While we found no shortage of project management tools and illustration tools, most are intended for work within a technical or non-technical (e.g., finance, HR, etc.) team rather than across teams. It took some investigation and a few judgment calls to determine which were best designed to help communicate progress across both types of teams. Having said that, the overwhelming majority of articles on the subject of communication between such teams focus on the effective use of existing communication tools, from face-to-face conversations, to email, to chat. We have noted this in our introduction and believe that a separate brief on communication best practices may be of use. However, as the project criteria requires screenshots of each tool suggested, we have not provided more than an introductory mention.
Part
03
of three
Part
03

Easy To Use Tech Design Tools - Visualization of Tech Stacks

While the field of design tools, templates, guides, and/or toolkits specifically oriented towards technology stacks is limited, the free-to-inexpensive tools available from the Software Guild, Airstack, Slide Team, and Creately are all intuitive and easy to understand even for the non-technical user. In addition, each of these tools focuses on a slightly different aspect of the technology stack creation and presentation process, meaning that one could, for example, use Airstack Slide or Creately to map out a stack, the Software Guild infographic to explain the basics to a non-technical audience, and Slide Team's templates or Creately to present and explain a particular stack.

Screenshots of these tools can be found in the attached project spreadsheet.

THE SOFTWARE GUILD

  • The Software Guild's build-your-own-technology-stack tutorial infographic visualizes the full tech stack as a hamburger and/or "solution sliders," providing a somewhat humorous but memorable picture.
  • This guide comes recommended by and/or has been duplicated by third-parties such as FX Web Design for the clarity of its presentation.
  • The Guild's presentation provides simple illustrations and explanations of the many tech stack diagrams which might be needed to adequately explain a particular organization's technology use, e.g., the full stack, front-end development, back-end development, solution stacks, and signature (website) stacks.

AIRSTACK SLIDE

  • Airstack Slide is a simple tool which allows users to quickly and easily lay out and progressively fine-tune their technology stack. It is not as graphically-focused as some other visualization tools, but Airstack offers free help in laying out your technology stack via their Twitter feed.
  • Even apart from the aforementioned offer to help in laying out a tech stack, Slide is simple to use. The user creates custom groups in the Airstack Slide online app and then adds the apps using a search bar or adding a custom app by name. These apps can be rearranged and moved between groups by dragging the icons.
  • The results, as shown in the examples and our screenshots, are aesthetically simple, but clear and easy to understand.

SLIDE TEAM'S TECH STACK SLIDE TEMPLATES


CREATELY'S TECHNOLOGY STACK DIAGRAM


RESEARCH STRATEGY

We began with a broad-based search for technology stack visualization and/or (as they are more commonly called) diagramming tools. Having identified several, we next looked for "best of" lists compiled by credible third-party sources, using the names of the tools and other key terms taken from their descriptions as a guide. However, this strategy failed to reveal any comparative lists or reviews. Consequently, we had to use our own judgment on which to present above based solely on the information and screencaps provided by each tool's homepage. This means that we are unable to fully vet ease-of-use; however, the available information suggests that the above have simple user interfaces.
Sources
Sources