blogs

How to communicate effectively in email

Do your e-mails get results? If not, follow these rules for writing compelling communications. Email is a big part of how we communicate these days, and we want to make sure our messages get received. This article in Darwin discusses how to write email to get your message across efficiently and effectively in order to produce the results you want. I know it seems like they're preaching to the choir -- I'm sure we're all steeped in email etiquette -- but this article is similar to the Tog article about writing effective reports. thanks Tomalak's Realm

Information Design Using Card Sorting

James Robertson's article in illumination.com.au explains how to use card sorting to organize your information. At the beginning of any information design exercise, it is normal to be confronted by a very long list of potential subjects to include. The challenge is to organise this information in a way that is useful and meaningful for the users of the system. While careful investigation and analysis of the information may reveal some clues, it can be virtually impossible to determine which topics should be grouped together. The difficulty in organising the content stems from a lack of knowledge about how real users make use of this information. Without this, any exercise in information design is a purely theoretical one. A card sorting session can go a long way towards resolving this problem. thanks Makovision

Information Design A Graphic Designer’s Salvation

Roger Whitehouse writes in CommArts about Information Design as the answer to the itching question that may gnaw at graphic designers -- "Is that all there is?" Whitehouse argues that if you feel limited by the prospect of applying graphic style to information, there is light at the end of your career. The new prospect comes in the transition from graphic designer to information designer. He summarizes the differences quite nicely. Graphic design is nearly all information of some form or other that we convey graphically. But the difference between Graphic Design (with initial caps) and Information Design (ditto) is a whole cultural leap. In this context, the former is more to do with the notion of graphic design as applying graphic style to information, while the latter is more to do with the study of how information is perceived and processed by an audience, and the formulation not only of the graphic form of that information, but often also of the actual content; all the while doing so with a clear understanding of all the processes, both physiological and psychological, that are involved. In other words, it is more a distinction of process, than of product. It's a shame that he doesn't also mention IA, but the two terms are used so interchangeably.

Usability and Online Bookmaking

Frontend Usability Infocentre takes a brief look at how online betting sites can benefit from the right approach to usability - both in terms of understanding user requirements and designing common tasks to be as efficient as possible.

Graphical interfaces to support information search

Nooface pointed to this annotated bibliography of UIs for Information Retrieval by Elizabeth Staley, University of Illinois Graduate School of Library and Information Science. Includes screenshots of interfaces. This bibliography is organized to provide a structured introduction to graphical interfaces to information systems. Overview articles and "classic" systems provide background on past work in this field. Systems with Demo Potential can be accessed via the Internet for additional study. Other systems of interest are included, with the more developed or unique systems listed first, and divided between 2D and 3D visualizations. Articles about user-testing or evaluating graphical interfaces are included, as are references to other existing bibliographies on this topic. Where possible, annotations include links to articles in addition to citations, the authors' abstracts and additional comments. Identifying screenshots of systems are included when available.

Web Advertisers Strike Back at Ad filters

An article in InfoWorld discusses a new strategy for banner advertising vendors to block the ad blockers. THE BATTLE OF the banner ads has just heated up. With Internet users increasingly implementing filtering software to screen out advertisements, Web site operators will soon have a new tool to block the blockers. For some time, Web surfers annoyed by banner and pop-up ads cluttering up sites have been able to resort to software -- such as the shareware AdKiller, InterMute's AdSubtract, and Junkbuster's Proxy -- to screen out commercial messages. Makers of the filters say they're just helping users protect their limited bandwidth from annoying ads that slow downloads. That's where AdKey comes in. The new software, currently in beta testing, will allow Web site operators to deny access to users who have installed ad filters, said Frank Beckert, chief executive officer of mediaBeam, which is developing the product.

