Design Notes from Wren Lanier's Talk: Designing on the Z-Axis

Disclaimer: These are notes I took from Wren's talk but also added my own thoughts. You can see her slides here.

"We're not designing pages. We're designing systems of components." —Stephen Hay (@StephenHay)

Unless you are planning to retire as a UX Designer in five years, you will work on a project that will be beyond the display—hardware-enabled, mobility, etc.

Two focuses in designing (particularly on mobile):

1. Layers

The biggest takeaway for me from the talk is when Lanier discussed heavily using the Z-Axis in the way you visualize layers and flows of a product. It makes me really want to explore finding software or a plugin that can help in visualizing wireframes and prototypes in a 3-dimensional space.

Layers also allow interface elements to move independently of one another. Lanier uses the example of a Big Mac (as an anti-example of this) and then next shows a carefully stacked Jenga puzzle.


  • A nav element can appear from the top of the interface and appear.
  • Content can move "forward" towards the user and move out of the screen. Example
  • A UI element may already exist below a layer. Example

Here is a quick drawing of how you can think of your layers. They don't have to be entire screens but just a few UI elements to create a sense of depth.


2. Transitions

Transitions soften up the moments of change between layers, especially when a user is on a device that is viewed closer to his or her face. It also provides context cues for the user to interact with the app.

For example, directly manipulating the message on the Mail app on iOS reveals options the user can interactive without taking him or her to a new screen.

Photo Jun 22, 2 15 44 PM


What's Next?

I firmly believe that we as UX Designers are in very great danger of becoming irrelevant if we do not rapidly evolve with the technology we are designing for. We are entering the era of design of devices (in plural) and singularity is dead. Users are expecting a multi-device experience and we need to consider all the devices and the spaces between the devices.

As the quote by General Eric Shinseki goes, "If you don't like change, you're going to like irrelevance even less."

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