Sitemaps, Storyboards, and Specifications: A Sketch of Web Site Design Practice

This paper by Mark W. Newman and James A. Landay, at the Group for User Interface Research, Computer Science Division of University of California, Berkeley, presents the findings of a study observing the Web design process. Studies such as these undoubtedly are undertaken to inform/support projects created at GUIR such as Denim. Through a study of web site design practice, we observed that designers employ multiple representations of web sites as they progress through the design process, and that these representations allow them to focus on different aspects of the design. Designers also employ multiple tools during the course of a project, including graphic design, web development, presentation, and word processing software, as well as pen and paper. Sketching on paper is especially important during the design exploration phase of a project, when designers wish to explore many design possibilities quickly without focusing on low-level details. Web site design tools intended to support the early phases of the design process should employ informal interaction techniques, should support multiple site representations, and should integrate well with other applications that designers use regularly. thanks infodesign

PDA's get too friendly

This seemed too wierd to be true, but alas was true indeed. Wired ran an article following a Handspring press release announcing a newly available module that will turn your Handpring Visor into a massage device. No kidding. Geeks under duress can turn their Handspring Visors into truly personal digital assistants with a new snap-on module that turns the PDA into an electronic massager. According to developer Raynet Technologies, the application driving the Personal Massager module comes with three different "tantalizing" selections of massage modes. The pre-set programs can be tweaked to suit an individual user's preferences by varying "frequency, ramp-up modulation, duration, pressure and burst," according to the product's documentation.

Advocating the separation of the application from the user interface

On Kuro5hin, user calimehtar proposes a separation of application logic from presentation/GUI. Mainly addresses the issue from the perspective of programming OS and desktop applications. I think that the same thing that has happened to html-xml needs to happen to operating systems. The user end needs to be separated as much as possible from the software. This would streamline the development of new products, free developers from having to think about presentation at all, and allow a much greater flexibility in the user interface. ... What I propose is that entire operating system be condensed into a series of commands arranged in a structured hierarchy so that they can be easily mapped to whatever interface one desires. In a similar way to the one in which xml is implemented there would be a standardized structure to these interface handles.

Chunking

I'm mining Interface Mafia's site for the great articles there. The first article is Part I of a series of articles by Kevin O'Boyle "intended to introduce some of the basic scientific and engineering concepts that lie at the heart of good human interface design". This article discusses chunking. Chunking is how your brain deals with complexity. It turns out that we humans can’t really handle much information at a given time; If you are a genius or an idiot, your working memory (the hip modern name for “short term memory”) can retain, at most, only about 7±2 things at one time. “Wait a minute!” you’re saying, “I deal with a lot more complicated things than that!!!” Well, you do and you don’t: When we are confronted with more than 7±2 things to think about we try to group some of them into “chunks” and tune the others out until we are again dealing with at most 7±2 things. The price we pay for chunking is we can only operate consciously on one level of chunking at a time. In other words: If I look into the contents of a chunk then my mind loses track of the other chunks at the same level as the chunk I am examining.

Redesigning the OS X Dock

Brian Ellis wants to make the OS X Dock more a usable killer app. This article shows his redesign -- which is much better than the Dock we got with the first release of X. The Dock is by far the most controversial feature in Mac OS X. It attempts to single-handedly serve as a replacement for the Apple menu, popup windows, WindowShade, the Control Strip, spring-loaded folders, and various of the other user-friendly features Mac users have gotten used to over the past fifteen years or so. Needless to say, these are big (and numerous) shoes to fill, so one would expect nothing less than a killer app, right? thanks

Online Images That Stay True to Form on Any Screen

NY Times article about SVG (Scalable Vector Graphics format. The SVG is currently a W3C recommended technology for vector-based graphics. More information is available from the W3C site. Vector graphics ... draw images based on mathematical descriptions of the length and position of every line and the tone of every color. Those descriptions, for example, may include commands to draw a circle of a certain diameter filled with a specific gradient of red. When an SVG image is resized by a Web browser to fit a particular screen, it redraws the graphic based on the same data, scaled up or down as needed. "People are accessing the Web with a wider range of devices that all want a different-size display," said Chris Lilley, chairman of the SVG working group of the World Wide Web Consortium. "But users don't want to have to go to a special version of the site for hand-helds. They want to go to the same site as everyone else."

Seeking Out That "Well-Crafted user Experience"

IBM Ease of Use talks with Doug Armstrong, Business Consulting Partner, Arthur Andersen, about what users want. When we asked what they considered the most important features of a Web site, navigation and ease of use led the way. It may not have been surprising, but it was disturbing nonetheless. A recent survey of online users conducted by Arthur Andersen revealed that requiring too many clicks to get to the desired information caused more than 80 percent of survey participants to quit in frustration. "When we asked what they considered the most important features of a web site," says Doug Armstrong, managing partner of Arthur Andersen's experience design practice, "navigation and ease of use led the way." That's the kind of information that his company, one of the world's largest business consulting organizations, regularly passes on to its global roster of clients to help them conduct more efficient and profitable operations.

Websitetips.com's index of IA and Usability sites

Found this sort of mixed bag of IA and Uasability articles and sites list on webdesigntips.com. I think this site could use an IA to organize its stuff.

Goal-Oriented Navigation Design

This article by Kevin Knabe from News & Views, Society for Technical Communication, Philadelphia Metro Chapter, April 2001 was gleaned in EH Gleanings. The role of an information architect often isn’t fully understood, even within software and web development organizations. At one company I was sometimes introduced to teams as "our navigation guy." I’m actually okay with "navigation guy" as an informal working title, provided it comes with the understanding that navigation isn't something that can just be slapped onto a system, but rather one aspect of a broader user-centered design approach.

The TAO of Topic Maps: finding the way in the age of infoglut

I usually focus on a few articles per day to give me the substance I need for intellectual nourishment. Today, it's this rather lengthy discussion of topic maps by Steve Pepper, presented at a Graphic Communications Association's XML Europe conference. Topic maps are a new ISO standard for describing knowledge structures and associating them with information resources. As such they constitute an enabling technology for knowledge management. Dubbed “the GPS of the information universe”, topic maps are also destined to provide powerful new ways of navigating large and interconnected corpora. While it is possible to represent immensely complex structures using topic maps, the basic concepts of the model – Topics, Associations, and Occurrences (TAO) – are easily grasped. This paper provides a non-technical introduction to these and other concepts (the IFS and BUTS of topic maps), relating them to things that are familiar to all of us from the realms of publishing and information management, and attempting to convey some idea of the uses to which topic maps will be put in the future. thanks xblog

Applying the Behavioral, Cognitive, and Social Sciences to Products

Christina Wodtke calls this Don Norman article, "the single most important article I've seen this year if you are an IA or usability wonk. It's actually easier to read than it appears at first blush.

From search to find

This Infoworld article discusses efforts to attempt to make finding more relevant and manipulable results using Web search engines. Here's the lofty claim. The Internet is a gigantic and unstructured collection of loose pages that defies static classification, which makes finding information difficult and unpredictable. The evolution of Web search technologies promises some discipline with tools that will automatically and accurately categorize dispersed and rapidly changing sources of knowledge, simplifying integration of that data with commercial applications.

Ten Mistakes in Site Planning

In Webreview, Steve Franklin suggests ten steps to include in your Web site planning process. There are many layers of design, from graphics to layout to information architecture to usability. But before you can start refining the details, it's best to make sure you've cleared your site of the ten most common flaws. Once you know your goals and agree on your audience, your energy should be focused into making good design decisions that meet your objectives. Hard and fast rules like "don't use frames" aren't going to apply to every site of course. But whenever you decide to go against convention, be sure you are doing it for the right reasons, and that your organization will benefit from the design decision.

Is that a category I see before me?

An article in the Australian Broadcasting News site (gleaned from CHIWEB) talks about research to measure brain activity to measure recognition of categories in humans while browsing visual images. A team led by Dr James Haxby of the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) reports on the functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) of the brains of six subjects, in this week's issue of Science. The team claims they can tell what category of object a person is looking at by the pattern of brain activity it produces, although an Australian expert in the area is not convinced.

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